Science has proved that color affects our moods and the way we view our world. While perceptions of color are subjective, some affects have universal meaning.
If you’ve ever had the blues or been so angry you saw red, then you’re familiar with the powerful ways in which color can describe intangible ideas and emotions. In art, color symbolism refers to color’s ability to signify meaning to a viewer. While there are some universal associations people have with different colors, their meanings differ from culture to culture.
There are a range of cultural influences that affect one’s view of a specific color, like political and historical associations (flag colors, political parties), mythological and religious associations (references to color in spiritual texts), and linguistic associations and expressions.
Let’s look at some of the most common symbolism in popular colors. Color symbolism is prevalent because color is important. It’s a crucial form of communication for human beings. We use it to represent ideas, feelings, and emotions. We also process a lot of information through what we see.
The amount and variety of symbolism in colors is truly endless. However, here are a few shared interpretations.
The Color of Life
Red. Red has a range of symbolic meanings through many different cultures, including life, health, vigor, war, courage, anger, love and religious fervor.
The Color of Love
Red or pink. A visually hot color, red represents passionate, sexual love. Or, the exact opposite—jealousy, anger, and revenge.
Pink is a softer hue, suggesting a gentler kind of love. It’s a delicate and provocative color.
The Color of Happiness
Yellow. The return of a yellow sun and the subsequent bloom of spring flowers is enough to make most people smile after a long winter. This is one of the reasons for yellow’s connection to happiness. It’s a bright, youthful color, radiating warmth and joy.
The Color of Hope
Yellow or green. In Canada, families display yellow ribbons on the walls of their home to keep hope alive for loved ones at war. The United States and Europe associate green with hope due to its relationship with springtime and a sense of flourishing. Think growth, nature, rebirth—these are all connected to the color green.
The Color of Peace
Blue. It’s cool and calming, and often associated with the sea and sky. Blue instills a sense of inner stability.
The Color of Jealousy
Green. Back in 1603, William Shakespeare referred to jealousy as a “green-eyed monster” in his tragic play Othello. These days, the idiomatic phrase “green with envy” is common in the West.
The Color of Death
Black. Always an interesting color because of its inherent antagonism. Black is sometimes referred to as the absence of light. This is why black is considered in many cultures as a sign of mourning, loss, hopelessness, and mystery.
Ironically, the opposite of black, which is white, does not signify life. Instead, in some cultures, it represents death as well.