In my earlier article (How do we look at art?) I explained that colour affects the whole body and when we look at a piece of art we are using more than just our eyes. But what effect does colour have on us? Let’s start by considering each of the seven main colours of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. These are of course the colours of the rainbow – at my school in England we were taught to remember these by using the following mnemonic ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’. Each of these colours relate to a particular chakra or energy centre in the body. Chakras are like spirals of energy. Red relates to the base chakra, orange the sacral chakra, yellow the solar plexus chakra, green the heart chakra, blue (turquoise) the throat chakra, indigo the brow chakra (sometimes referred to as the third eye) and violet relates to the crown chakra. At a simple level, colour therapy is about balancing the seven chakras and the whole aura using colour, and the healing art I work with contributes to that process – there will be more about that in a later article.
But how does colour actually affect us?
Starting with red, this is a powerful energiser and stimulant, the symbol of life, strength and vitality. It is a hot colour and very strong, it catches our attention and therefore is often used in warning signs. Red is the most commonly used colour to make corrections so that they stand out – my English teacher at school probably wore out several red pens correcting my grammar! I might also add I was taught at school not to write in a red pen as it was considered rude and the equivalent of shouting. That is because red can be seen as aggressive – think of bullfighting and the saying ‘like a red rag to a bull’ meaning that you are doing or saying something provocative. Funnily enough bulls can’t distinguish the colour red, but that is another story.
Orange is feminine energy and creation, a combination of red and yellow it promotes joy and happiness and helps us to create balance. It is also a stimulating, fun, warm colour, focusing the mind on physical comfort, warmth, security, food. Orange also has some negative attributes, however, too much orange can suggest frivolity and a lack of intellectual values.
Yellow is the last of the three warm colours and stimulates mental activity with a focus on the mind and intellect. Yellow makes us think of sunshine, gold, happiness and pleasure. The main stimulus of yellow is emotional so it is the colour that has the most psychological effect on us. Yellow can lift the spirits and self-esteem and is often used in counselling sessions. Too much yellow can have the opposite effect causing fear and anxiety – bringing out our ‘yellow streak’.
Green represents balance, harmony, sympathy, healing, the environment and peace. When we actually look at the colour green it requires little adjustment in our brain and therefore is quite restful. Green also appeals to our primal instincts as where there is green there is water and therefore we avoid famine. Green can also, however, be quite bland so blocks of green can create feelings of boredom.
Turquoise creates a bridge linking the heart and the spoken word, allowing your truth to be spoken. It works with the emotions creating balance and stability so it is good for alleviating stress. It boosts creativity, communication, individual responsibility and respect for life. Too much turquoise can make you over emotional or unemotional as two extremes.
Indigo blue creates a calm, inner peace. It is a cooling colour and slows things down. It boosts wisdom, trust, serenity, logic, coolness, reflection and calm being essentially soothing. Blue gives the impression of space and blue objects do not seem as close to us as red ones. Whilst it is many people’s favourite colour, too much blue can be cold, unemotional and unfriendly.
Violet (or purple) develops higher levels of spirituality, a higher level of thought, self-respect and dignity, deep contemplation or meditation, peace and wisdom. Excessive use of purple can bring about too much introspection.
Immediately we can begin to see how the application of colour in art can potentially have a profound effect on the viewer.This is explored further in the next article.