Sunday, March 13, 2011

Green, The Color of Growth

With St. Patrick's Day being celebrated this week, it is wonderful that GREEN is the next color of the rainbow and the subject of this post. This lovely color has long been associated with growth, youth, and fertility, as in the Green Man of pre-Christian mythology. While some modern artists, such as Mondrian, have distrusted it as  being too saccharine, green has established itself in the world as the preeminent color of banking and credit, due to its use in the "greenback," the omnipotent U.S. dollar. Sources of green pigments were usually malachite, verdigris (discovered by the Greeks centuries ago) and green earth. The Egyptians mastered the color by mixing yellow and blue pigments to achieve the green paint that usually symbolized papyrus plants. Occasionally, costly malachite was ground up to make the thinly applied paint for plaster walls. In 1088, an extraordinary embroidery on linen was commissioned by the Bishop of Bayeaux. It was done by English seamstresses famous for such fine work. The colors have survived almost without any fading and show a palette that evolved during the Dark Ages. The design and colors used are remarkably consistent despite the number of hands that must have labored on the 80' by 3' hanging. The battle scenes are depicted  using five principle colors: terra cotta, a grayish blue-green, an old gold (yellow-tan), olive green, and a deep blue with a slight but definite greenish tinge. Also appearing are a soft sage green and dark blue (a color the embroiderers apparently ran out of two thirds of the way through the project. The combination of terra cotta red with greens shows a developed sense of color balance and harmony, perhaps even an appreciation of color opposites enhancing each other.

 Nori and Sandra Pope’s comments from  Color in the Garden: “Green is the color of primeval wealth---sappy green fields, the green of a woodland glen---everyone can revel in it. It is this thin layer of green plant cells that keeps us breathing, keeps us fed, keeps us alive. No wonder we adore it and long for it when without it. The changing seasons add the melody to the green of a planting. Spring shoots are often tinged with chartreuse, turn blue-green in their fullness, and fade to biscuit yellow in the autumn before they fall. The eye translates the fresh green of spring to excitement, change and newness.
            Surely green is the color of Pan, god of life. Kirlian photography, which makes the invisible emanation of the psyche visible, concurs: green is the lush, sympathetic color.
            Colors are rarely seen in isolation, so it is important to be aware of the optical effect adjacent colors have on each other. Both Goethe in his theories of color harmony and Chevreul in his 700 page monograph of 1839 about the Gobelins dyers pointed out the phenomenon of successive contrast, the way in which the eye, staring first at a color and then at a piece of white paper, will see on the paper an afterimage in a complementary or opposite color. If the eye is fixed on green, the successive contrast will be red; if fixed on yellow, violet; if fixed on blue, orange and so forth. Each shadow is in perfect contrast, and Seurat and Monet made use of this effect in creating the terrible depths of their canvases. It results in a dazzling shimmer between pure red flowers and green leaves."

Most flowers have green leaves which form the perfect background color to enhance their beauty. Chartreuse green connotes spring's budding trees, adding to the visual excitement of the season. Viridian leaves, perhaps the darkest in nature's palette, make all floral colors "pop." The word “evergreen” is a synonym for continuing vitality. Holly is one of the evergreens used in ancient festivals as an emblem of hope in the darkness of midwinter. The symbolism was given a powerful new charge by Christian analogies between its thorns and red berries and the Passion of Christ. Hence its central place in Christmas decorations. It is the color of divine providence in the Islamic world. Its associations with the health of both the planet and of humankind are evident in its emblematic use as the color of pharmacy and of the ecology movement.

Despite its positive accolades, green also has its flip side personality. In some cultures it describes unattractive  traits. Since it connotes the greenish tinge of sickness, this led to the idea that people sick with envy could turn green. Shakespeare’s Iago tells Othello to “beware the green-eyed monster” of jealousy. But, Iago is the green-eyed cat who toys with Othello and feeds his illusion that his faithful wife Desdemona is deceiving him. Shakespeare picked a color which has the negative connotations of natures that are suspicious, bitter, unmindful, greedy, bland, undependable and deceitful, all characteristics of Iago.
 Being "green around the gills" is a quaint way of saying one does not look well, whereas a "green horn" is one who has not learned all he needs to know. 
My wish is that you find many four leaf clovers this week. And, if you have the luck of the Irish, look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you may find it.
*In the comments section, please leave a note about your favorite color. I am beginning a poll to see if some other color findings from studies coincide with the preferences of my audience.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Yellow, symbol of good or evil?

Daffodils are one of spring's first signs, the birthday flower of Pisces people. As lovely as this color is, 
yellow has negative connotations. It became an English synonym for fear or cowardice not only because it was linked with skin pallor, but also because yellow was traditionally feared as an emblem of disease. Yellow crosses were painted on houses afflicted by the plague in London during the 17thcentury. Quarantine was indicated by yellow flags. Yellow is also symbolically linked with treachery, one of its code meanings in traditional Chinese theater, which seems ironic for yellow-skinned people.
Yellow was as vile as bile to the medieval mind because it was believed that the Jews had betrayed Jesus. This led the Catholic church  to require Jews to wear yellow badges, an idea taken up with more sinister motives in Nazi Germany, where Jews were required to stitch yellow stars on their clothes. Judas Iscariot is often shown wearing yellow in Christian art of the medieval time period.
In addition to green, yellow is the hue linked with envy because it is the color of bile. In its sulfurous incarnation, its the color associated with the Devil. It is also the color associated with declining power. A sallow complexion comes with sickness. The yellow of autumn symbolizes their approaching death; the change shows that the leaves cannot absorb the same light energy they once showed when they were green and full of chlorophyll. 

Nori and Sandra Pope give us the seasonal connotations of this color in their gorgeous book, Color in the Garden: "Yellow so dominates the color of our lives that we tend to lose awareness of it and control. The high chartreuse side of yellow looks like spring itself in the wan and watery light of an English spring, while the chrome yellows and copper yellows virtually define autumn. So automatically is the yellow of autumnal leaves associated with the beginning of winter that a painting of these hues can easily trigger a state of melancholy.”

They go into more depth about this color: "
“Yellow is the light at the entrance to Nirvana for the Buddhist; it is the golden halo of the saint. Mankind has always held it in high esteem. The Aztecs worshipped it, Dorothy and her friends followed it, most of us just love it. In yoga philosophy, where the chakras are the seven areas of the body that concentrate the life force, it is believed that yellow emanates from the solar plexus, the center of human self-recognition and self-worth. This yellow is more valuable than any gold sought by means of the philosopher’s stone,, though gold itself has always been imbued with magic properties.
            Yellow is central in the spectrum of light visible to humans, bending through green to the cool of blue on one side and through orange to the warmth of red on the other. It reflects more of the light that strikes it than does any other color, giving it a preternatural brightness. With its maximum reflectiveness, and the fact that sunlight is mostly in the yellow range, the sun being seen as yellow, it is small wonder that so many flowers have evolved in this color.
            In Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf School, rooms painted yellow were used to focus the mental activity of twelve year old students. Monet used a particularly singing canary yellow in his dining room, understanding intuitively its creative powers. Like a beam of light, yellow can illuminate the darkest corner.
            From Canadian prairies rippling with wheat or English fields of impossibly yellow mustard to the acres of sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh, yellow exudes the assurance of self-satisfied fullness, of harvest.
            One of the observable facts not part of the contrivance of the standard color wheel is that when two colors of the same saturation are mixed together, for example yellow and blue, the resulting color always absorbs more light than either of the original hues and appears darker. When two colors of identical saturation are juxtaposed, a vibration or shimmering seems to occur. The rods in our eyes, sensitive to light and dark but not to color, read each color as the same tone, while the cones, sensitive to color, register the differences between the two. Thus a conundrum is sent t the brain, and reality begins to wobble. Except in extreme cases, even the color-blind can see in the yellow range. Related to green, unlike red for example, yellow flowers do not form any complex clashes with their own leaves, so no retinal confusion strains the eye or interferes with the progress of the theme."

ON THE OTHER HAND, YELLOW in India and Japanis traditionally associated with the highest states of godhood. It is the color of pulsating life, of corn and gold and angelic haloes. In Asia yellow is the color of power. The emperors of China were the only ones allowed to wear sunshine-colored robes. It came to signify warmth and life in medieval stained glass as well. It has been long identified with the sun god and is often used as a substitute for gold in paintings or to indicate sunlight.
Positive yellow connotations link it to words like fresh, unprejudiced, incisive, fair, speedy, sharp and honest. In Asia yellow is the color of power. The emperors of China were the only ones allowed to wear sunshine-colored robes.
Vincent van Gogh used yellows extensively in his paintings. Perhaps he instinctively used it because it is said to clear away confusion and negative thinking, and is classified as a cheerful color for most painters. Emotionally, it boosts low self-esteem, lifts depression, and is particularly useful for fears and phobias.
Paul Gauguin commented: “Oh yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent…when the two of us painted together in Arles, both of us insane, and constantly at war over beautiful colors, I adored red; I want to know where could I find a perfect vermilion?”
Yellow is the color aging eyes can see almost as well as white. Monet reworked some of his earlier paintings by adding this color until his wife outsmarted him by having assistants hide his earlier ones while he napped so he would not ruin them up by adding “too much yellow”. Monet admitted that “Color is my day long obsession, joy and torment.” Another painter and friend of Monet, Bonnard, added more yellow to previously finished canvases when his eyesight deteriorated. There is no record of Mrs. Bonnard hiding canvases from him.
Many road signs and school buses are yellow because it is the most visible color. Gold and ochre tones of yellow create a formal, antique atmosphere. Soft yellows have been a popular exterior paint choice since Colonial days. This sunny color is positively associated with optimism, enlightenment, happiness, cheerfulness, stimulating intelligence, expressiveness, warmth, and wisdom. It’s too bad the artist Degas said “What a horrible thing yellow is” This color could have aided him as he gradually lost his eyesight.
Indian Yellow paint, used in Indian miniatures, was eventually banned. Cows fed mango leaves so their urine would produce this brilliant color became poisoned.
Lead or barium chromate, which gives its name to chrome yellow, provided the only pure yellow available to artists until the twentieth century. Early artists used the yellowish earth colors of ochre and sienna, the beautiful colors of sun-washed Italian buildings."

Yellow's positive and negative connotations by culture:
  • Apache: East - where the sun rises
  • Cherokee: Trouble and strife.
  • China: Nourishing, royalty
  • Egypt: Mourning
  • India: Merchants
  • Japan: Courage
  • Navajo: Doko'oosliid - Abalone Shell Mountain
  • Eastern: Proof against evil, for the dead, sacred, imperial
  • Western: Hope, hazards, coward, weakness, taxis and school buses
  • Astrology: Taurus
  • Feng Shui: Yang, earth, auspicious, sun beams, warmth, motion
  • Psychology: Energizes, relieves depression, improves memory, stimulates appetite
  • Roses: Sociability, friendship, joy, gladness - red and yellow together means gaiety, joviality
  • Stained Glass The sun, the goodness of God, treasure in heaven, spiritual achievement, and the good life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Color Filled World

Aspects of Color

            “The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varied combinations of colors which at every succeeding moment it presents to you are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever-moving thoughts.” James Allen

Think of your favorite color. Can you visualize it with your eyes closed? What are the
associations this color brings to mind? What shade or tint of this hue do you like best? Does this color remind you of a person, place, or thing that is significant? Is this color flattering to you? I contend that color is a powerful influence in our everyday lives whether we are aware of the blessing or not. Colors are signals. In the wild world they signify arousal, threat, or invitation. An absence of color is nature's most profound understatement. Grayness is its own beauty, and brilliant colors depend on gray's shyness for their effectiveness. Colors may calm, excite, arrest, motivate, or even heal us.
Ancient cultures worshipped the sun, from where all light, and therefore all color,
originates.  The therapeutic use of color in the ancient world can be traced in the teaching attributed to the Egyptian god Thoth, known to the Greeks as Hermes. Following these teachings, Egyptian and Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, used different colored ointments and salves as remedies, and practiced in treatment rooms painted in healing shades. The Arab physician Avicenna systematized the teachings of Hippocrates in the 9th century. He wrote about color both as a symptom of disease and as treatment, suggesting, for example, that red acts as a stimulant on blood flow while yellow reduces pain and inflammation.
            When we are healthy we may like most colors, but emotional and physical problems will tend to bring out preferences for different colors. Perhaps we are drawn to the color we need, such as a lively red when exhausted. We will be naturally attracted to blues when we need rest and healing. Perhaps our over-excited world would benefit from the use of more blues. Conversely, depressed people may benefit from viewing more yellow and gold.