Uh Oh! This can be a highly charged question in some circles! For how many years has white been the ONLY color to mat a photo or painting? I remember in my college photography class many years ago, I just couldn’t bear to use white to mat a predominantly black and grey photo of the rising sun obliquely crossing a tire track in sand at a beach. Black was clearly the only color to use. So I did. My photography professor was a staunch white mat person, so he looked upon my avant-garde black matted photos with disdain. He was not an open-minded or reasonable man. He gave me a “C” because of my mat choice, not for the value of my photography skills. Two years later, everyone was using black mats for their photos.
So, what is the prevailing color to use today? That depends what media is being discussed: photographers can use whatever color compliments or sets apart their work; pastel art, sepia drawings, and other art forms may use colored mat, or not, a personal choice; some watercolorists use colored mating to enhance their art, while the Watercolor Association forbids anything but white to exhibit in their shows so that all the art on the same footing.
So…what’s the big issue? When you are outside in bright sunlight looking forward sans sunglasses, are you aware of how your pupils close down to block out the bright light? That’s exactly what happens, to a degree, when a white mat is used. Your iris does close down to block the stark whiteness of the mat and more so if it is a wider mat. Colors in the art will appear to be somewhat less bright compared to the same art matted with one or two select colors that enhance the art. Is there a reason to ever use a white mat? Absolutely! If the art has dominant white in it, or a significant piece of white, then a white mat would be the best option. And, some people feel that intense, bright colors are best enhanced when surrounded by white.
Logical reasoning and elements of design direct us which mat colors are optimal…if we are open to change. Ultimately, what colors of mat you use to surround your art should be a personal choice. Be adventurous! Re-mat some art and see what happens!