or is it?
Space nuts and science nerds are abuzz with the news that the Milky Way is most likely white, and not just any white but the color of fresh spring snow in the early morning. That’s not at all the same as the snow outside my door this morning. While much of the rest of the country is digging out, my area had a dusting followed by a freezeover. The result is a crusty, icy white slide zone. Surrounded by hills, ice is my enemy, even interspersed with flecks of grass and other reminders that it was 60 degrees out just days ago. I nearly slid down a hill on my walk home from church today.
And that made me think about all the cliches around the word and color white. Does it symbolize the fullness of true purity or complete spectral emptiness? Are we aware of the many variations and shades and values of white, or do our brains just register the color and move on? Does white help us see better, or blind us to other shades and values?
Famed architect Richard Meier loves white so much he uses a trademark brilliant ‘Meier’ white in many of his buildings, often to great success and acclaim. “There is plenty of color, and the white allows us to appreciate that color. It intensifies our perception of color, and the way that color changes throughout the day the way nature changes,” he told writer Mark Sommer.
Yet the homeowners of Brentwood, California felt strongly that his design of the Getty Center should not include that blinding shade and got a conditional use permit to prevent it. Ultimately, Meier used travertine and an off-white aluminum for most of the project, though a tour guide showed me where he slipped in his favorite bright white on a small pergola hidden from the sight of neighbors.
Apparently Meier is stubborn, and so are various perceptions about the color white. It is not all one sameness. Just look at this picture of what used to be my lawn…
As beautiful as a winter wonderland can be, it turns to slush soon enough. Stark white walls get scraped, clothing gets stained, napkins get blotted. It seems impossible to remain all white, pure and empty indefinitely. Yet perhaps white reflects back to us what we most want to see.