• Bodie English

Crayola Bows to Public Pressure To Remove The Color Grey

Recently, the icon of colored stylus creators whose name has become synonymous with the childhood staple of art projects has come under pressure from the public in what can only be seen as a rare bipartisan agreement to discontinue or CANCEL the color Grey from the traditional color box. Cancel culture, up until this point, has largely focused on more interpersonal destruction of reputations, market revenue, and personal pride, but in a moment of unity towards a common goal, the ubiquitous and revolving “two sides” have shaken proverbial hands in their mutual disdain for the color Grey and promptly cried for its decimation.

To understand how this rare agreement has come about, it is important to give some context as to why this has garnered such wide-spread consternation. Both sides have come to view black and white as not only essential in the color palette, but that none other than big bold color options should be used in any circumstance. Leaders on both sides have claimed that the use of “mediocre colors” or more subtle hues only serve to confuse or obfuscate messages for the viewer. It has been determined that colors like Grey only hinder the messages both sides are trying to send and therefore should be unwelcome in the public sphere of influence.

I was able to interview a few people with this staunch position to see if I could dig deeper into this idea of mutual hate. I found Karla M. holding up a large sign at a local protest outside of a Hobby Lobby that demanded, “NO GREY, NO WAY!” It was written on a large white rectangle poster board, that she purchased from Hobby Lobby, with large black letters, I had to agree, her message was concise, to the point, and even rhymed. After she wiped her tears away and calmed down, she was able to tell me that she was most concerned about the stress of mixed messages that children would be exposed to if they had to see wishy-washy colors. “It’s confusing,” she said, when she began to imagine what it would be like to not have an absolute view of what is or is not right or wrong in every situation. The idea of uncertainty terrified her. When I asked her if she thought that people could make their own decisions about what color to draw with, she accused me of wanting to corrupt the youth. With that, I was then subjected to being hit on the head with her sign and was hurried out of there.

Next, I visited with Adam S., a man I found reading a paper copy of the newspaper at a local coffee shop. I was immediately interested in his affinity for vintage print papers and asked what he liked about that medium. “Well,” he said, “I just find it very relaxing and engaging in the old black and white rectangle format.” I immediately thought of Karla’s sign. He too was lulled into security with the cut and dry surety of formats and colors. “I get all my info right here and it gets me started on my day.” I asked what his take was on the call for Crayola to discontinue the color Grey from their lineup. He replied that, “for once, (he) agreed that it was time that children put away their childish indecisiveness and just boldly draw some accurate lines without the foggy and headache inducing washed out colors…. It’s time they grew up already.” I asked him what the problem was with allowing children the option of colors in the familiar 12 count box to which he just folded his paper on his knee, looked at me askance and asked, “Are you one of those people who just don’t know the difference between right and wrong?” I replied that I was unsure, and he scoffed, “….See…..you probably ate too many Grey Crayons as a child.”

I left with a Grey taste in my mouth and needed to sort out what all of this meant, this new alliance forged in the kiln of fiery hatred. I decided that I needed to seek out the input of someone versed in the color palette and its importance, so I interviewed a local Art History Professor who wanted to remain anonymous to forestall any budget cuts that could arise. She told me that grey is such an important color for children to use because a wider palette of choices allows them to construct art that was more representative of their views and more demonstrative of their ideas. “It’s not as though Black and White have no place among the need for bolder manifestations, but that the presence of Grey indicates a bit of both, or can represent an inherent nuance of distances, figures, or boundaries.”

To help me understand it’s importance, she gave me a mini-lesson in art history. First, she showed me the work of artist Frank Stella whose famous work, “Die Fahne Hoch” (the Nazi marching song) used the nearly monochromatic black canvas that showed faint lines of unpainted canvas. The nature of the minimalist message was to perhaps depict the totalitarianism of the regime that brutally left no room for dissent, in effect, this all black rectangle left no room for grey, but that itself could be the message.

Frank Stella (1959), Die Fahne Hoch!

Moving on, she showed me a painting by Robert Ryman titled “Bridge.” Perhaps less compelling than “Die Fahne Hoch,” the medium itself may be the message, it was painted with two hues of white anti-rusting paint that would be normally used in an industrial setting to prevent corrosion or oxidation. Painting things white can also be an idiom for trying to cover up the damage or showing a false sense of cleanliness or newness. Is the artist making a statement about the desire to paint things white?

Robert Ryman (1930), Bridge

Finally, we took a look at a painting I was already familiar with, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” Guernica is a town in northern Spain that was bombed by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in 1937 during the Spanish civil war. Picasso aimed to show the destructive nature of war on people and nature. The response to the painting was great, and it was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece.

Pablo Picasso (1937), Guernica

My professor wanted me to see the uses of black and white as medium to depict absolutisms and juxtapose that to the use of grey which shows nuance, details, subtleties, and vagaries. “Guernica is unsettling as could be the others, but the intention is to promote critical thinking, to dive into unsettling ideas of ignorance and the unknowable. “Without the use of grey,” she said, “was to limit the ability to communicate the ethereal nature of truth and circumstance.”

I thanked her for her time and lesson and asked her if this would show up as 3 hours on my transcript, to which she replied, “How bout you put down my sandwich and let me get back to grading.” I knew it was time to leave and said, “Is this what my dad meant when he said, ‘That boy aint drawin’ with a full box of crayons!’” She just grinned and nodded.

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