The Prismatarium

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"The Prismatarium" by Hilaire Hiler

Hilaire Hiler (1898-1966) was an American artist, psychologist, and color theoretician who worked in Europe and United States during the mid-20th century. He was best known for combining his artistic and psychoanalytical training to formulate an original perspective on color.

Hiler's most notable achievements revolved around his study of how color and the human psyche interact. His ceiling mural at the Maritime Museum represents his deduction of 30 sensational—rather than mathematical—color relationships in the form of a wheel, as well as their combinations with black, white, and gray. He titled the room "The Prismatarium", as it was intended to open up the world of color to viewers in the same way that a planetarium opens up the realm of outer space. The Hiler color spectrum varies from the familiar color wheel that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries following Sir Isaac Newton's documentation of the color proportions found in a rainbow. This color wheel presents red, blue, and yellow as the primary colors situated opposite their complementary colors of green, orange, and violet, respectively, and the variations between each color could be endless.

By contrast, Hiler's spectrum is based on ten color groups: yellow, orange, orange-red, red, purple, blue, turquoise, sea green, green, and leaf green. Each group contains three variations, yielding the 30-step wheel. More steps then this would be indiscernible to the human eye, according to Hiler's "Threshold Theory." This theory also dictates the need for proportionally more gradations from violet to blue, and green to yellow. "Color in painting is a psychological problem, not a problem in physics", he states in his 1942 book Color Harmony and Pigments. In other words, the human eye and mind are better prepared to perceive differences in the cool colors than in the warm colors, regardless of the proportion of gradations that may be physically present. Adding to each color black to create "tones," white to create "hues," and gray to create "shades," yields 120 colors that provide an outline for "every color in the whole world." Hiler's artwork, including the aquatic mural at the Maritime Museum is directly based on this color foundation. [Wikipedia]