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  Are we born with ideas about colour, and are it's associations different for different people? Neil Robertson introduces a discussion on colour and it's symbolic implications. The rest is up to you...  
Blue is said to be a calming and restful colour

Aeroplane by John Bourne. This is a frightening image: The red walls seem to induce fear and suggest destruction, in contrast to the calm blues of the natural world beyond. Black is often associated with evil



Colour can reflect and induce emotion, and is often regarded as a universal language, but does it mean the same thing to everyone, or is our response to colour a product of our experiences and therefore different according to who we are? Experiments using different coloured light in the cages of chimpanzees, our nearest living relatives, have shown that they have a liking for blue which calms and soothes them, whilst red agitates and repulses them. This could be an inherent characteristic or it could be aquired from experience. Obviously we are not born with ideas about colour, as a baby in the womb cannot consider light, but the brain could be equipped to respond without thought to different colours in different ways.

My favourite colour is blue. Yours may be another colour: why? What is a favourite colour anyway, and can colour be taken out of context like this? Red is supposed to symbolise love: I have always disagreed with this and think of blood and a fiery unpredictable nature. These are two differing things; one is a substance and is red, the other a temperament and therefore not able of itself to be red or any other colour.

Colour is probably the most important factor in an expressionistic painting, but do we respond according to our genetic make-up or our experience and acquired character, and does this explain why certain expressionistic works appeal to certain people? Is colour a universal language?


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From: John Bourne
Posted: 1st May 2002
I have come across various theories as to the meanings of each individual colour, but the trouble is that the various theories disagree with each other. For example, you suggest blue for restfulness yet green is often cited. I think there are a few quite convincing cases, red for danger because of blood and black for depression because of our dependence on light, for example. There is still the question, which comes first; for example, does red mean danger because blood is red, or is blood red because red means danger? It may also be reasonable to link red to love because the heart is more active when this passion is aroused. I agree about black in the aeroplane picture, but the red could be used simply because the buidings in the remembered scene were red brick. The expressionist Kandinsky had the condition Synesthesia or crossed perception, which meant that when he saw a colour, he heard a musical sound which corresponded to it and music certainly does have a direct effect on our emotions. I think we are all born with some genetic response to colour, which will be part universal and part dependent on our particular genetic make-up. Some artists, Rembandt for example, seem to prefer warm colours. I think experience is important. I had a favourite toy which was red and have included it in a painting. Local colour is also important. I find I am very reluctant to paint flesh green, say. Artists may have outlandish theories about colour and many other things, but what is important is that their theories inspire them to produce art. Seurat is a good example. The resulting art is a mystery, which cannot really be explained scientifically; otherwise it would be science, not art.

From: Anthony Jones
Posted: 8th May 2006
At the end of my first year of visual art degree studies at Salford University - August/September 1996. I organised a show of the artwork I had produced throughout the year at Prestwich Library.
It was held in the public gallery on the first floor. This was a fairly big room and I think I displayed about 30 works of varying sizes.
As the private view got under way, I began to notice and obviously be interested in - peoples' reactions as they viewed each work.
On the far wall opposite the public entrance there hung a small abstract - about A4 in size on board. I began to notice that people would walk across the room to look at this small piece more than any other.
Loosely based on some form of landscape, it was painted in different shades and types of blue. Also there were different types of paint application - from glazing a mixture of Prussian with viridian over thick lumps of white - to dragging ultramarine through a wave of another type of blue.
Using Constable's trick of adding, almost haphazardly, little touches of scarlet to react with the array of violets, Prussians and oltre-mare [the term ultramarine came from the Italian oltre-mare, loosely meaning 'from across the sea', ie: lapis lazli from Afghanistan].
A small but fairly powerful painting was seemingly created.
Because of the various blues, it literally attracted people from across the room. I managed to sell it.... but I could have sold three or four times that night!
I realise that some may think that my ego is doing the talking here... partly it is, but there was no denying the 'pull' of this concoction of Blues.
I personally respond to blue like many others... I became fascinated by the colour and my final show at Salford in 1998 was entitled 'The Blue of the Madonna's Dress' - this dovetailed into my final dissertation which shared the same title.
In the essay I obviously refer to Kandinsly's 'Concerning the spiritual in art' and suggest that perhaps the title should be changed to 'Concerning the Art in the Spiritual'.
I proposed that each one of us has a spiritual well from birth - and at certain times and circumstances that spiritual well is brought into play/action when we are confronted with certain colours or sounds or touch. It certainly is activated when some of us are confronted by Blue!.....

Anthony Jones
April 06

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