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7-4 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF COLOR

Psychology is the study of human behaviour ...

What has this to do with color? We must first decide whether there is a genetic or instinctive behavioural element in hue recognition. Then we might ask if there are any environmental aspects that have a universal effect on the human species.
1. Genetic - I have seen no evidence of the first. We are not like bees or birds where the recognition of the hues of flowering plants are somehow passed on from one generation to the next.
2. Environmental - I have seen green associated with health - and with rotting meat, red with luck and danger, blue with pain and tranquillity, yellow with disease or elsewhere intellect. Summing up I know of no universal acceptance of a particular hue or color that has a universal significance across all societies. Movment has more significance for survival purpose for the eye discerns movement before anything else. The eye discerns movement at a span of 180 degrees where hue, depending on its saturation, can be seen only to 140 degrees.

When awareness of red is combined with a sense of heat then we might say the combination is universally one of fire. This and many other instances of combined sensory experiences are manifold but those instancing color alone escape me. I must conclude that singularly hue has no universal behavioural consequences and therefore no psychological implications - unless combined with other senses or hues. Remember there is no universal hue indicating the ripeness of an apple.

This thesis runs a parallel to music where no universal psychological analysis can be made of single notes but when combined with others we can have harmony or disharmony and moods created with various combinations. To take this analogy further it might be argued sensitivity to color is rather like sensitivity to musical notes where some individuals can tune instruments easier than others, some folk dream in color and some remember color easily while others desire to train their color discernment to high levels of sensitivity. Sensitivity to all elements of life is the key that opens the door to happy appreciation. The alternative is to dark to consider.

Fig.1

The adjacent effect .... color residuals of the eye. With musical melodies we have ‘progression’. I mean by this intervals of time between notes that allow the brain time to understand the tune. If all the notes were played simultaneously any melody would be incomprehensible. But in painting all colors are played both individually and together, depending on the position of the viewer, and they must work on both levels. As the eye physically moves between adjacent hues, a negative residual interferes with the ‘melodic’ appreciation. Note the rather sickly Fig.1 combination above. This can be overcome with a transitional or neutral hue as shown below.

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As a practical example ...

This painting I did for the 'Bounty' series is a composition in blue and orange. Blue will naturally fight the orange if adjacent so here I separated them as much as possible. Even though the sea line appears blue meeting gold it is a neutral grey-black instead. The hat and coat are separated from the orange clouds by a neutral white. The notion blue always receeds is disproved here.

Like a play in a theatre or an opera a painting is the creation of an illusion - of a painter's particular reality. The dominant hue in the painting below (blue-white) suggests a mid-morning scene.

Here again, in this demonstration piece, it may appear blue is against the yellow - orange of the boat. But where they are strongest they are also furthest apart. This makes the painting easy on the eye and more 'melodic'.

Stained glass windows, the paintings of Mondrian and Roualt are modern examples of strong colors being separated by (black) neutrals. If you feel strongly that poetry should not be element in the style of painting you want to attempt then you can use this information to introduce jarring and suddenly surprising passages to your paintings. I call this the 'Hawaiian shirt effect'. To understand the mechanics of color means that whatever effect you desire can be realized and whatever you are doing, you are doing it deliberately. Trial and error is no way to pilot a plane or create a masterpiece.

GO TO ... Psychology and color harmonies

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