Colour triggers

March 25, 2008


After my last two letters on the value of various triggers that
might motivate art viewers, many artists enthused on the value
of colour. Colour, they insisted, is the most effective way to
caress the emotional brain.

The idea that specific colours have specific value has been
around for a while. Generally speaking, warm colours inspire,
excite and motivate, while cool colours calm and sedate. Really
dark colours are found to be heavy and depressing.
Black-painted bridges experience fewer suicide attempts when
repainted a bright, warm colour.

A recent U.S. and Canadian survey gave some interesting colour
insights. Crayola, the crayon people, had 20,000 kids help in
renaming some of the company's most popular colours. The
children were first asked to write a story. Then they were
asked to illustrate their story using crayons from a large
display of Crayola products. Next, a team of researchers,
colour-trend experts and content developers pulled all the
themes and patterns from the stories--interpreted and analyzed
them and came up with new names for eight of the colours.
Essentially, they let the kids name the colours.

The experiment seemed to show children's positive and
optimistic outlooks on life. "Super Happy Yellow" was
typical--no cowardly yellow stuff here. Environmental concerns
surfaced with "Giving Tree Green." "Fun in the Sun Orange"
seemed to reflect the children's active life. "Bear Hug Brown,"
was a bit of a surprise. For these kids, brown signified the
feeling of a loving hug, perhaps Grandpa's fuzzy old sweater.

The question in all of this is how much is learned and how much
is built into the inner workings of children's brains. How
might particular colours play out with Iraqi or Sudanese kids?
How much do language and word association affect what we feel
about certain colours?

Universally, orange increases appetite. Blue relaxes patients
after surgery. Pink makes most men frisky. It's only reasonable
to think that pea green might induce some arcane desire or
state of mind. And think of the potential of a combination of
colours--an irresistible cocktail of emotional delight.

Best regards,


PS: "Today we need colour more than at any time in history.
Blacks and grays, both depressing, should be replaced in
clothes, offices and homes with new colours that give
inspiration, tranquility and happiness." (Linda Clark)

Esoterica: Linda Clark's "The Ancient Art of Color Therapy,"
still in print after thirty years, is loaded with anecdotal
material on the power of colour. From an artist's point of
view, the avoidance of bad colour is a significant part of our
job. Every painter knows that some combinations produce disgust
and revulsion. As wizards who stir the bubbling pot of
illusion, we artists need to understand what power we have.