Colors Evoke Similar Emotions Around the World, Survey Finds
“Painting with Green Center” by Vasily Kandinsky, 1913
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Colors Evoke Similar Emotions Around the World, Survey Finds

Jaimee Bell
time 3 minutes

Certain colors are globally linked to certain feelings, the study reveals.

People associate colors with emotions (green for envy, blue for sadness, etc). We see this portrayed in the media, in marketing, even in the clothes we choose to wear. A detailed survey of over 4,500 participants from 30 nations (spanning over


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What Do Colours Tell Us?
Experiences, Fiction

What Do Colours Tell Us?

A History of Colour in Art
Anna Arno

It seems that art can’t exist without them. They allow for the imitation of reality, draw the eyes, carry hidden meanings. The history of colour is a fascinating story of the changeability of human tastes and the power of our convictions, associations and… stereotypes.  

“When we are asked ‘What do the words “red”, “blue”, “black”, “white” mean? We can, of course, immediately point to things which have these colours, but our ability to explain the meanings of these words goes no further!” 
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Stendhal’s most famous novel was supposed to be entitled “Julien”, after the main protagonist. Later on the writer decided to go with The Red and the Black. “It’s a uniform and a cassock,” Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński explained. “It’s the two Frances: Napoleon’s France and the Bourbons’ France.” Such is the most common interpretation of this enigmatic title. However, the red’s link to the army is not clear-cut, as Napoleonic uniforms were blue. That aside, red and black evoke numerous other associations. Love and death. The colours betted on in roulette. Julien Sorel also speaks of “black ambition”, which could be counterbalanced by passionate red… Stendhal surely liked the ambivalence of his colouristic title – right after The Red and the Black, he started working on a book called The Pink and the Green.
A man turns purple with fury, goes white with fear, or falls into black despair. But there are also days when he is feeling blue or looks at the world through rose-coloured spectacles. Colours rouse strong emotional associations and carry symbolic meanings. However these – depending on the historical time and place – can differ, and even be contradictory. Colours, which in some periods were associated with savagery, the Devil or crime, in other periods won back their prestige as royal or even divine.

The Greek tetrad of colours

Up until the 19th century, it was thought that the ancient Greeks didn’t hold colours in high esteem. “There are four colours, in accordance with the number of the elements: white, black, red and yellow,” wrote Empedocles, followed by Plato in Timaeus. But what about the blue of the sky and the green plants of spring? Homer compared the colour of the sky to copper and iron, and that of the sea to wine. For us these are strange associations, but the poet was supposedly blind. Some even speculated that the eye structure developed after the ancient times, and that the Greeks couldn’t distinguish all shades. The Roman architect Vitruvius praised the ascetic approach of Greek painters: “The fact is that the artistic excellence which the ancients endeavoured to attain by working hard and taking pains, is now attempted by the use of colours and the brave show which they make, and expenditure by the employer prevents people from missing the artistic refinements that once lent authority to works.” But it is not true that the Greeks couldn’t tell colours apart or kept them in disdain. First, they preferred the colours of civilization over the colours of nature. Second, they distinguished between ‘painting proper’ and architectural decoration. And, at least since the end of the 18th century, we have known that Greek statues were not snow white. They were indeed painted, quite vividly too, and what’s more – not at all realistically (for example, hair was ‘dyed’ blue).

Nonetheless, the false image of naked marble has proven particularly lasting. The entirety of neoclassical aesthetics was based on it – from Canova’s Amor and Psyche, to the White House. According to these criteria, whiteness was a synonym of beauty and good taste, while colour was barbarity, debauchery and vulgarity. There is even an erotic subtext: male, distinct whiteness was juxtaposed with sensual, blurry colours. Johann Winckelmann, known as the father of German art history, declared that the whiter the body, the more beautiful it was. While examining works of art excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum, he noticed the remnants of pigments. He could not come to terms with this; he came to the conclusion that the ginger-haired Artemis in red sandals must have been created by the Etruscans. Even Goethe insisted that only barbarians, simpletons and children had a weakness for colour. Sophisticated people avoided garish-coloured clothes and on an everyday basis surrounded themselves with toned-down shades.

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