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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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
Brightness: 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
Color 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:
©2007-2010 Living Arts Enterprises, LLC
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.