“I’ve also studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions but cheerfulness kept breaking through.”
Leonard Cohen

Christopher Alexander on Inner Light

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This section of the book is filled with examples, including works of art, that demonstrate the qualities Alexander discusses. I looked up a few of these examples online and wanted to include them here, but the color rendering of low resolution images in heavily manipulated color pallettes on the screen is not true to the story being told here. So much so that I have preferred NOT to include them. Attempting to do this further demonstrated to me the powerful truth and subtlety Alexander is writing about.

“Reality, as we experience it is full of color, saturated by color … color is one of the few aspects of wholeness where we experience wholeness directly, because the sensations of color are not analyzable into parts. We are simply aware of the overall color quality of something as a whole.

Inner light is the color quality which arises as something comes to life, and as it approaches and reveals the I.

Possibly, the greatest examples of inner light occur in nature … In things which we have made, this quality of inner light us much more rare. But in certain cultures, at certain periods, it has also been understood and created intentionally and systematically by artists, who were intentionally seeking to do it …

In every case where it occurs, color which has inner light has a special kind of subdued brilliance. It is quiet, very quiet, yet bright at the same time. It is an overall single sensation, not a composition of colors, but a single overall color field – almost like a musical chord – which strikes simultaneously from all parts of the picture at once. It comes from the picture as a whole …

Wherever there is inner light we always see two phenomena simultaneously. One the one hand, the overall feeling of he color field is muted. It is not gaudy, or garish. It is calm, soft-toned, subdued. At the same time, the colors are usually quite intense and brilliant, they are not themselves subdued, or muted, tones fo gray with tints of color.

The combination of these two methods is very surprising: 1) the use of brilliant colors to produce a muted whole or an overall unity so profound that nothing stands out, everything melts together, and yet the actual colors that are used are brilliant; or 2) the actual colors are used are subdued, but everything together seems extremely brilliant …

Very often, when we look at nature, we experience a feeling of intense and lovely color. Even on a dull day, the colors we see are soft, varied and full of life. On a bright spring day the world seems filled with color. Yet objectively … the colors are extremely pale and muted if we compare them with the paint colors we consider bright – primary red, primary yellow, primary blue …

Like every other kind of life, inner light is created – always I think – by the unfolding process. The artist works at the whole which exists and then asks himself, at each step, what has to be done next, to intensify the light. The extraordinary thing is that while working, if we half close our eyes and look at the half completed work in a passive and receptive state, we can answer that question. That is, the color which will produce light comes to my eye by itself, presents itself to me autonomously, arrive in me without my effort. The only effort I need to make is to make myself passive enough to receive the color which will then come into my eye … We have the ability to see this color, partially formed, in our mind’s eye. Then we have to try and make the color. And then, with actual paint, I have to try and see if an amount of that color, in the place where I imagined it, really will create a more brilliant light in the thing.

This is an empirical matter … I am not looking for some superficial brightness. I am truly looking to see if the process I have just done, increases the inner light … does it increase the extent to which this thing I have made now seems to go deeper into the realm of I, make me more vulnerable, reaches further into the light behind all things.”

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 4: The Luminous Ground

 

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