The Power of Black

NOTE: This post, for those of you keeping up, is a re-post from last year. Why? Because, the problem isn’t going away and I’m the drumbeat in the lost artist jungle….


Artists love black. Love, love, love it. It has class. It engages. It draws you in.

Black is classy. It fairly screams “high end.” It dominates and holds our attention. Let’s face it: black has power.

And for years and years and years it has been the color of choice to lay the crown jewels on, as the backdrop for a brochure, in framing… the list goes on.

But let me tell you the one place where everything black does, and stands for, works completely against you.

And against your…art.

On your website or blog

I know. It’s so hard to realize that the Old Order has given way to a New Virtual Reality. In fact, it’s so hard that a good many of us haven’t caught on to the differences that decide our online fate.

And the traditional sacredness of black is positively trance inducing.

So here’s the question I’d like you to ask yourself:

What is the most important thing on my website or blog?

A. My domain name

B. A picture of me working on my art

C. My art

D. My artist statement

E. The background color

Of course, each of these is important in it’s own way. But without “C,” none of the rest matters, right?

Which brings us to the First Law

Nothing should upstage your art. That’s the first law of an artist’s website or blog.

Your art is center stage, first and last. Nothing should detract, draw attention away from, or usurp your viewer’s focus on your art. Period.

If black is engaging, dominant, holds our attention and draws us in, doesn’t it go without saying that a black background trumps your art?

It seems so simple, so logical. But whenever you tread on sacred ground that is also visually emotional, “simple” and “logical” hardly register.

“But my art looks so good against a black background,” you might wail.

Now, I ask you…have you ever been in a gallery with black walls?

And anyway, what do you want people to think is “classy”: your website background or your art?

You can’t have both.

The Second Law

Unlike gallery walls, a website needs words to deepen your viewer’s connection to you and your art (hard to shake hands and make eye contact on a web page).

You also need words to a) keep your visitor on your website and b) moving in the direction of taking action to sign up for something (newsletter, a free offer, a short article, etc.) so you can follow up and stay in touch.

But how can you read words on a black background. Ah… yes… thundering in, stage left: the White Font!

Which brings me to the Second Law: Do not make anything hard for your visitor!

And nothing, but nothing is harder than reading white words on a black background.

Nothing. (Except, maybe, slow loading images.)

In small doses, say a tag line or a headline, you can get away with white on black. It might even be classy.  (Heck, I even do it here…just look up.)

But once you start piling up sentences, never mind paragraphs, you are asking the human eye to do an inhuman task. It hurts…so, naturally, people don’t read, or don’t read much. Or don’t read enough.

Me, I just click off as fast as I can. Your art doesn’t stand a chance.

I have a theory

Why would something, like black, work so well on printed paper, but not on a computer monitor?

I suspect it’s biology. The human eye was never designed for the static light of a computer monitor.

Our eyes are designed to adjust to incremental, discrete changes in light from the minute we open our eyes in the morning until we close them at night.

Plunk down in front of the static, unchanging light of a monitor screen, then stare at it for minutes, if not hours, and you are suddenly holding your eyes hostage.

It’s a hostile environment, and anything you do that even subtly increases the hostility shortens the life span of a single visitor staying on your website long enough to engage and enjoy the creative work you so lovingly and passionately share.

Give up black and you will gain an audience.

Oh, and btw –  the smARTist Telesummit 2008 ends tomorrow at MIDNIGHT! Then it goes “good-bye-are-you-kidding-look-at-that-price!”

It’s only up for 24 more hours, so check it out before I take if offline forever, and ever, and ever… Well, you get the idea… :-)

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