Dichromatic paintings?After visiting a
design exhibit that modeled the visual experience of people with
colorblindness, Kazunori Asada noticed that the paintings of Vincent Van
Gogh on display had entered a new light, so to speak. Under
the chromatically filtered light, Van Gogh’s more striking and curious
color choices suddenly became natural and warm. It was if this was how
they were meant to be viewed, Asada thought.
Did Vincent Van Gogh have a color vision deficiency? Those of us with normal vision are able to differentiate the full
range of visible wavelengths thanks to three different types of cone
cell photoreceptors that, together, cover the range of the spectrum we
are accustomed to seeing. Although they are most sensitive to blue,
green and yellow-green light, they are termed “blue”, “green” and “red”
receptors. This is known as “trichromacy”.
There are three main classes of common
“colorblindness”. These are termed “dichromacy”, since they are due to
the lack of one photoreceptor. Protanopia is the lack of red receptors (their ROYGBIV rainbow looks like the one above),
deuteranopia is the lack of green receptors, and tritanopia (the
rarest) is the lack of blue receptors. What’s important is that these
aren’t all-or-nothing situations. Someone’s vision can land on a very
wide range of those deficiencies.
Asada developed a color vision simulation program that can convert
any image to a close approximation of what colorblind people would see. You can play with it here, which ISTRONGLYsuggest you do. He also developed a free iOS and Android app that can take your photos through the eyes of the colorblind. I’ve played with it, and it’s awesome.
When you look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” above, the left side is
the unchanged painting and the right side is moderate red receptor loss.
Some of the more reddish and orange hues in the “normal” lefthand
version become even yellows on the right, as we may expect for stars and
moonlight. I think the contrast between the shadows and sky becomes
more striking in the filtered version, too.+
It’s definitely a matter of opinion, to some degree. Who knows what
Van Gogh saw or intended us to see? But some paintings, like his
sunflowers series, are even more striking in their differences. SImply
put, they look more like actual sunflowers. Go and read Asada’s full analysis, complete with a bunch of side-by-side comparisons, and see for yourself.