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.

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