Is Disharmony Ever Desirable?

I am going to play the heretic here and say YES, most definitely. We talk so much about “harmony” in the SciART system of personal colour analysis (PCA) because every element fitting together and working in total synchronicity with every other element is the ultimate goal. Perfect colour cohesion is what we aim to achieve during a consultation; it’s found in the carefully calibrated drapes used during the analysis, through to the  take-home message (colour palette) that each client receives at the conclusion of their consultation.     With so much emphasis on “harmony” is colour “disharmony” ever appropriate? Would we ever want to use it knowingly after so much struggle to to identify and avoid it?

Take a look at the image below. If, according to Kathryn Kalisz “beauty represents itself as one, unified whole” can we say that the colours here are in harmony or disharmony with one another?

elk accessories

According to the colour calibration of your computer monitor we will all see slightly different things, but what I hope is most obvious to everyone is the disharmony between the chroma (brightness/softness) of the model’s natural colouring, her clothing, and the colour of the necklace and the lipstick.

Now STOP right there. DON’T go any further with that thought. I DON’T want you to try to decipher the model’s colour tone; that is not the important thing. What I want you to focus on instead is if, why, and how this disharmony works?  Yes, you read that right – I said WORKS!

The key lies in the effect that the disharmony achieves. Let me pose these questions:  What is your eye drawn to? What stands out? What is most important? What fades away, and why?

Sometimes in life we just want to fade away into the background. We all have our reasons … a wardrobe malfunction, a quick quip best forgotten , a disappointing cut and colour! As beautiful as this model is, there is no escaping the eye-wrenching RED of the necklace. Our attention simply cannot escape it; so much so that everything else seems almost bland and faded by comparison.  Even when our eye wanders for a split second, our gaze is pulled back yet again- the red of the necklace is mirrored by the colour (and shape) of the models lips – not a coincidence I am sure!

And that’s the point! We focus on the place of disharmony for a reason – the necklace is for sale and the photographer has used colour disharmony to ensure our attention remains focused on an object which we may otherwise have missed.

Colour disharmony is used in fashion, art and design all the time. We see it on the catwalk, in advertising material, in promos for cosmetics and in magazine images. Sometimes (I’ll clarify that…most often) it’s just a horrendous mistake, but at other times (as seen in the image above) it’s cleverly used to focus our attention on what the wearer/photographer/art director/artist/actor considers most important.

Used in context and with intent, colour disharmony can be a powerful tool. A number of years ago I had a client who was an actor. He was a 12-Tone Soft Autumn, and was struggling to win the sort of roles that he was auditioning for. Typically, as is the case for many men pre-PCA, his wardrobe consisted of black and white with shots of royal blue and red. During the consultation it became very clear, very early on, that the True Winter colours that he typically dressed in were totally overwhelming him and that any director or casting agent would be hard-pressed to even notice him under the high voltage chroma of a the True Winter palette. This was a breakthrough insight for him! Not only could disharmony ruin his chances of a successful audition, but it could also ENHANCE his chances depending on the role he was trying out for.

My actor-client learnt that by understanding his personal colour harmony he could anticipate and dress according to the visual demands of the character in question, and in turn enhance his chances of winning the role. Post-PCA he had the skills to make himself look strong and reliable (as for a policeman or firefighter), wan and unwell (where the role was for someone battling illness or addiction), naive and lacking in confidence (for a “fish out of water” part), eccentric and impulsive (for a comedy turn), over-confident and brazen (where his character was someone “on the take” or “on the make”), composed and competent (for a role as a capable professional) or reassuring and caring (when portraying a devoted lover or parent or carer).

The point is that both colour harmony and disharmony are “valid” – neither is inherently good or bad. But, and here is the qualifier, depending on the outcome you want, or the effect you wish to achieve, choosing colour with knowledge, insight and care will help you to focus attention where YOU want it.

Now that is powerful knowledge to have.