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Colors Psychology in Theory and Art

√ Updated: September 14, 2010

Colors Psychology, Perception and Color Harmony
Artwork and Colors Psychology
Color Theory Glossary

Introduction to Colors Psychology

Colors psychology is a fascinating topic that has captured the imagination of scientists, artists and poets. Color theory is is a huge part of the fashion industry, home decor and ongoing studies that try and determine the ideal surroundings for both work and relaxation. Read the topics below to learn more about how colors psychology and color theory affect your life.

Links to additional articles on color symbolism, color meaning, healing with colors and colors psychology can be found at the end of this page.

Colors Psychology, Perception and Color Harmony

Color THeoryThe brilliant chemist M.E. Chevreul (1789-1889) changed the entire course of modern art with his insightful theories concerning colors psychology, perception and color harmony. The effort to devise a scientific approach to color usage was foremost in the minds of eminent physicists and chemists in the nineteenth century.

Chevreul's landmark publication in 1839 was completely devoted to addressing this issue. Chevreul's book, called The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts, reported his extensive observations of the optical effects of colors. Chevreul further developed a series of guidelines for colors psychology that could be adapted to artistic endeavors of all types.

Chevreul observed that colors placed next to one another affect the actual color seen by the beholder. For instance, a red placed next to black will appear to be a different hue when compared with the same red placed next to a patch of yellow, white, blue, or any other color. This type of observation was a deepening and expanding of Goethe's earlier understanding of the physiological, optical, and neurological reactions to colors psychology.

Color Theory and Art\Simply stated, Chevreul's laws affirmed that a pure hue placed next to another pure hue would result in a more dramatic optical effect than side-by-side colors that have been muted through traditional shading and rendering. For example, when opposite colors are placed together, red and warm colors are seen a split second before green and cool colors. This causes a vibration to take place in the perception of the viewer. The Impressionists seized upon this fact to aid them in their attempt to create naturalistic shimmer and movement in their works.

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Artwork and Colors Psychology

The colors used in art can have therapeutic value. Warm colors (red, yellow and orange) can be used to alleviate depression and to stimulate metabolism. Cool colors (green, blue and purple) can help to offset fevers, relieve exhaustion and encourage relaxation. Thus, a painting of a bright meadow filled with marigolds or buttercups would be appropriate art for someone with a cold and a blue ocean scene or would be appropriate healing art for someone in need of rest and recuperation.

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Color Theory Glossary

Hue: corresponds to the dominant wavelength of a color; the chromatic quality of a color, referred to by its common name such as red or orange

Saturation: also known as purity, intensity or chroma; the degree of departure from neutral gray; a color with strong saturation is an intense, rich, deep color when compared with pastels or tints

Color Theory and ContrastBrightness: also known as value; the lightness or darkness of a color; yellow have a high value while violet has a low one

Accidental colors: afterimages and color sensations experienced subjectively

Binary colors: colors made up of two primaries; also known as secondary colors; also groups of two colors

Broken colors: pure colors mixed with black; also known as shades

Broken tones: pure colors mixed with white; also known as tints

Complementary colors: colors opposite one another on the color wheel such as red and green or orange and blue

Mixed contrast: the influences of afterimages on colors

Art TherapyColor scale: sequences of chromatic colors (hue scales) or sequences of colors towards black or white (tone scales)

Shades: colors mixed with black

Simultaneous contrast: the visual influence of colors in close proximity to one another when viewed at the same time

Successive contrast: the visual influence of colors on each other when viewed separately after short periods of time

Tertiary colors: the colors that are mixed from secondary colors

More Information About Color Symbolism

For more information about color symbolism, please see the following recommended Amazon books:
Symbolism of Color
Color Synergy: Power of Color, Creative Visualizations, and Affirmations to Transform Your Life
The Symbolism of Color
Color and the Edgar Cayce Readings

Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism

©2007-2010 Living Arts Enterprises, LLC


Peterson, L.K. and Cheryl Dangel Cullen. Global Graphics: Color, Designing with Color for an International Market. Couscester, Massachusetts:Rockport Publishers, Inc, 2000.

Andrews, Ted. How to Heal with Color. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2006.

Chiazzari, Suzy. The Complete Book of Color. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1998.

Sloane, Patricia. The Visual Nature of Color. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books, 1989.

Chevreul, M.E. The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts. New York: Reinhold Puyblishing Corporation, 1967.



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