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Test 1 / 25

Introduction to a book about the history of colour

This book examines how the ever-changing role of colour in society has been reflected in manuscripts, stained glass, clothing, painting and popular culture. Colour is a natural phenomenon, of course, but it is also a complex cultural construct that resists generalization and, indeed, analysis itself. No doubt this is why serious works devoted to colour are rare, and rarer still are those that aim to study it in historical context. Many authors search for the universal or archetypal truths they imagine reside in colour, but for the historian, such truths do not exist. Colour is first and foremost a social phenomenon. There is no transcultural truth to colour perception, despite what many books based on poorly grasped neurobiology or – even worse – on pseudo-esoteric pop psychology would have us believe. Such books, unfortunately, clutter the bibliography on the subject, and even do it harm.

The silence of historians on the subject of colour, or more particularly their difficulty in conceiving colour as a subject separate from other historical phenomena, is the result of three different sets of problems. The first concerns documentation and preservation. We see the colours transmitted to us by the past as time has altered them and not as they were originally. Moreover, we see them under light conditions that often are entirely different from those known by past societies. And finally, over the decades we have developed the habit of looking at objects from the past in black-and-white photographs and, despite the current diffusion of colour photography, our ways of thinking about and reacting to these objects seem to have remained more or less black and white.

The second set of problems concerns methodology. As soon as the historian seeks to study colour, he must grapple with a host of factors all at once: physics, chemistry, materials, and techniques of production, as well as iconography, ideology, and the symbolic meanings that colours convey. How to make sense of all of these elements? How can one establish an analytical model facilitating the study of images and coloured objects? No researcher, no method, has yet been able to resolve these problems, because among the numerous facts pertaining to colour, a researcher tends to select those facts that support his study and to conveniently forget those that contradict it. This is clearly a poor way to conduct research. And it is made worse by the temptation to apply to the objects and images of a given historical period information found in texts of that period. The proper method – at least in the first phase of analysis – is to proceed as do palaeontologists (who must study cave paintings without the aid of texts): by extrapolating from the images and the objects themselves a logic and a system based on various concrete factors such as the rate of occurrence of particular objects and motifs, their distribution and disposition. In short, one undertakes the internal structural analysis with which any study of an image or coloured object should begin.

The third set of problems is philosophical: it is wrong to project our own conceptions and definitions of colour onto the images, objects and monuments of past centuries. Our judgements and values are not those of previous societies (and no doubt they will change again in the future). For the writer-historian looking at the definitions and taxonomy of colour, the danger of anachronism is very real. For example, the spectrum with its natural order of colours was unknown before the seventeenth century, while the notion of primary and secondary colours did not become common until the nineteenth century. These are not eternal notions but stages in the ever-changing history of knowledge.

I have reflected on such issues at greater length in my previous work, so while the present book does address certain of them, for the most part it is devoted to other topics. Nor is it concerned only with the history of colour in images and artworks – in any case that area still has many gaps to be filled. Rather, the aim of this book is to examine all kinds of objects in order to consider the different facets of the history of colour and to show how far beyond the artistic sphere this history reaches. The history of painting is one thing; that of colour is another, much larger, question. Most studies devoted to the history of colour err in considering only the pictorial, artistic or scientific realms. But the lessons to be learned from colour and its real interest lie elsewhere.

What problem regarding colour does the writer explain in the first paragraph?
What is the first reason the writer gives for the lack of academic work on the history of colour?
The writer suggests that the priority when conducting historical research on colour is to
In the fourth paragraph, the writer says that the historian writing about colour should be careful
In the fifth paragraph, the writer says there needs to be further research done on
An idea recurring in the text is that people who have studied colour have
Test 2 / 25

Groomed for TV

Martyn Harris looks back on his experience of being trained to appear on TV.

I am terrible on TV. I slouch, sneer, stammer, fidget, forget my lines and swallow the ends of my words. It rankles, because I know inside I am scintillating, sensitive and sincere. Television can make any fool look like an intellectual. Newsreaders can contrive to look nice and even the worst presenters can seem sensible, but I come over as a shifty subversive. The single television programme I have presented was so awful that even my mother couldn’t find a good word for it. After a catastrophic radio show last year, when I addressed the interviewer by the wrong name throughout, I swore I’d never do broadcasting again.

Until now, that is. I have my first novel out next month, which is called Do It Again, and the PR people inform me you just have to get out there and promote it. Scotland one day, the south coast of England the next. It’s going to be hectic and I have to get my act together. Which is how I find myself being scrutinised for televisual potential by two svelte creatures from Public Image Ltd, while cameraman Alastair focuses on my trembling upper lip. Public Image is the outfit which has been teaching MPs how to look good on TV. They also groom executives from major companies in everything from corporate presentations to handling broadcast interrogation, but as far as I’m concerned, if they can make politicians look like real people, they are good enough for me.

‘He blinks a lot, doesn’t he?’ says Diana, the speech specialist, studying my image on a video monitor. ‘And the crossed legs look defensive. But the voice isn’t bad.’ Jeannie, who is introduced to me as Public Image’s ‘charisma consultant’, takes a step backwards to study the general posture. ‘Needs to get his bottom back in the sofa. And the jacket makes him look a bit deformed. Where does he get his clothes from?’

‘Honesty is the most important thing,’ says Diana. ‘We don’t want to turn people into actors. We want to bring out the personality. And of course speech is most important too. Lots of politicians don’t breathe properly, so they have to shout. They give themselves sore throats and polyps on the vocal chords. Breathe from the diaphragm and you can speak quite loudly and for quite a long time without strain. Then most importantly, there are the three E’s: Energy, Enthusiasm and Enjoyment. And do try to stop blinking.’

And so, as I breathe from the diaphragm, clench my eyelids apart and desperately try to project honesty as well as the three Es at once, the camera rolls. ‘Today we are visiting the home of Martyn Harris,’ says Diana dishonestly, ‘a journalist who has recently published his first novel Do It Again. So, what can you tell us about the plot, Martyn?’ ‘Umm …’ A long pause. ‘Errr … ‘ A longer pause. ‘Tee hee, hargh … ’ An asinine giggle. ‘All right Alastair,’ says Diana patiently, ‘we’ll try that again.’

We try it again, many, many times, each time chipping away at another tic and mannerism and gaucherie. On the second run-through, my crossed legs keep bobbing up and down, which makes me look as if I want to run away (I do, I do). On the third run they are uncrossed, but my hands are clenched in my lap. On the fourth I have wrenched my hands from my lap, but now they are fiddling with my ears. On the fifth, I’m throwing away the ends of my sentences, which sounds as if I think my audience is thick (I don’t really).

Television does curious things to your face, dragging it towards the edges of the screen. If you have a long face, as I have, it makes you look like a cadaverous mule. It emphasises the darkness of lipstick and eyeshadow, so make-up should be minimal, and used mainly to soften facial shadows. Does Diana think it is wicked, I wonder, to mould politicians in this way? ‘As soon as anyone gets on telly these days, we expect them to be as good as the professionals, because that’s where we get our standards from. It’s unfair, but that’s the way of the world. As for the ethics, I leave that to others and get on with my job.’

And it’s a job she does very well, because on the final run-through, after three hours or so, I really don’t look too bad. Steady gaze, breathing from the diaphragm, no twitches, no blinking. Not a consummate professional in the business, but not bad.

I’m brimming with honesty, energy, enthusiasm and enjoyment and I’m talking a lot of twaddle, but you’d hardly notice. When you watch politicians on TV, you’ll see a lot more just like me.

The writer believes that one reason he is terrible on TV is that
The writer has become involved with Public Image Ltd because
Diana and Jeannie both say that one of the writer’s problems when appearing on TV concerns
What does Diana tell the writer about politicians?
The writer believes that his response to Diana’s first question sounds
When the writer asks Diana about her job, she