How colours impact humanity
Anvitaa Anandkumar, NPS Koramangla
The world of colours takes its hold right at birth. The moment the nurses swaddle a tiny child in either soft blue or pink blankets, indicating whether it’s a boy or a girl. Whether the baby has red hair or brown, blue eyes or black. What colour clothes would suit the child? What colour should the room be?
Our lives revolve around colours. They are omnipresent in every decision we make. The colour palate consists of a myriad of colours and a million hues and they all affect us in different ways.
Would you consider wearing a chirpy shade of blue to a funeral or sombre grey to a wedding? I somehow doubt it. From our childhood we have been instilled with a set of rules, what colours to wear when and for what occasions. We have been ingrained with a sense of what colours mean. But these meanings are variable.
Lets start with bright Red – it stands for so many things. Red for an Indian woman could mean marriage, auspiciousness and the colour of the goddess Kali. In china, the colour red stands for fire, and means good fortune and joy. Red can also exemplify love, passion, desire, heat, romance, strength, leadership, courage, vigor, willpower, rage, anger, danger, malice, wrath, stress, action, vibrance, radiance, and determination. It represents physical energy.
Red when mixed with white forms pink. Pink is largely associated with women, describing soft, feminine nature while blue is used to assert masculinity. This is especially true in the case of newborn babies when their gender decides whether they have a blue blanket or a pink one. I find this curious because, in the past, especially during the Nazi era, red and especially pink represented the passion of men while calm blue was used to depict the woman’s supposedly calmer demeanor. I do wonder why this changed.
Green, the color of life, renewal, nature, and energy, is associated with meanings of growth, harmony, freshness, safety, fertility, and environment. Positive words those generally indicate moving forward. In Christianity, Green is associated with baptism and the feast of the Eucharist. Green is the sacred color of Islam and is a sign of respect and veneration. Green is also traditionally associated with money, finances, banking, and ambition. It is also got a negative connotation and personifies greed and jealousy, a stark contrast to its other meanings. See what I mean when I said that the meanings varied?
Colours also hold great importance in fields like branding and marketing. They are thought to evoke different responses from the masses. Brand Managers and admen make use of this fact and pretty much manipulate you without you even knowing about it. Fast food is the latest trend, and most fast food joints have logos, buildings and signboards in either red or yellow. These colours (along with the awesome pictures of food of course) generate hunger in people. A similar trick was used when the logo of Coca Cola was created. It is theorized, that when people look at the red logo, it makes them feel thirsty and the wave in the logo is the thirst quencher. Cokes rival Pepsi on the other hand, went the other route and used blue, saying it represented the cooling effect their drink has for people. Both the meanings are different but both companies are very successful.
Perhaps the most colourful part in our world is nature itself. The flora and fauna together form a riot of colours, clashing yet complementing each other to form something truly spectacular. Spring is green with fresh leaves and nascent blossoms. Kyoto is famous for its Cherry Blossoms, the trees bursting with blooms during the spring. The summer is dry, hot and bright, the raging white sun beating steadily down on the dry, harsh and desolate plains of the Atacama. Then comes autumn, dressed in a gown of all the shades of orange, yellow and red, a surprising burst of colours. Vancouver perfectly captures the beauty of this season down to every last detail, the shape of the leaves and the apple orchards, ripe for the picking. At last, comes the winter, dull and gray in its foreboding cold in some places, white a blinding blanket of white like cake frosting in others.
The mountains, the oceans, the deserts, the forests – they are all adorned by colours that reflect their personalities.
I have always found it curious when people completely disregard black and white, not considering them colours. If they are not colours, what are they? Black and white seems so simple, but they create a world of depth. Black and white generally symbolizes two sides of a coin, the opposing forces. In most cultures, black is used to describe death, the devil, darkness and other negative forces while white is a symbol of purity, innocence and everything that is good. In Chinese culture however, this is slightly different. Black represents water and is considered the colour of heaven and the king of all colours in China. It is also the single colour that was worshipped the longest time in ancient China. White, here, represents multiple things. In the theory of ‘Five Elements’, white corresponds to gold, which shows that the Chinese people thought it to symbolize brightness. Along with this, it also stands for purity and fullness. See, generally the opposite. But together, they create a while new world of beauty and harmony, the unity of Ying and Yang.
Black and white however has perhaps been the most destructive colours in history. People were differentiated on the basis of their skin colour. The people with black skin were made slaves to the whites, denying them of their basic rights and making life a living hell. The white minority broke their spirit and treated them like animals for centuries. Almost all European countries and the USA had separate and derogatory rules for the blacks, making them inferior in every way possible. It was common to see insulting sign boards like “Blacks and dogs not allowed”. It was only in the sixties and the seventies where things started changing in most places.
Perhaps the most important part about colour is the way they impact the audiences. They are very effect means of telling stories. Famous artists like Van Gogh have created masterpieces that tell epic tales using the ever present colour palate, creating beautiful paintings that people not only see, but also read to delve deep into the world of colours and search for the layers of hidden meaning. They use colours to show emotions, depict how they are feeling what other people feel or have felt. Even poets use colours to bring their poetry to life. Famous lines like “a host of golden daffodils” use colours to actually bring the scene to life and enable readers to visualize and actually connect with the poem.
Perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of colours is how they affect us. This is called colour psychology. It is the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. Did you know, that in Glasgow, in the year 2000, they installed blue street lighting in certain neighborhoods and subsequently reported the anecdotal finding of reduces crime rates? And that a railroad company in Japan introduced blue lighting in its stations in 2009 that effectively reduced suicide attempts?
Colors also help us when we are depressed and sad. Research suggests that bright and cheerful colours draw us out of our depression and bring back the joy in our lives. Colours provide us comfort, and radiate beauty, which the human mind cannot ignore.
The world is full of strange colours, which makes it an exceptionally interesting place to live in. Without them perhaps we wouldn’t have had racism and slavery in the first place but we also wouldn’t have had epic works of art, not recognised the beauty of nature and simply missed out on the amazement of seeing an interestingly coloured flower or the myriad of hues in a gorgeous sunset. The world just wouldn’t be the same and I am thankful that it isn’t.
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