Why does the visible light spectrum combine to make white instead of black like the color wheel in art class?


Aren’t they both just visible light hitting our eyes??

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That is because of, in the case of pigment, the color you see is because the other colors are absorbed. Mixing colors makes it so more colors are absorbed.
Let’s say green paint, it absorbs red light.
Red paint absorbs green light.
Mixing them doesn’t make yellow like it does with light but a merky brown.
Light has colors because it emits that color
Mixing light is like addition. Mixing paint is like subtraction

“white” light is all the colors combined, everything you see is reflecting light but absorbing all other colors. You can think of it like white light is a positive of every color and say a car tire is a negative of every color (not truly a complete negative, closest thing we have to that is a coating called vanta black). So the tire cancels out light and all you see is black (or an abscess of light).

Pigment doesn’t create light. Quite the opposite, it subtracts from it selectively.

For example, red paint does not create red color. It *removes* the colors that *aren’t* red. It’s suppressing the green and blue in the white light that reflects off it, leaving more of the red still left.

So when you add more paints, they do more and more subtracting of more and more of the color spectrum, Which is why they turn black.

Lights are different because they are adding color. When you see a red light, it’s adding more red color to the room. When you put more different color lights together, they’re adding more colors to the mix, not subtracting more colors.

White is all colors of light, black is all colors absorbed. Are you combining things that emit light, or combining things that absorb light?

The color you see is based on the stimulation of cells in your retina from various wavelengths (colors) of light. When you add multiple colors of light together, it stimulates all the different color receptors in your eye and your brain sees this as white.

Paint appears a certain color because it absorbs most other wavelengths of light and just reflects those of the color that the paint is. When you blend paints, you increase the amount of wavelengths it absorbs and reduce the amount of wavelengths it reflects until it doesn’t reflect much light at all. When your eyes get very little or no light input from an area of your vision, your brain interprets that as black.