Fresh eyes: Great Books students learn to see the world through a new lens

Sep 05, 2018

Something weird happens to you once you begin to experience the unique college program at Shimer.

You start to see things. Not hallucinations, per se, but your world begins to warp a little. Suddenly you gain a perspective you didn’t know you could conjure. Life grows an extra dimension. Colors look brighter. Your daily interactions become peppered with questions, and you become less attached to the safety of clear and definite answers. I see Euclid in crosswalk parallelograms, and Einstein as I ride the Metra. Darwin and Goodall follow me around my walks outdoors, and I laugh at how often I end up using the word "Aristotelian".


I was not anticipating that a meticulous, exacting book on color theory would affect me in the same way. Josef Albers’ Interaction of Colors took me on one of those weird adventures. It’s a text-heavy, clinical book with many written exercises and some color plates in the back.During my first Shimer humanities course in a small, intimate classroom environment, surrounded by paintings and symphonies, my classmates and I pored over the book, dissecting the dense exercises and using brightly colored paper to replicate his color plates ourselves. Sometimes his points felt like warnings:

All color is relative and unstable.

No printed color will ever be the same in your mind, and no color is the same anywhere it can be found.

Every color you think you know is dependent on what is around it.

Trust your vision, not your facts.


A weird lesson to carry through the world. Is Albers on to something genius or something obvious? By following his experiments, I started to trust the instability. An assortment of similar red slips next to each other have very fine distinctions. A green you think you know becomes a new green in another light. And the same blues and pinks, in different orientations, emphasize each other’s hidden tones. And every Shimer book I read does the same—it teases the interesting, unseen qualities out of the everyday.

- Sophie, Shimer Great Books School student studying humanities