Active Colour: An autoethnographic study of how I approach(ed) colour, language, and their intersection


  • Anna Piotti College of the Liberal Arts - Penn State



It was a sunny afternoon in the winter of 2019. Light bounced around the room. We were a few friends painting with watercolour. Bluegrass music played in the background and we snacked on orange slices and sipped red wine. Someone must have mentioned the colour terminology employed in the environment—blue, orange, red—and this motivated a colour conversation that continues to this day. 

This is an autoethnographic study, a diary of sorts, of an evolving understanding within my own social spheres and systemic social contexts of (what came to be) active colour. Active colour—both a natural and a constituted entity, continually developing on macro and micro scales through communication, culture, and chance—is explored by weaving together various times and texts. The variegated discussions of physics & linguistics and crossword puzzles & book-club books have become a reflection on the murkiness and unknowability of privilege and power, of contrast and comparability, of life and harmony, and of language and colour. 

Developing an understanding of active colour has meant attending to my positionality and allowing myself to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. I aim neither to uncover truths about colour and language, as full reflexivity resists such certainty, nor laud my own journey. Rather, I hope to convey the potentiality of thinking through unknowns, asking big questions, considering others’ contributions, and reflecting on why we know what we know and what this knowledge does.






Colour in Interdisciplinary Context