Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Soothing Glow of Colored Light

As soon as our daughter could see, she was fascinated by the soothing glow of the television (a sight we try to limit!). Humans have always been dazzled by the sight of colored light and have found resourceful and creative ways to enjoy its beauty. Consider, for example, churches laced with stained glass. In the last century, however, colored light has been ubiquitously linked to the cult of consumption. William Leach's Land of Desire picks up on this:

"'Coloured glass,' wrote German architectural utopian Paul Scheerbart, who influenced Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, 'destroys hatred.' 'Light softened by color, calms the nerves.' By 1910, American merchants, in their efforts to create the new commercial aesthetic, took command over color, glass, and light, fashioning a link so strong between them and consumption that, today, the link seems natural. By the 1920s so many commercial institutions and people had exploited 'color' that, according to the The New York Times, the word itself had been 'worn to a frazzle.'" (9)

There is a limit on the power of colored light to soothe, something much of Los Angeles is finding out. NPR did a story today on the new LED billboards (think JumboTrons) that many feel are littering the landscape of L.A.

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