In the modern art world, the color black seems to have lost its zest. In amateur art circles, it is quite common to hear, "My teacher told me not to use black" or "College presented the challenge of omitting black." Even on the art forums where amateurs come together with professionals you will often find such simple questions as, "Which black should I use?" Obviously, current art students are not being taught the full color spectrum. As far as I can tell, black has been used since the beginning of oil painting and, frankly, the practice of avoiding black would be quite a mistake as Caravaggio, Leonardo, Rembrandt and Velazquez all used the color very often and to their advantage. For example, you can take a look at how Rembrandt painted the Haman in disgrace and Velazquez painted Crucified Christ. It is interesting to note that Velazquez intentionally limited his palette to just a few colors and black was one of the few that he chose to include. If these masters had been taught to avoid black, just imagine how different their work would have been! They obviously knew that the color black was a powerful tool in their artistic toolbox.
"If I could find anything blacker than black, I'd use it." - Joseph Mallord William Turner
With the arrival of Impressionism a wide variety of color ranges came into play, and coincidentally, for the first time, affordable blues. Artists could then mix their own dark colors. It was at that time that black became unfashionable, for the Impressionist masters did not depict their shadows in shades of gray, but instead, they used color. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the Impressionists' work was not accepted into the Salon de Paris for exhibition to the public at that time. What is also interesting is that while modern art may teach students to avoid black, thus accepting one particular Impressionist idea, Impressionism as a whole, though, seems to have been thrown out while we encourage students to focus on the more modern idea of Abstract Expressionism.
Now, obviously, if you wanted to copy the works of Claude Monet, especially in his later period, of course you would have to avoid using black. However, a teacher who believes everyone should avoid this color altogether is providing an inadequate education to their students. Students should be taught that sometimes black can be used poorly, but also that it can be used to great effect. Yes, the use of black should be discouraged to novice artists as it can easily overpower the rest of the colors in their palette. Yes, a novice can certainly get carried away mixing their colors with black to create gray and dreary colors. And, yes, straight from the tube, black paint has few reflective properties. All of this together can certainly kill a painting. However, do we teach driver's education courses by telling the students to stay off of the interstate because it is usually where the most dangerous accidents occur? How many young, cash-strapped artists are relegated to mixing their more expensive pigments together to create a usable black? The omission of black should be a personal choice, and not one of academic merit.