Values of Color

February 20, 2015 (Friday) / 10:00 am5:00 pm

Slought, 4017 Walnut Street

Values of Color

Richard Doyle

Liberal Arts Research Professor of English, Penn State

Torkwase Dyson


Nicole Fleetwood

Associate Professor of American Studies, Rutgers

Mohan Matthen

Professor and Canada Research Chair of Philosophy of Perception, University of Toronto

This symposium is an opportunity to prompt conversations among artists and academics across multiple disciplines on the history of political, economic and aesthetic values attached to color. Value with respect to color can mean the relative lightness or darkness of a hue, but can also mean aesthetic merit, political importance, moral acceptability, or material worth. The question of color's values is also fundamentally a question of sensory perception, constructed at the level of the individual synapse as well as the cultural collective. We want to consider the descriptive language of color—how we evoke color with and/or through value-laden words or actions, how we assign qualities or quantities to different colors, how color is experienced through taste or touch as well as sight.

Four distinguished scholars - Richard Doyle, Torkwase Dyson, Nicole Fleetwood, and Mohan Matthen - will explore the values of color from a variety of perspectives. How and why do we classify and assign values (moral, economic, social, epistemic) to particular colors, even 'people of color,' or material gradations, from light to dark? How does color function in a modern economy? What is its role in making subjectivity legible through its performance? How does color function as nonverbal communication that is affectively felt? To what degree is color a 'natural' or physical property and in what ways is it a rhetorical or cultural construction? And, how do institutions assign value to color? 


10:00-10:15am | Welcome
Elizabeth Della Zazzera, Graduate Humanities Forum Chair
Nese Devenot, GHF Mellon Fellow

10:15am-12:30pm | Panel Discussion
Moderators: Jeannie Kenmotsu and Ting Fung Ho, GHF Mellon Fellows
Commentators: Louise Daoust and Alan Niles, GHF Mellon Fellows

Richard Doyle
By the Way, Which One's Pink?: On the Minimal Conditions for a Transmission of Philip K. Dick's Valis?!
Torkwase Dyson
The Color of Crude
Nicole Fleetwood
Black. Life. Matter.
Mohan Matthen
Colour: Aesthetics vs. Utility

12:30-1:30pm | Lunch

1:30-3:00pm | Roundtable 1
Moderator: Chi-ming Yang, Associate Professor of English, Penn; 2014-2015 "Color" Topic Director, and GHF Faculty Advisor, Penn Humanities Forum
Commentator: Tyler Williams, SAS Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, South Asia Studies, Penn
The Relationship between the Perception of Color and Value
Richard Doyle, Torkwase Dyson, Nicole Fleetwood, Mohan Matthen

3:00-3:30pm | Break

3:30-5:00pm | Roundtable 2
Moderators: Don James McLaughlin, Charlotte Ickes, and Laura Soderberg, GHF Mellon Fellows
Commentator: Gary Hatfield, Seybert Professor of Philosophy, Penn
A Synthetic Look at Questions Raised by the Symposium
Richard Doyle, Torkwase Dyson, Nicole Fleetwood, Mohan Matthen