Johann Wolfgang Goethe was not only a poet, playwright, novelist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and artist, he was also a scientist. By repeating the light spectrum experiment of Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727), he discovered that the colors were not simply parts of white light. Although the results of Goethe’s experiment leave no room for ambiguity, scientism still clinged to Newton’s wrong conclusions.
Goethe scientifically proved that colors do not originate from fragmented white light. Instead, colors emerge where light and darkness meet. Newton only examined the case of light in front of a background of darkness. At these borders, we find on one side the colors of indigo and purple, and on the other side the colors of red and orange. When these border colors overlap each other, the full color spectrum emerges, with magenta or green in the middle.
Read more about Goethe and Newton’s approaches here
Unlike his contemporaries, Goethe didn’t see darkness as an absence of light, but rather as polar to and interacting with light; colour resulted from this interaction of light and shadow.
For Goethe, light is
“the simplest most undivided most homogenous being that we know. Confronting it is the darkness”
(Letter to Jacobi).
…they maintained that shade is a part of light. It sounds absurd when I express it; but so it is: for they said that colours, which are shadow and the result of shade, are light itself.
- Goethe pictures to himself that light and darkness relate to each other like the north and south pole of a magnet.
- The darkness can weaken the light in its working power.
- Conversely, the light can limit the energy of the darkness. In both cases colour arises.
Rudolf Steiner (1897), Goethe’s World View; The Contemplation of the World of Colours.
Where there is light, there is also shadow.
Here is an example for what Goethe was trying to say:
Here you can see the Picture called: “Shade and Darkness”
If you see this Picture you probably don’t feel good emotions out of it because it is very dark. It’s the “Darkness”. But you can stil see some brighter area in this Picture.
This is the Second Picture called: “Light and colour”
If you see this Picture you probably feel way better than the first Picture. It’s because of the light and the colour’s in this Picture.
Both Picture’s are from Joseph Mallord William Turner (1843).