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The Art, Science & History of Colour Quiz. Part 1: Seeing in Colour
This quiz consists of 10 multiple choice questions relating to how we see the world in colour. The main aim of the quiz is to improve general understanding of these topics rather than to statistically document current knowledge, so feel free either to look up sources you consider reliable or to do the quiz entirely from your current understanding, whichever you prefer. If none of the options seems exactly correct, choose the most correct answer. When you have finished all of the questions you can obtain your score and see extensive feedback and links supporting the answers marked correct.

See also:

Part 2: Circles of hue.

Part 3: Colours of objects

Part 4: Paints and paint mixing
In preparation

Part 5: Colour in art history
In preparation

1. The three types of cone cells in the retina of the human eye (A) individually detect red, green and blue wavelengths of light respectively, and (B) send signals for these three colours/wavelengths from the eye to the brain, which then decides which colour it is seeing based on the ratio of these signals. *
2. Laptop and mobile phone screens use red, green and blue lights as primaries because *
3. While (A) Newton believed that colours exist physically in rays of light, (B) Goethe maintained that all colours are subjective perceptions evoked by light in the observer. *
4. A hue such as middle yellow is: *
5. An intensely yellow paint such as cadmium yellow: *
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6. Which of the following squares exhibits an additive complementary of this yellow square (R 255 G 255 B 000)? [That is, which square or squares emit LIGHT that could make white light when mixed with light from the yellow square?] *
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7. When a mixture of blue and yellow paints appears green it is because: *
8. Discs painted ultramarine blue and lemon yellow, slotted together as shown here and spun very rapidly, will appear: *
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9. In this demonstration of simultaneous contrast the two small squares differ in perceived colour but have the same RGB values and would match the same Munsell colour chip placed in contact with them. Which of the following descriptions of this demonstration is in accord with the standard scientific definition of the word "colour" published by the Commission Internationale de L'├ęclairage (CIE)? *
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10. Experiments have shown that when subjects are asked to spot an "oddball" target that differs in colour from the remainder (lower left in b), *
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* The CIE International Lighting Vocabulary defines a colour space as a "geometric representation of colour in space, usually of 3 dimensions" ( and a colorimetric colour space as a "colour space defined by 3 colorimetric coordinates" ( An alternative usage, found for example in publications by Adobe Inc., restricts the term "colour space" to colorimetric colour spaces, and refers to non-colorimetric colour spaces as "colour models".
More about this quiz
This quiz grew out of an invited presentation I gave at the ISCC/AIC Munsell Centennial Symposium in Boston in June 2018 on the topic "Where is Color Education Today?", in which I argued that in several important ways colour education in art and design today presents not a simplified but a fossilized version of our current understanding of colour. The problems involve not only positive disinformation about colour in books and on the internet, but also the failure of important current concepts like hue opponency and the lucid systematics of perceived colour developed by the CIE to widely penetrate art and design teaching. The feedback provided to these quizzes progressively addresses many of the problems I identified in my presentation, peppered with a few interesting historical observations. The presentation is available as a pdf on the ISCC website at

If you'd like to read more about our current understanding of colour, two exceptionally reliable and approachable recent texts are Rolf Kuehni's "Color" (3rd edition, 2012) and the first part of Mark Fairchild's "Color Appearance Models" (3rd edition, 2013). (The second part is excellent too, but covers the various models used to predict the colour appearance of stimuli under different conditions). For more detailed information the Springer "Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology" (Luo, 2016) is useful alongside Fairchild, Franklin and Elliot's outstanding "Handbook of Color Psychology" (2016), with chapters by preeminent specialists on subjects ranging from cone cells to colour symbolism and associations. Bruce MacEvoy's "Handprint" site ( provides an individual view of a similarly vast range of topics, as well as detailed information on paints for watercolour painters, while my own site "The Dimensions of Colour" ( focuses more narrowly on the attributes/dimensions of perceived and psychophysical colour and their practical application for painters working in traditional and digital media. For a survey of colour classifications Kuehni and Schwarz's "Color Ordered" (2008) is unmatched. By far the largest and most authoritative source for the scientific terminology of colour and light is the CIE ""International Lighting Vocabulary", now online at

Dr David Briggs
Lecturer, National Art School, Julian Ashton Art School and University of Technology Sydney
Vice President and NSW Division Chair, Colour Society of Australia
Website: "The Dimensions of Colour",

About you
Before you check your answers, please answer three quick questions about yourself!
At what levels have you taken formal classes in colour? (check all that apply)
At what levels you worked teaching colour? (check all that apply) *
What is your country of residence? *
Your answer
Finally, is this your first attempt at this part of "The Art, Science & History of Colour Quiz"? (Please try it as often as you like, but I'm interested to see the statistics for first attempts) *
Thank you!
Thanks very much for completing this section of the quiz. It's no cause for despair if you get a low score; the quiz is intended to highlight some extremely widely held misconceptions about colour, as well as to draw attention to a few important or curious facts that I think ought to be much better known. The questions are ordered so that working through the feedback for each question in turn should yield a cumulative understanding of the topic.

To discuss any of the answers provided here you are very welcome to write a visitor post at

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