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.

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