From yellow brick road to dark as night: How color has become an important storytelling tool

Thirty-four thousand years ago in Southern France an artist took pigment to cave wall and created the first painting. He or she – this Michelangelo of the cavemen – drew herds of bison, rhinos locked in a combat of horns, and gazelles running and leaping.

The artist was using the animals to tell the first recorded visual-story.

While the images are undeniably beautiful and expressive, the underlying story is almost impossible to understand today. We can only guess at the possible meanings of the narrative or history that this first artist might have been trying to convey.

Part of the problem is that the artist was limited by the materials and tools available at the time. That first artist had only a Chauvet cave wall, sanded down to make the surface lighter and smoother.

Practically this meant the art was one-dimensional, static, only visual and monochromatic.

Thankfully, over time visual storytelling has evolved.

Progress and invention in the arts have continued from prehistoric times to today, leading to an increasing number of mediums and tools that allow artists to tell visual stories and evoke emotion. Artists learned to make paints in a kaleidoscope of colors, created three dimensional art by sculpting with stone or clay, and invented new techniques to convey images with startling beauty and realism.

This allowed artists like Michelangelo to tell the story of creation or Picasso to tell the story of the bombing in Guernica.

In the last two centuries this evolution of visual storytelling has proceeded at a dizzying rate as…

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