Tomato, Tomahto

For many years now, Ann and I have had a running debate about the color green. Specifically, the greens I mix and use in my landscape paintings vs. the greens she mixes for hers. She thinks the greens in my color schemes tend toward the too-blue side and I often find that her greens, especially in foliage, tend toward the too-yellow. She claims that she just sees the colors differently than I do, and to that, there is no logical rebuttal. We can never see eye-to-eye, so to speak, on this subject, and now we may know why.

A recent study has found that the color green is visually perceived differently by men and women.
A recent study has found that the color green is visually perceived differently by men and women.

There is an article by Libby Copeland in the March 2013 Smithsonian magazine that reveals new research on the differences in perception and visual acuity between the sexes. Neuroscientists, led by Israel Abramov at CUNY's Brooklyn College, administered a series of visual tests to a group of men and women, and the results are illuminating. Abramov has spent fifty years studying human vision and the neural mechanisms that determine how we perceive colors.

While men have an advantage in detecting distant, moving objects, the scientists discovered that women are better at distinguishing among subtle gradations in the middle of the color spectrum, the area that includes yellows and greens. They detected very small differences between yellows that men could not perceive. The scientists also found that a given green will appear more blue-green to men. Abramov says that this demonstrates that "the nervous system that deals with color cannot be wired in the exact same way in males and females." Aha!

Ms. Copeland speculates that further studies may tell us whether these differences could have implications for how men and women create art. We think that Dr. Abramov ought to test a group of artists if he really wants to get some hair-splitting visual data. It's nice to know that at last we can relax about the issue of our different views about the color green, secure in the knowledge that it isn't right or wrong–it's just genetic.

–John and Ann


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About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

8 thoughts on “Tomato, Tomahto

  1. In color seminars, I talk about the differences in the way men see Red and the way women see Red. According to scholars on this subject, yes, there is an inborn, genetic difference. Women are always amused about the subject of yellow based Red…men move toward it as if a magnet. When you are speaking to an all male group, wear something yellow based Red. When you are speaking to an all femaie group, wear something blue based Red. Your study is a happy confirmation for the best ways to use color to enhance our presentations and learn more about the way we see. Sounds as if John and Ann have a lot of fun. Great article. Thank you.
    Joan Messenger
    Dana Point, CA

  2. Your wife’s premise that you are viewing greens differently may or may not be true. If you both are able to see the difference, this is likely to be an issue with preference rather than perception. (Also, maybe men may prefer yellow red because cool red is more pinkish or magenta and less acceptable socially. Men’s products also tend to steer away from subtle variations of colors in which women have a name for each shade that changes with every season of fashion. Of course this is just my guess and nothing scientific.)

    If you can see the difference between the two tomatoes that you posted that could help rule out biological reasons. It might be that both of you find your preferred color of green in the landscape and tend to emphasize it in a work in more dominant areas.

    By the way, I think there is a real danger to making a blanket statement that women or men are better at some skill or ability than the other sex. Usually there is someone who has abilities that is on par with the best. There is always an exception to the rule and at times there are many many exceptions.

  3. Not only do men and women see colors differently (most men are a bit color blind!) but we see colors differently at different ages!! I am also a photographer and I noticed this particularly when I had cataract surgery. Before the colors were tinted with yellow and after the colors are tinted with blue. Now, the color that I considered as red is deep pink with more of a bluish cast. SRuhlman

  4. Differences in color perception may not be merely gender based. I perceive yellows as warmer with my right eye and cooler with my left, looking at the same object, and covering one eye and then the other.

  5. It’s not just gender. My daughter and I both see turquoise differently. Looking at the same object, I see blue and she sees green. I think we all preceive color a little differently which might explain why some people just love a painting that others see as garish or just off.

  6. years ago a girlfriend and I looked at an object and exclaimed at the same time ‘isn’t that a beautiful …’. I said blue and she said green.
    we are both women…we see colour differently.

  7. colors are angels of my life and time, every time I feel depressed I play with them to give me happy moments, I dont care if greens tend to be bluish or yellowish , color is the grace to my eyes. blessed be the colors that are created or made on the palette .

  8. Culture also has a lot to do with the perception of male/female colors! In many other countries (than USA), the color pink is reserved for little boys as red is more aggressive than blue so baby boys wear pink and baby girls wear blue which is considered more calm and socially acceptable for little girls. I love that there are so many reasons that we all see colors differently – it makes me happy to discover differences and reasons, and perceptions – it makes the world go round.