You look out and see the trees through the studio window. Green leaves, the sunlight making them yellowish with darker green shadows. Warm, tan tree trunks; deep, green foliage further away; a cascade of green in different shades. You assume that everyone looking out on these leaves sees them the same way that you do.
So many people get cataracts as they age. At age sixty 60% of the population has some degree of cataracts. The operation to replace the lens with a clear plastic lens is the most commonly performed surgery in the US. Usually it is very successful with the patient’s vision being improved almost immediately.
I have had a lot of trouble seeing at night for some time and I had the lens replaced in my left eye at the end of July. The result was very surprising.
For the first day or two I saw nothing at all with my new lens, but then my vision suddenly cleared and I could see very well indeed. I could see so clearly that without glasses I could read subtitles on the TV screen for the first time since I was a teenager.
The biggest difference, though, had to do with how different my color vision had become. The trees through my studio windows were much less warm green,and the trunks were lavender and not tan. There was much more blue-green in the foliage, and the shadows were blue-lavender. Pale reds became more purple and warm off-whites became brilliant white, almost turning towards lavender as well.
I had painted a light grey wall in my studio for displaying white cut paper work and now I discovered that it wasn’t grey but grayish lavender. I looked in my sock drawer and found a pair of startlingly purple socks, a color I would never wear nor buy! But with my cataract they were a rather ordinary, drab, blue-grey sock color.
The discovery threw me into a kind of existential turmoil. I have always wondered if everyone sees colors in the same way, and I have assumed that we don’t since people have quite different preferences. Of course, there is also an emotional and psychological aspect as to why we like one color more than another. But do we really see colors that differently? Finding myself in this new world of color, I began to wonder what color combinations I might have been wearing without realizing it. I tried to remember how often I’d been wearing those purple socks, and with what? And even worse, what about my work, my collages? I looked at them and they looked drab and cold with my new lens. I wondered how anybody could possibly have liked any of them enough to buy one, and I wondered how long my color vision had been so skewed.
I went to my yoga class and noticed that in a certain position when I see my left foot with my left eye and my right foot with my right, I had one nicely tanned foot and one pink/lavender one. Looking in the mirror and closing my right eye, my tan is gone, maybe I never really had it!
At first, all these realizations made me feel disoriented and upset, but I also found it really interesting. Now I find it almost hilarious. I go to a gallery and I see two color schemes for every painting. I also think that my brain has been hard at work readjusting, and I notice these differences less than I did initially.
There was a bluebird on the feeder a few weeks ago, and when the sun hit it there was suddenly a flash of iridescence. I had never in my entire life seen the iridescence of a bluebird. I had always seen it as a beautiful, blue-grey bird, and to see it in all of its amazing glory was stunning. I still saw it as I did before with my “old” lens, but with the new one there was this display that I had never even imagined.
These realizations were worth all the pain and trauma I’d experienced. But it didn’t answer all of the questions. Why have I always been able to see the iridescence of the ruby throated hummingbird? If anyone out there has a theory I would be interested to know…
Take a look at Anita’s art work at her website. You can also visit her page on the FRANKisArt Gallery in Chapel Hill.