Spectrum red vs magenta

Back in high school my art teacher used to tell us that the reason our cadmium red, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow acrylic paints wouldn’t produce a decent violet or green was that they were not “spectrum” red, yellow and blue, which were impossible to produce with paints. I was also mystified at why red and blue-green seemed to vibrate more against one another than red and green.

Then in physics class I discovered the difference between additive and subtractive color mixing, and everything became clearer. I tried to explain it to my art teacher and she didn’t want to hear it.


For anyone who sat in my room with 25 years ago while I twiddled dimmer switches on red, green and blacklight bulbs and raved inexplicably about cyan and magenta and the nonexistence of pure spectrum pigments — here’s an attempt at an explanation: This turned out to be the prototype for my typical of conflict: “You aren’t approaching this problem from the right angle.” They say: “No, we are. Our materials/facts/data/procedures are not pure enough, and if they were my formulas would miraculously work for a change.”


1 thought on “Spectrum red vs magenta

Leave a Reply