10 Oct 2022


The Bezold Effect in Art and Design

Format: APA

Academic level: College

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 1147

Pages: 4

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The color of an object is not a definite thing but varies exponentially based on the environment around the surface as well the perspective of the person looking at the object. It is for this reason that issues relating to colors are more of an art than a science. Therefore, the perceived color of an object can be determined by many things including how the object looks like, the color of the light bouncing off the object or even the filter of light between the object and the eye. The ability to use only one color to change the entire appearance of a multicolored surface creates a large variety of options for a fine artist. The Bezold effect is one such illusion and is a concept used to define a scenario where a singular color looks different when placed together with different colors (O’connor, 2013) . The shade of the color will change causing it to either look brighter than it is or duller. The concept was discovered by German scientists Wilhelm von Bezold in the 19 th century. This research paper investigates the Bezold effect, how it was discovered, who discovered it, the particulars thereof and its uses. 

The Bezold effect Discovery 

The Bezold effect, its discovery, and background are best outlined by American Artist Josef Albers in his 1963 work The Interaction of Color . This is because Bezold was not an artist but rather a reputable German physicist and meteorologist. His interests were more into science than arts. However, like any other human being, Bezold could not ignore art which was all around him (Zender, 2016) . According to Albers, at one time Bezold sought to alter the interior design of his house through inter alia redecorating his wall hangings. Bezold wondered how he could alter his rugs by changing only one color yet have an overall effect on the entire rags. As he investigated this, he realized that placing different colors around the same color seemed to affect the way the said color was perceived as depicted below. 

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Indeed, the exact same color and hue looked different when placed next to two exponentially different colors (Zender, 2016) . It was this same discovery that Albers expanded on to create the color relativity principle. 

Particulars of the Bezold effect 

As indicated, color is not a characteristic but rather an appearance and can only be defined by how it appears as opposed to how it is. For example, the red color in the image below is identical on the right side as well as the left. However, to the eye, it seems as if the red on the right is completely different shade from the left one. 

The Bezold effect can, therefore, be defined by how changing the surrounding of a color can change the way that color is perceived. In application, it relates to how changing one color on a multicolored surface can result to change in the entire surface. This, therefore, entails making a color look different when all other aspects including the light and the eye are kept as a constant. This is based on the fact that small amounts of color seem to intersperse at the edges which cause it to seemingly intertwine with the color next to it through a concept called von Bezold spreading effect. As established by the Bezold effects, in a multicolored item, several things can change through the alteration of only one color. The first is the intensity of the other colors. Placing a color against a higher intensity color makes it look dull while placing the same color against a dull color makes it look brighter (O’connor, 2013) . 

The second change that can happen through the change of one color is the seeming change in dimensions including relative size. Within a design with the object of different colors, the objects with brighter colors such as yellow look larger than the objects with dull colors. If the bright yellow is replaced with a dull color such as brown, the dimensions will seem to change with the objects that were yellow seeming to have reduced in color while the other objects in the picture seem to have increased in size. As shown in the pictures below, blue appears brighter when surrounded by yellow than when surrounded by a dark color. 

Color dynamics is also another aspect covered by the Bezold effect. It relates to how one color can stabilize or destabilize other colors. The introduction of green, for example, is a common stabilization factor in a multicolored appearance. Simultaneous contrast can also be achieved through the use of a color to make other colors reflect its after-image. As the picture below shows, this creates infinite permutations for a fine artist. 

It is worthy of notice that the changes as aforesaid are not within the colors or the objects that have been colored. Instead, the effect is neurological and is based on the individual who looks at the colors. 

The Uses of Bezold Effect 

The principle users of the Bezold effect are fine artists in art and design, more so in the area of fine arts. Art is all about communication to the audience. An artist does not focus on how the work of art actually is but rather how it will be perceived by the audience. They will, therefore, exploit the Bezold effect to manipulate colors and ensure the anticipated look is created without making too many changes in the work of art. The manipulation of just one color for example in different ways can help the artist save time and energy yet achieve the expected end (Zender, 2016) . Further, at is all about expression and a fine artist uses art to communicate messages and feelings to the auditors. How one color affects the others can be used by fine artists as a means of communication just as much as the colors themselves.

The above image also shows how Bezold effect can be used to create color discord and show a surface with the same colors to look either brighter or duller without having to introduce different colors (Zender, 2016) . 


Bezold was a scientist, could not avoid the flare and attraction of art in his private time. It was while he was trying to make some changes in his home’s interior decoration that he made the discovery of the Bezold effect. This was based on the concept that the change of a singular color in a multicolored surface actually seemed to transform the entire appearance of the surface. The colors seemed to react differently as they appeared to the human eye. However, as the said colored surfaces remained intact, the Bezold effect is actually a visual illusion. Josef Albers, an artist, expanded on the works of Bezold through his color relativity principle. The Behold Effect is simply the fact that the substitution of a single color causes every other color in the design to shift in relationships. Changing just one color in a design changes the entire design in composition, personality, spatial perception and weight. When one color is changed, relationships between all colors in the design are altered. It is important to understand that the color relationships do not change evenly. Some colors will appear slightly lighter, or slightly darker, while others will appear significantly darker or lighter, or more saturated, or desaturated. As scientists seek to understand the neurology of the concept, fine artists continue to employ it to increase the expressive potential of colors. 


O'Connor, Z. (2013). The Shillito Design School: Australia's link with the Bauhaus.  The International Journal of Design in Society 6 (3), 149-159 

Zender, M. (2016). Design Research Pioneer Josef Albers: a case for design research.  Visible Language 50 (1), 49   

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). The Bezold Effect in Art and Design.


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