March 01, 2021
Remember black & white TV and movies? B&W photographs and Pathe News at the cinema? In many ways, those images are taken more seriously than say, if they had been in colour. Imagine a Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton silent film in colour! The experience would very significantly different. The absence of colour strips bare our visual response to what we are seeing. Monochrome highlights the core event or idea; adding a unique gravitas to the experience. That doesn’t make a more intense experience, just different.
We humans respond to colour more readily than our fellow primates who vary considerably in their ability to distinguish colour. In general, old world apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans) see more like us than new world primates like squirrel & spider monkeys.
Some marsupials see colours we can only imagine, yet they can’t see ultra violet of infra-red, like we can. Another more significant difference between humans and other primates is our tendency to ‘interpret’ colour. It is widely recognised that within the animal kingdom many species are influenced by colour in displays to attract a mate, or repel a threat. They are responding to their primary primal survival instinct rather than some aesthetic or intellectual appreciation.
How human brains function differently to all other species is why we homo sapiens find meaning in colour. Cognitive intelligence beyond survival. As we have evolved, we have developed a tendency to ascribe meaning to all sorts of things. Visually, this is sometimes given the scientific name ‘semiotics’. Alphabets, signs, symbols, shapes and form. For us humans, the most influential visual stimulus is colour. Whether we have developed habitual (heuristic) rather than genetic auto responses to different colours is a divided debate.
So, can colourful paintings influence or enhance your mood? Yes, yes, yes. Most definitely. Why? We all have subtly opposing reasons for favouring certain colours and combinations to others. We also interpret colour in paintings differently. We relish our subjective points of view. This has proven to be both an opportunity and a challenge for artists throughout the ages of enlightenment.
Picasso had a ‘blue period’. Did he simply run out of other colours? Or was he trying to express something with colour choice? In his case, experts believe it was in response to the death of a dear friend. Grief leading to a period of depression. Blue is associated with sadness. African American music began with ‘the Blues’, in response to being enslaved and exiled. Saying ‘I go the blues’ readily transferred into tales of broken hearts and loneliness from lost relationships. But not all blues are sad. Sky blue is a perennially uplifting theme in art and music. ‘Hey there, Mister Blue, we’re so please to be with you. Mr. Blue Skies’.
Yellow too is joyous buttercups, sunshine, ripe corn, fresh lemons and daffodils. In fact, the entire spectrum has been explored, interpreted, and ascribed meaning. Here are a few examples of how we regard colour:
Red – danger, passion, excitement, energy
Pink – feminine, sentimental, romantic, exciting
Orange – fresh, youthful, creative, adventurous Yellow – optimistic, cheerful, playful, happy
Green – natural, vitality, prestige, wealth
Blue – communicative, trustworthy, calming, depressed
Purple – royalty, majesty, spiritual, mysterious
Brown – organic, wholesome, simple, honest
White – purity, simplicity, innocence, minimalism
Black – sophisticated, formal, luxurious, sorrowful, serious
Multicolor – United, open, diversity
These examples are by no means definitive. In fact, as you can see, some colours can represent polar opposites; blue is both calming and depressed. Green can be natural, or symbolise wealth. Whereas, multicoloured is inclusive, accepting e.g. The United Colours of Benetton, LGQBT. We love the magical idea of rainbows. And when it comes to art and painting, there is no prescribed set of rules about colour, and why you must choose one hue over another. Art is the ultimate subjective form. Which is probably why there are so many diverse movements and styles in art. We can’t get enough of it. And, like music, which has but 12 notes in a scale, the spectrum of a primary and secondary colour palette is based on just 7 hues, plus black and white. But as we all know, in music and art there are grey areas, and they’re not all grey. It is infinitesimal. Endless. So, we continue to explore, experiment and celebrate choice.
Representational art - still life, portrait, land/seascape, etc - will carry within it a literal interpretation based upon its content. Abstract art however, can convey tantalising symbolism that cuts straight to that part of our brain that is pure emotion. Evoking a primal response of the soul. So, if you are choosing abstract art for your space, it is best to not interpret, but more so to feel. If the feeling you get is positive, then that artwork is more likely to enhance your environment. Colour will be an important factor in that emotional experience. Whatever colour you choose in your artwork or painting seek that which lifts your spirit, and brings contentment in your appreciation of it.
Enjoy your art.
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