Imagine you are looking at a surface that has been splashed with Color. Perhaps it is paper, or an artist’s palette, or a wall. There is blue there, and green, and gray and yellow and red, in varying shades and quantities. Color pyschology arises here.
Now: how do you feel? — Perhaps your first Reaction might be a pleasure. People, like looking at colors, and seeing many beautiful shades jumbled together, is usually something we would find ourselves enjoying.
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But what else? Do you find the brighter colors distracting? Warming? Do you subtly feel the impact of color psychology? Do the blues and grays cool and comfort you? What about when you look away — do the feelings continue? Probably not. The reaction we have to color can be quite physical, even visceral, and it rarely lasts past the point when we no longer have the color in our eye line.
And yet the fact that we have such discernible reactions to colors merits the question: why? Why these reactions, and why to these colors?
Color: Our First Steps of Understanding
When you encounter something new, it tends to leave a mark. An impression.
Think of the proverbial example of a child seeing a bright light, and reaching out for it, only to discover that the light hurts you if you try to hold it. But then, the light also allows you to see. It warms you. It cooks your food. The child learns that nothing is ever simple. That bright light which drew him contains pleasure and pain in equal measure. The color psychology starts operating here.
This is the way we learn.
Through either first-hand experience or observation, we find out the facts of our lives and ourselves, collecting impressions along the way. The moments we spend taking in the information are forgotten. It is very unlikely you would be able to pinpoint the exact moment you learned that a dog can run, or that a bird can fly. (You may remember learning that you yourself cannot fly, in the grand tradition of children falling out of trees, but that’s another matter.)
But the effects of the information remain, along with their impressions. And so it is with color, these concepts carrying all that we have learned with them. When that child, the one who learned not to try to touch a flame, grows up and comes across something which carries the same color as that first flame — vermillion, perhaps, or a bright amber or cadmium — memories of pain, pleasure, and brightness will stir in his psyche.
The Physical and the Spiritual Elements of Color
Let’s go back to that imaginary, color-filled surface again. While we’ve been talking about fire and falling, someone’s come along and painted the whole thing over in yellow. No fancy shades, just plain yellow. What do you feel when you look at it? Is it bright? Sharp? Is it too sharp — does it start to make you feel tense as you look at it? Or do you feel happy?
The brightness is a physical reaction, information from your eyes. The feeling — of tension, or happiness — one might say is spiritual. Emotional. But although we experience each reaction distinctly, we cannot separate the two completely. the hidden and subtle aspects of color psychology applies here. Yellow might mean sunshine, after all, hence a feeling of pleasure, but you only know that because your body remembers what sunshine is. Or you might think it looks sour. But would you still think that if you had never tasted a lemon?
The Attributes of Color
Of course, there are more attributes to every color than their basic labels. Tone, warmth, and intensity all play a part, and all add to the impression given by the color.
A colbalt green, for example, may appear harder than a sap green. You might then think that the colbalt green looks dry, or flat, and untouchable. The sap green might look soft and inviting. One is darker, one is brighter; one has undertones of blue, another of yellow; one is acute, the other gentle. And each elicit a different reaction.
Sounds and Vibrations
Beyond these experiential associations, however, we find even more to unpack. Perhaps we may see a bright blue and become calm, thinking of a summer sky. But what of the doctor whose patient told him that he could taste “blue” in his food? Does the color itself have its own vibration that a more sensitive person can pick up?
We also have to wonder about these potential vibrations when we think of the relationship between color and sound. And it’s hardly one that varies from person to person; perhaps then color is not all about perception.
Could any of us classify the light tinkling of the top notes of a piano as a bright tomato red? Or the sound of a thundering bass drum as pale green? Of course not. This seems to indicate that there might be something truly physical about the way we experience color, beyond the effect of memory.
There have been several experiments done on this subject; in fact, studies have found that red light can actually cause a quickening of the heart, while blue can cause short-term paralysis. Yet we have not been able to pin these effects only to the colors themselves, as the effects of color pyschlogy could not be replicated with animal or plant subjects. So we have to wonder — how much of our association is responsible for these physical experiences?
There is power in color. From the emotions, we associate with it, to the undeniably real reaction we have to its varying forms. It is something we see, but also that we feel that we can touch taste or smell. Through our eyes, it links our souls to the outside world; though we may not understand how this happens, perhaps it is enough to recognize and celebrate, the fact that it does.
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