Unexpected Aspects of Color: Art, Advertising and Vision
By: J. Marlando
Color has always been important to the human experience but what it symbolizes to us is not consistent across the board. For example, white is representative of purity in our western culture while for the Chinese it represents death while yellow is considered to have metaphysical meaning in China, for the Greek it means sadness. For us Americans yellow means joy, bright sunshine and celebration.
Blue is typically thought to represent trust and coolness and is the color that is chosen for boy babies just as pink which represents softness and sweetness, is chosen for girl babies. The painting above is called “Pinky” and today is belonged to the collection of the Huntington Library it San Marino, California and hangs opposite of Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. Blue Boy was painted almost a century before Pinky.
Pinky was painted in 1794 by Thomas Lawrence. The painting incidentally is of eleven year old Sarah Moulton.
And speaking of art, *The American artist Robert Henri told us that, “…there is no such thing as color for color’s sake. Colors are beautiful when they are significant. Lines are beautiful when they are significant. It is what they signify that is beautiful to us, really. The color is the means of expression. The reason that a certain color in life, like the red of a young girl’s cheek is beautiful…”
As a painter and an ex-art critic I soon enough realized that color sets the mood of a painting—it doesn’t matter if the painting is abstract, surrealistic or realistic, color gives the work its personality. When a painter fails to mix her (or his) colors true to the story of the painting she (or he) fails as a “great” story teller. Picasso was a master story teller even in his most abstract work but, truth told, all the masters, including (and sometimes I wonder if not mostly) Van Gogh are masters at creating their color choices and mixes. As for Van Gogh, indeed, his vibratory colors seem to capture something below the surface of his subjects and so, if you will, he seems to capture “color happening,” as opposed to painting color as simply being what the ordinary eye beholds.
And speaking of the ordinary eye **Darryl Reanney says this: Cosmologist Brian Swimme captures the essence of the issue by asking the (superficially) absurd question: Before eyes evolved on earth, was the sea blue? The automatic instinctive answer is ‘Yes, of course. The blue color of the ocean exists as a real parameter that is independent of human observation.’ But quantum theory tells us that the blue color of the ocean is created by the eye that sees it.” In other words the message that our eyes transmits to our brain is different in say how a bee’s eye transmits what it sees to its brain. I have written about this before but Reanney tells us that, “The eye of the bee can see ultraviolet light, which we cannot. When a bee sees certain kinds of flowers, it sees strange markings invisible to us. Those markings map out a guidance grid, a landing track, to steer the bee toward the source of the flower’s nectar.” He adds that, “The flower is something far richer that any of the images that flicker into being in the eyes of the creatures who see it.”
Color, like everything else we see, is decoded by our brains and then constructed by them. We may, for example, both name a certain color “red” but that color will never be precisely the same for any two people much less any two creatures. Actually, when you look at the painting of Pinky in the above, it is not your eyes that is seeing the picture. What you are seeing is your brains translation of the picture of the painting. And this is precisely what you are seeing when you look at a painting on your wall or tree outside your window. It is your brain that is doing the seeing and what you are seeing is always a virtual construct of the brain.
Yet, even with this knowledge, there are professionals who tell us that colors not only have an effect on our psychology but on our bodies as well. In fact, healing with color has been around for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt patients were treated in rooms with colored glass roofs. The ancient Greeks and Chinese would paint hallways to help heal illnesses. These treatments, by the way, fall under the heading of Chromo therapy also known as color therapy.
Chromo therapy takes advantage of the electromagnetic energy from light. All the primary colors are said to carry unique healing properties just as sunlight does. This unique therapy is said to treat asthma, depression, sleep disorders, migraines and hormonal imbalances along with many other diseases. Light and color therapy has been used for Tuberculosis and the healing of wounds. An extension of the therapies include visualization and meditation on specific colors along with counting breaths that have been assigned certain colors by our minds. Color/light therapy is still used today by those practicing alternative medicine. Colors associate with chakra areas include:
Red……...Base of Spine……..Kidneys, back, legs, circulation, etc.
Orange.....Lower abdomen…..Intestine, urinary tracts, reproductive organs, etc.
Yellow….Stomach…………..Pancreas, liver, nervous system, etc.
Green……Heart……………..Heart, lungs, etc.
Blue……..Throat……………Thyroid, ears, mouth, etc.
Indigo……Mid forehead……Eyes Pineal gland, brain, etc. (AKA Third Eye area)
Violet……Top of head… …..Pituitary gland, nervous system, spinal cord, etc.
As a quick aside, the word Chakras is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning, “wheel.” Chakra locations start at the base of the spine and go up to the head on the kunilini located near the spinal column. Some people say the Twenty-third psalm of the Bible, is speaking of the kunilini probably because it is in the shape of a staff. In any case, each chakra has a different frequency of vibration, color and sound.
Marketing and advertising are typically very color conscious. This can include the color a person wears in a TV commercial or the color of a label on a can. Some very color-conscious thinkers are extremely mindful in even what color goes on their business card. For example black and red are considered seductive and sexual so if your products are bikinis or moonlight dinners black and red may be your best choices.
I just recently read where marketers have determined that impulse shoppers respond most to red-orange and royal blue. Frugal shoppers best respond to pink, teal, light blue and navy. So if you’re in business or marketing of some kind what do you want your colors to say?
Orange is thought to be interpreted as playfulness, fun and vibrant.
Green is thought to be interpreted as fresh, growth, abundance.
Purple is thought to be spiritual and royal.
Gold is thought to be interpreted as prestige and expensive.
I sure wish I’d known all this stuff before I got married because I would have worn a black shirt, with red pants and orange shoes when I was dating. I can just imagine all the beautiful young ladies that I would have attracted.
*Henri, Robert * The Art Spirit *Westview Press
**Reanney, Darryl* After Death* William Morrow & Company