Tag Archive: color

I started my post during the weekend trying to summarize Blake’s representation system of color in Songs of Innocence, because he mentions certain colors repetitively throughout the whole series. Firstly, Blake uses the color of white frequently as the symbol of innocence and white is the color of lamb and the Lamb, which refers to Jesus Christ. Also, in The Little Black Boy, white is related to biblical image: “my soul is white. White as an angel is the English child” (16). The connection between white and innocence continues in The Chimney Sweeper, representing the sweepers rising upon clouds: “then naked & white, all their bags left behind” (18). Later in The Little Boy Found, white is again associated with God: “but God ever nigh, Appeared like his father in white” (19).

Green is another color that connects to the representation of innocence and green echoes with the color of white by referring to grass and lawn, where the lambs are. In Ecchoing Green, the color of green merges with the image of children playing cheerfully. Also, in Laughing Song, the color of green is associated with the concept of joy: “when the meadows laugh with lively green…” (19). In Night, “green fields and happy groves” are tightly connected with “where lambs have nibbled” (23). Finally, in Nurse’s Song, green is again presented with the laughing voices of children: “when the voices of children are heard on the green” (25). Besides Songs of Innocence, the image of green and white are seen in Blake’s other works. For example, in “And did those feet in ancient time”, England’s mountains are described as green (147).

Unlike white and green, the color of black is usually associated with image of industrialization and contamination of innocence. In The Little Black Boy, though Blake shows no discrimination against the boy’s dark skin, the color black is still presented as a contrary of white: “And I am black, but O! my soul is white” (16). This image is more obvious in The Chimney Sweeper, black is associated with factories and counter-color of white: “Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black” (18). Similarly, in “And did those feet in ancient time”, the Satanic Mills are described as dark (147).

Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy F, 1789, 1794 (Yale Center for British Art): electronic edition
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy L, 1795 (Yale Center for British Art): electronic edition)

However, after our first discussion, I realized that Blake himself might be against this strict division of color, which is what I am doing right now. Blake’s art work is destroying the system he created in his own words. He set up this point of view in YAH & His Two Sons Satan & Adam: “What can be created can be destroyed” (352). In the art works associated with Songs of Innocence, he is materializing this idea: using different color, an infant can be both an angel and a demon (pictures above). By creating the contrary of colors in art works and poems, Blake is mocking those who try to institutionalize and systemize things, in this case colors, from their experience and reason. For Blake, the state of innocence is not a boy who was taught white symbolizes Christ but one who learn the true Christ through their vision, their imagination, and their Poetic Genius.


The Great Line vs. Color Debate

Promoting the superiority of line over color, Blake argues the sublime in art relies on the artist’s execution of the minute particulars in this world. Defined as the outward expression of the eternal individualities of all things, these details can only be expressed through line in the engraving process. Roberts notes Blake printed mostly monochromatic illuminated books and colored them later by hand, demonstrating the artist’s emphasis on exact line rather than perfect color. Comparing the works of Le Brun and Rubens with Rafael, Blake labels the two colorists “contemptible,” instead elevating outline by stating, “All Forms are Perfect in the Poets Mind. but these are…from Imagination” (464). Although Reynolds and Blake both laud Ideal Beauty through form, Blake asserts knowledge of such beauty is born innately in man and expressed through imagination, undermining the need for a Royal Academy of artistic learning. Criticizing the use of art by Reynolds and King George III to reshape the image of Great Britain, Blake argues “Empire follows Art,” which rationalizes his decision to use art as a vehicle to visualize his prophecies (461). Because Blake believed nations conformed to art, he imbued his works with the precise forms of what he recognized as Ideal Beauty. Describing his own style as “unbroken lines, unbroken masses, and unbroken colours,” Blake approached art as a way to find form—both on the page and in the world—and keep it.