These Paints Can Teach Us a Lot About Labeling

Henry Wolff, American Renaissance, March 4, 2015

Color categories are obsolete.

“There’s a set of paints for sale at Hobby Lobby that are turning heads because one is red and the other is blue.” That’s how the New York Post introduced a description of two new mixed paints that are blends of red paint and blue paint.

It’s just the most recent story of paint mixtures with such dramatic variations in hue they’re seen by many as altogether different colors.

Each of these blends and their accompanying images is a reminder of how fluid and subjective the color categories we’re all familiar with are.

Many shoppers describe this paint as "red."

Many shoppers describe this paint as “red.”

What “red and blue mixes” can teach us about colors: they’re not real

The story of the Hobby Lobby paints, and stories similar to it, are actually just overblown reports of paint mixtures which, because of normal variations in the blending process, appear different to the eye.

But they’re fascinating because they highlight just how flimsy and open to interpretation the color categories we use in the US and around the world are.

Even the Post’s description of the mixed paints is clumsy, asserting that they’re each “red-blue mixtures,” but stating in the very same sentence that one is red and the other is blue.

And the fact that the two mixtures, despite being combinations of the same two paints, are seen as two different colors proves that there’s a lot more than pigment or chemical makeup informing color descriptions.

It’s a reminder that the color categories we use are fickle, flexible, open to interpretation, and have just as many exceptions as they do rules when it comes to their criteria for categorization–that’s why they have been described as “not real,” meaning:

  • They’re not based on facts that people can even begin to agree on. (If we can’t even get a consensus that mixtures of the same two paints are the same color, where does that leave us?)
  • They’re not permanent. (If an artist decides one day that the since the reddish paint blend included a paint that’s blue, that the reddish blend should be described only as blue, who’s to stop him?)
  • They’re not scientific. (There’s no color spectrometer that will provide a “red” result for the reddish blend and a “blue” result for the blueish blend.)
  • They’re not consistent (Some people describe the reddish blend as “red,” while others call it “magenta.”)

For more on this, read 11 ways color isn’t real.

“Not real” doesn’t mean not important

Of course, none of this changes the fact that the concept of color is hugely important at Hobby Lobby, at Michael’s, and all other arts and crafts stores.

Arbitrary labels abound.

Arbitrary labels abound.

There’s no question that the way manufacturers label paint blends, and how artists see them, will affect sales.

That’s because even though color is highly subjective, artists still choose paints irrationally, based on how they are labeled and their perceived hue. The color categories to which paints are assigned, based arbitrarily on how they look to the manufacturer, can help determine whether an artist chooses one paint or another.

But it’s still important to remember that these consequences are a result of human-created color categories that are based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations. This makes the borders of the various colors impossible to pin down–as the “red and blue” blends demonstrate–and renders color labeling futile.

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published, in a slightly altered form, here.]

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Henry Wolff

Henry Wolff is the assistant editor of American Renaissance.

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  • MekongDelta69

    When I was a kid, Crayola used to have a crayon called flesh.
    [We could only afford the 8 box, or maybe at most, the 16 box. I wasn’t one of the ‘kewl kidz’ whose mommy and daddy could afford the giant 64 box with the built in sharpener!]

    You don’t want to know what garbage they have now.

    • evilsandmich

      No worries, the 64 box would quickly turn into a hot mess 8 in a week so you weren’t missing anything.

    • Alexandra1973

      I do know that the colors are now in three languages–English, French, and Spanish.

    • Speedy Steve

      I remember flesh, but now they call it apricot or some such nonsense. However, I preferred white.

    • TruthBeTold

      Here’s the new multicultural palette:

  • What? Hobby Lobby? You mean that arts and crafts big box chain that the liberals who never used it to begin with are boycotting because they won’t give their employees abortifacient drugs?

  • dd121

    I can distinguish hundreds of shades of brown and avoid them all.

    • Reynardine

      I use this heuristic when driving in cities: “if it gets too brown, turn around.”

    • TruthBeTold

      Here’s the updated color chart:

      • AndrewInterrupted

        Grievance industry litmus paper.

    • THANK YOU! You’re one sentence comment told me more than this stupid long winded article did.

  • Biff_Maliboo

    Was this written by severely autistic interior decorator?

    • connorhus

      No kidding… I want mother nature and natural selection to meet the leftist’s “social construct” argument. I want to be there when it does too.

    • Speedy Steve

      There’s a website called Suspicious Observers which monitors the solar flares and coronal mass ejections. At any given moment we are 8 minutes from oblivion. The solar wind is up to 600 Km/second.

      • Seminumerical

        Six hundred km/s is still only 0.2 percent of the speed of light – days from a Carrington event rather than minutes. I hope people are somewhat prepared for it. I am. A Navy frigate I worked on back in the day used a variant of the 80186 microprocessor for its embedded systems that was hardened against EMP weapons, and so against a coronal mass ejection. I see that preppers also protect their electronics in Faraday cages.

      • IstvanIN

        In English: 1,342,000 mph. Pretty fast.

  • superlloyd

    Colors are social constructs. Spare me from this drivel.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    I’m not sure what AmRen’s point is with this article. It sounds like they’re arguing the leftist’s position–that color is an arbitrary distinction. What exactly is the point here?

    • Reynardine

      Hint: read the original article.

      • Usually Much Calmer

        If you’ve just eaten, wait 40 minutes or so.

      • Tim_in_Indiana

        I get it now. This is in reference to that bizarre twin story (which was also reprinted on the Huffy Post).

      • Maybe there is some point, but we shouldn’t have to waste our time trying to dig it out.

      • I couldn’t make it past the first few sentences, the article is absolute rubbish.

        • Usually Much Calmer

          The whole family is powerfully uncomely, yes.

  • Reynardine

    Correction for the original article:

    “No one ever believes we are twins because I am beautiful and Maria is ugly,” says Lucy

    • I hate to disagree, but neither is beautiful, Lucy may have “white” skin, but LOOK at the picture, she’s clearly a negro, and a particularly hideous one at that. She has that utterly unnatural look about her, almost like an albino negro, utterly disgusting.

      • sddasasd

        Both of you are delusional and look like desperate morons. Lucy is hardly beautiful, but she’s not “particularly hideous” either, she’s just not very attractive. And she honestly doesn’t look black either.

        • sddasasd

          I mean honestly, you two just sound like desperate, delusional morons with those remarks.

  • guest

    “What “red and blue mixes” can teach us about colors: they’re not real”

    What this article can teach us about the people from the New York Post who make articles like this: they’re all brain-dead libtards with 1-digit IQs.

  • connorhus

    Ahmmm. How else is an artist suppose to pick a color, or more likely mix his or her own, except by the “perceived hue”?

    I am not even sure this article made sense in anyway and I read it twice attempting to give it my full attention. In fact I feel less intelligent after reading it.

    • John Smith

      You must read the original to fathom the point.

  • je suis paganisme

    “artists still choose paints irrationally, based on how they are labeled and their perceived hue. ”

    No, they do not choose colors “irrationally, ” and most certainly NOT by how these colors are labelled. They choose them in relation to the other colors in their paintings. This might be “intuitive” but it is not “irrational.” It is a different kind of rationality from mathematical rationality.

    Aside from that, what in hell is this about? That we cannot tell who is black, brown, or yellow?

    That is insane.

    • je suis paganisme

      Aha! Read the original article, je suis, and you will see that this is satire!

      Good one, Mr. Wolff.

      • Susannah

        I agree, and I LOVED this. It gave me a good laugh.

  • Susannah

    I’m assuming this article is a spoof of the “black twin and white twin” articles that have been gracing the Internet recently. As soon as I saw this on Yahoo News the other day, I knew that the “race is a social construct” crowd would run with it in order to gleefully trot out their predictable talking points with abandon.

    It means nothing more than the 1/2 black mom passed along genes inherited from her White parent to give daughter Lucy her White physical appearance, and did not pass along these particular genes to unfortunate Maria. That is all. This is no earth-shattering refutation of race as some are making it out to be.

    • WhiteGuyInJapan

      Not too surprising, either. I have seen many Japanese/white children and some of them look more Japanese while others look more European. Intraracial couplings often produce siblings with differences in height, intelligence and hair color.

    • jim

      That article was posted by Huffington Post…which has zero credibility. But yes, I get your point…they used it as an opportunity to point out the whole “race is a social construct” baloney.

  • Conrad

    Maybe I’m missing the point of this article. But here’s the image in my mind.
    A man walks into > Hobby Lobby <. A leftist is standing in one of the isles & says, "Hey honky come over here & I'll prove to you that you don't even know what color is." So the man walks over to him and the leftist goes through his sophistic spiel. Above his head is a sign that reads, – exploding cigars, rubber ducks & whoopee cushions.
    IF you fall for this, you ARE special, and should wear a helmet.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    From skimming the original article, I guess what it is saying is that because one girl got all of her nonwhite father’s genes and the other girl got all of her white mother’s genes, that this means that the science of genetics is completely invalid. Or something like that.

    Notice that lectures like this are never aimed at the “black pride” folks, only at whites who might carry the slightest bit of white pride or racial identity. No one is calling for the NAACP to disband.

  • evilsandmich

    I won’t sit through the original article, but I’m SURE they’re talking about how a certain black president fooled useful idiots into thinking that he’s white.

    • Michael Whalen

      Evil: I know this is off-topic, but I like your avatar! Been meaning to say so for a while. That is a mean looking cat. Did you take that picture yourself? Just curious. Keep up the good fight.

  • IceQueen

    Good one Mr. Wolff. As others have pointed out, read the article Wolff is satirizing. Then it makes sense.

    Just for fun, wear a blazing orange shirt to work, then try to convince your co-workers color doesn’t exist.

  • Who Me?

    That hot mess of a “fambly” with the white and black kids (instead of the usual mixes being a mid-tone brown) is a perfect example of why NOT to encourage mixed marriages.

    • sddasasd

      Thanks for the insight, anime avatar.

      • Who Me?

        Really, “plenty of homogenous racial groups” with families that have (natural, both with same 2 parents) children with such widely varied skin tones? Not very many. That’s why this drivel is on the news.
        (Oh, and thank you for noticing my anime avatar–I like it!)

        • sddasasd

          There are. Many black african groups, southeast asians, even the chinese vary just as much (or more) than “white to light brown.”

  • Speedy Steve

    When my kids were young we’d collect up all the broken bits and bake them into pucks, which last forever and can be used to decorate concrete walls.

  • Speedy Steve

    The difference is between men and emotional women. Mrs Blandings choosing paint for her dream house.
    www youtube com/watch?v=7ZwOGVWqHAw

  • Mangosteen, $1000 chair

    Look at the Gosselin children. Their father is half Korean, so they are a quarter Asian, and they look pretty much full Asian to me. I had a friend who was half-Korean and he looked full, while his sister looked nothing like him and could’ve almost passed as white. But to me, they’re all Asian and therefore not white, no matter their outward appearance. The one-drop rule is real!

  • Raymond Kidwell

    So color isn’t real. It’s just our racist programming that makes us say “this shirt is blue” or “that shirt is green”. It’s all the same color and makes no difference.

  • dd121

    Yet they try to shame me into submission when I say this display is disgusting. Why isn’t my opinion valid from my point of view?

  • Marilyn

    My son loves to color. I take out the box and I tell him ,” this is blue, red, green..” Not violet or peach. He’s not old enough to know the difference.

  • Uhhhh, what was the point of this article? Sorry, 99% of the time, American Renaissance posts great articles. This is the other one percent.

    • John Smith

      You must read the original to get the parody.

  • AndrewInterrupted

    And the ones who wake up soon enough will see this in their rearview mirror.

    • Hammerheart

      We can’t stop this on the political, rational level. What we can do is evacuate urban areas with large concentrations of Mohammeds, Trayvons, and Joses. Let the remaining white liberals reap what they have sown. Once their money and votes stop flowing to the banks and leftist think tanks we’ll see a shifting of momentum.

      • Usually Much Calmer

        Have you considered the possibility of stopping it on the social level?

        Sophisticated people who are racially aware can signal that egalitarianism is passe and the process begins.

  • Tim

    Reminds me of the time I got a call from Bianca Jagger`s architect. Before the internet, I was thought to be one of the last people on earth who knew how to make med-evil floor tile. I sent the samples, got the call and heard her over the phone say, “Tell him the Magenta has too much Watermelon…”

    • Spikeygrrl

      “Med-evil.” Riiiight. You’d never even get hired by your local slumlord.

      • Tim

        I could educate you on the process AND sell you the equipment, but you sound like every other customer who smugly thought they could do it for themselves, by themselves…So why bother?

        • Spikeygrrl

          Indeed. Let alone that I’m not even shopping for what you’re selling…but thanks for playing.

      • Tim

        Are you familiar with the Wal-Mart on Austin Highway?!? I have the equipment in the Public Storage across the street and up from the Astro Bowl. Care to meet me and and put your mouth where my money is?!? Then we can head to South town for a beer at my sleezy cool Chicano Ice House.

      • Tim

        “You`d never even get hired by your local slumlord…” Go by Rio-Rio Cantina on Commerce. I did the dining room wall surround that you can see from the street. I also did the wall surround in the back room. Then stop in at Mi Tierra. I did the yellow, green and gray floor surround in the Mariachi Bar. My brother used to say, “When Mexicans call you for their pinata, you KNOW you`re good…Now, get on the bus and get off at the Mc Nay Art Museum. I did the repair work on the steps leading up to the old main entrance. Also the Texas A&M Dormitories… Did the greenhouse in North Texas for Larry Mc Murtry, the man who wrote Lonesome Dove…The man I learned from is enshrined in a coffee table book called BY SOUTHERN HANDS. He is the last chapter in the book…. The authors name is Jan Arnow. Check it out…. You should not have picked a fight with a native San Antonian till you lived here longer…LOL

        • Spikeygrrl

          I don’t care where you live; butchering Standard American English can happen anywhere.

          • Tim

            Who are you the Mac Arthur High English Dept?!? This is MY town, you got called and you got owned…

          • Spikeygrrl

            People in this country don’t own other people. We had a big war about it. Evidently you slept through high school History as well as high school English.

            (WHY couldn’t you just edit your misspelling and move on?! This is tiresome beyond belief.)

          • Tim

            I stand corrected… You Got RUDE, you got called and you got owned. Look at every post I`ve ever made. I NEVER told anyone, that “They couldn`t get hired by a slum lord” You don`t even know me, You ran your mouth about me and I called you on it. It`s YOU that don`t run nothing but your mouth.

  • Maybe some here disagree, but I have never sen

    • Spikeygrrl

      The only thing I don’t understand about your viewpoint — which pops up here now & again — is that it is strictly aesthetic. Surely most of us don’t make our judgment on people by aesthetics alone?! HAH! Try to sell that to all the White folks who have chosen a butt-ugly spouse “because at least s/he is White.”

      I say this as a White woman whose White husband married me even though he considered me then (and still considers me now) butt-ugly. I thrive by remembering how many other men through the years who have thought that I’m hot. 😀

      • Hey, I meant no offense, and I hope you and your husband have a happy relationship. I am not saying these things to be mean to anyone who doesn’t look like a movie star, but, that said, aesthetics are important. No other race produces a woman like this:

        • The Dude

          Oh yeah, aesthetics are definitely important. And the white is, on average, the most beautiful, by far. The average-looking white is way easier on the eye than the average black.

          While beauty is usually more appreciated by men, sometimes I come across articles that suggest that even women can appreciate some of the typically Caucasian elegance, style, and just sheer beauty. There was this trend recently of taking pictures of good-looking dudes in the subway and posting them on the internet. In both New York and London –heavily diverse cities– 95% of the guys were white. That whole concept and the comments that came with it were quite creepy though.

          (The links in another post)

      • IstvanIN

        He considers you butt ugly? Very few people, especially young people (no one gets better looking with age) are butt ugly. You must have had some “cuteness” about you.

        • Spikeygrrl

          We met online. By the time we first met in person — six months of daily IMs and phone calls later — we both were already more than halfway in love. But the whole first sight thing, not so much. In his own words, he had to do some really hard thinking really fast — LOL!

          This just goes to show that “I love you for your mind” isn’t ALWAYS a steaming pile of bovine excrement. It has worked pretty darn well for us for 13 years. 😉

          • IstvanIN

            Good for you. Looks are fleeting which is why it isn’t the best way to pick a spouse.

          • Spikeygrrl

            The funniest part of all this is that out of all the men I’ve dated over the past 4 decades, which is probably a 3-digit number — Mom and Dad always encouraged casual dating of very different sorts of men, so I could marry wisely when the time came — my darling “Doc” is the closest thing I’ve ever met in person to my physical ideal (kind of a Christian Bale thing, or better yet Peter Jackson’s rendering of Tolkien’s Elves).

            He got the looks, I got (most of) the brains, although his high 130s ain’t too shabby either. And all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things shall be well.

    • John Smith

      That’s because they weren’t “white.”

  • Brady

    Actually, colors are quite scientific. I remember high school physics. “Red”, “orange”, “yellow”, “green”, “blue”, “indigo” and “violet” all refer to positions of the light frequency spectrum, from lowest to highest. Light with a frequency too low or too high to be visible are called, respectively, “infrared” and “ultraviolet”.