The Answers: Question 8

8. Imagine that a person with congenital achromatopsia takes the colour course. She’s smart. She practices and studies hard. Thinking about the content and assessment, what mark do you predict she would get, and why? [5]

Congenital achromotopsia is an inherited inability to discriminate different colours: a lifetime of seeing only in grayscale. This question comes from the final exam of FINE204 The Art, Science & History of Colour. I’d expect a student to look back on the assignments and tests to consider which things called for a knowledge of colour, and which demanded an experience of colour. Those assignments included mixing paint to produce gray scale swatches, secondary colour swatches, and low-intensity swatches mixing complementary colours; matching those swatches to items in the real world; matching a Crayola crayon to 50+ items in the real world; and a personalized final project which might be anything from a colour-sorting robot to a painting to an explanatory essay. Testing included some written explanations but also colour analysis and painting identification, and a live colour-mixing test matching to arbitrary swatches.

A smart, careful, ambitious student could complete a surprising number of the assignments without colour vision, but most of the colour matching would be beyond reach. Mixing gray scales would be no different from the experience of a student with typical colour vision. Mixing other colour combinations could be done like a careful chemistry lab rather than relying on “eyeballing” the mixtures. Identifying a painting as analytical cubism could be done without palette information; art history majors studied black-and-white photos in textbooks for decades. Any thorough and well-reasoned answer to this question could earn full marks, provided it also mentioned that such a student would obviously be eligible for academic accommodation because of her disability. I began the course by asking students with atypical colour vision to self-identify in order to arrange accommodation, so even students without first-hand experience of accommodation should know such workarounds are available.

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