The origins of Itten’s colour theories

Image: Zena O’Connor

This is the abstract of a paper presented at the AIC conference, Toronto, Canada, June 2022. The full paper is available in the AIC 2022 conference proceedings via this link.

Abstract – Exploring the origins of Itten’s color theories using digital color mapping

Johannes Itten was a leading colour theorist and educator of the twentieth century and his influence remains strong decades after his death. At the Bauhaus, Itten was responsible for the introductory Basic Course which included a colour component and, after the Bauhaus closed, Itten continued to teach colour in Zurich and at the Ulm School of Design, plus he published several influential texts on colour including The Elements of Colour.

Attempts have been made to identify the origins and inspirations of Itten’s ideas about colour and some
have suggested that Itten’s former painting teacher Adolf Hölzel may have played a key role. However, this is debatable and Itten himself noted the following, “For me, the theories of Goethe, Runge, Bezold, Chevreul and Hölzel have been invaluable” (Itten, 1970).

This research applied a new approach to investigate the origins of Itten’s colour theory ideas. Using
digital colour mapping, this research explored patterns of similarity and difference between colour data published by Itten and Philipp Otto Runge. Outcomes from this research indicate that Runge may have had a stronger influence than previously acknowledged. Further case study research into the other colour theorists cited by Itten may provide additional insight.

O’Connor, Z. (2022). Exploring the origins of Itten’s color theories using digital color mapping. In: Proceedings of the International Colour Association (AIC) Conference 2022. Toronto, Canada, pp177-184.