I'm developing a species which lives primarily underground (see this prior question) and has limited vision as a result. This species does not have the same number of cones (used to perceive colored light) as the human eye. Their color perception is a lot worse, to the point where they see mostly movement and shades of light and dark.

Edit- Their vision is in general not very good. This is a species which partly evolved underground. Their vision would look sort of like this: enter image description here versus this: enter image description here original photo from this source

This leads to the interesting question of their aesthetic values. Obviously, they would prize artistic pursuits that rely on other senses - perfume and music may be very important - but what would their visual aesthetic be?

How would their lack of color perception impact their choice of clothing? Architecture? Would they still have visual art as we know it?

I'm most interested in information I can use to design the appearance of their cultural elements, such as architecture and clothing.

  • $\begingroup$ One thing to remember is that these peoples would likely use colours in their art that they wouldn't necessarily perceive. Just because they see this colour as "dark grey" doesn't mean it isn't "bright red" to others. It is thought that Vincent van Goh was partially colour blind and that is what led to some of the more interesting combinations of colours in his work. I guess it depends on the perspective this culture is being viewed from but this could be another interesting aspect to their art. $\endgroup$
    – Mike D.
    May 5 '15 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think you could look into how blind people perceive the world as a clue on how this could work. For those people who are born blind (as opposed to got blind over time), the concept of colour is very difficult to understand. $\endgroup$
    – drat
    May 6 '15 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ Lots of visual art doesn't use color. Sculpture has been almost exclusively monochromatic for the last two thousand years. Architecture is by and large monochromatic. Typography is still "the black art", because it uses color very sparingly. People have taken and enjoyed black-and-white photographs for a century and a half, and have made monochromatic pictures and drawing since times immemorial. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 10 '18 at 16:04

Take a look at these images.

enter image description here $_{Source}$

enter image description here $_{Source}$

Beautiful, right?

Aesthetics and perception of beauty have more to do with symmetry, composition, lines, and light than color. Granted elephants are already grey, but even a landscape can be more beautiful in black and white. Just look at the work of Ansel Adams.

enter image description here

enter image description here

A color blind people could appreciate aesthetics as much as we do.

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    $\begingroup$ While I fully agree, I'd also point out that to achieve the light/dark contrasts necessary for a color blind people to enjoy "colorless" art, a non-color blind person would probably see a shocking contrast of colors that would look absolutely horrid to all color-based senses of aesthetics -- they would see the "true color" of the light/dark pigments used in the creation of the piece, colors the color blind artist wouldn't have even known existed when he/she chose the palette... $\endgroup$
    – Kromey
    May 5 '15 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ Unless the road and mountain images were taken at sunset, I find these to be more spectacular in chromatic. Color can detract from the image as often as flavor it. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    May 5 '15 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ Their vision's pretty bad in general - they would not be able to see anything approaching the clarity of these images. I should update my question to reflect that. $\endgroup$
    – CoolCurry
    May 5 '15 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre: what does "in chromatic" mean? I would guess it meant "in color", but the context it which you used it seems to indicate it means the exact opposite, so I'm confused. $\endgroup$
    – zeta
    May 5 '15 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Liquid No, the question changed after my answer. They even copied one of my example pictures. I'm not usually interested in chasing a changing question around, so I'm leaving my answer to the original question. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    May 11 '18 at 16:07

Beauty isn't color...it helps, but it isn't an end all. You might not see the rise of pointillism or specific techniques that lend themselves to color blending, but the magnificence of architecture certainly isn't found in colors. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, not being able to perceive a color form of beauty just means the beholder has to look elsewhere to find it.

Of course, to an outsider that can see colors, this would be outright odd...a good section of colorblind children are identified later in life when they draw a picture of their house and color the sky purple (purple and blue are hard to differentiate on grey scale). So to them in their grey scales, all might look fine....but to an outsider that can perceive color, the 'art' that looks fine in grey scale might look atrociously wrong.

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    $\begingroup$ While beauty often is in the eye of the beholder, it seems that proportions are pretty much absolute. a square with some feature in it, dead center, is simply boring. Other arrangements strike us as disfigured, or very harmonic, and it seems that the same arrangements appeal to at least a very large majority if not to all people. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    May 6 '15 at 8:25

This is an incredibly interesting question.

At the moment, I think there ascetic would include color, but it would have to be large stretches of color that clash sharply with each other. After all, this species would have to go an extra mile to create clothing that shows who is who. If they are especially sensitive to light, maybe they like contrasting pure whites fabrics with darker cloths or wearing highly reflective objects as jewelry.

Alternatively, you could say their culture is built around being unable to tell each other apart at a glace, so maybe greetings are very important. Maybe they have an incredibly sensitive and complex language? These people would likely be able to hear a broader register of sounds than humans, after all. So, to outsiders, this subterranean species all dress alike or have gaudy clothing, but have one of the most elaborate languages in that setting?

Architecture is not something I am very good, but maybe they never had any love of minute details on the outside of buildings. When you're outside them, the structures could look plain and functional while the interiors are filled with intricate textured patterns that are designed to be touched? An underground species could appreciate a wall full of carvings like how we appreciate a wall covered in paint. Maybe this dependency on words instead of images leads to a greater appreciation to storytelling?

"I hate going down to the underland district. Everything they make looks so dull."

"You have to listen to the people Gregory. There's not a one of them who doesn't know their great-grandfather's best fables like you know your own mother's face."


Vision does not entirely determine aesthetics

Humans share a fairly uniform vision capability across the planet and yet, we find extreme variations in what each human considers beautiful. Even within a single human, what constitutes beautiful/attractive changes over time. (Just ask anyone who's old enough to have pictures of themselves that are 30 years old. They will probably groan with "I can't believe I wore that.")

Most of the reason for the disconnect between vision and aesthetics is because there's so much more that goes into deciding "Beautiful/Not Beautiful". Culture plays a huge role. Even a brief skimming of art history will show that the prevailing definition of beautiful changes over time and serves different needs.

Sure, with poor vision, this species may not appreciate small scale textures on a piece of art they can't touch simply because they can't see it. However, for art they can touch, then small scale textures would be very engaging. Compare with humans. We can't see in IR or UV so our artwork doesn't incorporate that information.

Evolutionary Influences

Human vision has been optimized for survival. This has gotten us a lot of really interesting side-effects like the ability to see color and certain patterns. These creatures will experience certain textures. Perhaps they will value certain visual patterns because those patterns are closely associated with strong cave structures. Similarly, other patterns will repel because of the association with weak structures or dangerous conditions. If these caves have long-standing predators then these creature's vision will optimize to detect the barest clues that a predator might be near. Patterns in art that mimic these predator patterns would be interpreted as dangerous or angry (depending on the emotion that they associate with the predator.)

Painting Horrors

Since creatures will deal predominantly in light and dark, they can choose most any color they want when painting. The HSL color space (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) is especially useful here. For the most part, hue and saturation don't really exist for these creatures, only lightness. So, to their eyes, yellow, blue and gray are the same "color".

Orange & Blue = Gray

The above colors were carefully chosen to have different hue and saturation values but share the same lightness value. For a creature who can only see light and dark, that looks like one big rectangle next to a smaller square.

The implications of this are that someone with color vision who looks at their art is likely going to be repelled by it. Colors that humans would never ever put next to each other won't even register for these creatures since they can't see them.

Going forward

I believe you have a wonder opportunity to evolve the aesthetic sensibilities of your species. Different groups will have different priorities and different approaches.

Another avenue of insight might be color blindness in humans and how they perceive color.


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