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Color Meanings, Color Symbolism and Color Psychology

Unexpected combinations of color create beautiful views, like this set of doorways I quickly shot outside a restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico
Unexpected combinations of color create beautiful views, like this set of doorways I quickly shot outside a restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico

You may not know this, but you were covered in color symbolism, meanings and psychology from the day you saw your first pink or blue baby blanket.

Scientists, religions, governments, mystics and artists have always assigned meaning to colors over the centuries of human kind and there’s no way to get away from those meanings. Regardless of the culture you’re from you’ve been steeped in color symbolism.

How those color meanings translate for you depends upon when and where you were born as well as your gender, socio-economic status, the perception of your race and culture within the larger population, as well as your personal thoughts, beliefs and experiences.

That can be a lot of baggage for a color to carry. No wonder there are so many experts trying to decipher the language of color and meaning. The first big breakthrough in the color world was in 1670 when Issac Newton invented the colour wheel. The color wheel is based on his studies of optics and his observation that a prism breaks white light into the variety of colors we see in the visible spectrum.

The study of light and color captured scientists and artists for centuries, culminating in the perfect marriage of science and technology in the late 1800’s when the paint tube was invented.

With the invention of the paint tube, artists could venture into nature and paint the effects of light and color with an immediacy that shocked the art world. Artists now called Impressionists became masters of the retinal sensations of color. Monet, Seurat, Pissaro, and others led a visual revolution of color that seeped from the halls of science to stain artist’s canvases across Europe and then the world.

Within only a few years the Impressionists splintered into a variety of off-shoots including Post-Impressionists, Symbolists, Expressionists, and more. During the ensuing 120+ years the science and art of color and light has become tremendously refined.

With the rise of large corporations and the profession of marketing, there are new players creating color meaning. These companies hire color experts to suggest color schemes that will sell their goods and services to their target demographic of customers. Psychologists, scientists and technicians create tests and scenarios to determine and then predict the effects of color on a variety of human actions from how much and/or how fast a person eats to whether they linger over one color of computer screen longer than another.

Still, the Rosetta Stone of the language of color has eluded everyone. It seems that color meaning, with it’s attendant symbolism and psychology is a moving target. I love that alongside the inroads of science, the mystical and intuitive are integral to beautiful color use.


Note: Hire me to create your commercial, residential and institutional color projects.