It is ironic that a few weeks ago I was convinced that winter had completely bypassed our little corner of the world. As I chirped about budding branches and peeking bulbs, winter decided I was being altogether too smug. This week we got walloped. Trapped indoors for several days in a world of white everything, my thoughts turned to color.
Color is such an appealing phenomenon that at times I want to eat it, cover myself in it—or even better—become it. Quite often I have what I call color dreams. As I fall asleep, my mind’s screen becomes flooded with undulating colors that hint at feelings, memories and sensations playing out at the edges of my awareness. The experience is one of saturation both visual and something else…something numinous. There is a neurological explanation for this phenomenon but it takes the fun out of it. Dispelling the magic of poetry with mundane prose.
While my nighttime visions are very hard to fix in memory, I have always felt they are what inform my color sense—how I use color in my work and in my art. There is such a thing as perfect pitch in color just like in music. I am not saying that I have it, but I am definitely driven towards it. A deep certainty inside about the rightness of a color or the need for a certain combination of colors to visually express a ”feeling state” and arrive at a sense of wholeness or gestalt. This is not a thought process. It is quite literally a sensation.
The ability to create a mood, express a feeling and induce behavior through color is profound. Serious dollars go into analyzing and forecasting color trends to better persuade consumers to make purchases. Hence the Color Marketing Group’s tagline, “Color Sells and the Right Colors Sell Better”.
But how does it actually work? What makes color so seductive? What caused me to hyperventilate when I got my first box of 64 Crayola Crayons as a child? Why is colorful packaging so effective at getting us to part with our dollars? How is it that Steve Jobs was able to turn the fortunes of Apple around with the introduction of the 13 colors of the iMac G3?
The qualities we attribute to colors are highly subjective and depend on personal experience, cultural background and context. Red doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone everywhere and in every setting. So while there is lots of anecdotal information and opinions about the meaning of colors, to my thinking assigning specific or absolute meanings to individual colors has an element of hocus pocus to it. On the other hand, that we are deeply influenced by color is a no brainer.
So we have our favorite colors and different colors impact us differently but I believe the power of color is not in its singularity but rather its totality—as in the whole spectrum.
Color is a component of light. Science tells us that light is an electromagnetic wave and each color in the spectrum of light visible to us has its signature wavelength. So is color an intrinsic property of matter or is it created in our minds? Once again, science tells us when light hits an object some wavelengths are absorbed and some are reflected. Colors are the portion of the spectrum reflected off of an object. So in reality—sad to say—without the photoreceptors in our eyes and the brain’s visual cortex, color does not exist. You could say that our experience of color is the experience of different frequencies of waves and like waves in the ocean, there is more energy in short rapid waves and more calm in long slow waves. And that’s how we feel colors and why even subtle shifts in hue can have a profound effect on us.
Seeing color is seeing life. Scientific explanations aside, the visual experience of our world is one of the greatest pleasures we have and nature’s bounty is endless when it comes to color—even if we are limited in how much of it we can perceive. It is not surprising then that prescriptions of antidepressants peak during fall and winter when there is so much less light, so much less color, so much less of life’s energy.
Which brings us back to my box of 64 Crayola Crayons. And while we are at it, the rush to climb on every “trendy color” bandwagon, the exuberance of Asian snack food packaging and the mythical power of rainbows. The more colors we see the more excited and alive we feel, hence the seductive power of color.
Looking out my window, the snow is melting and color is creeping back into my world. I notice that my clematis sprouts have survived the cold and seem eager to continue in their spring reveal. I am not immune to marketing and catchy taglines. And if I was to market myself, I might choose something prosaic like “Power to the Spectrum”. As a creative type though, I am more partial to “Happiness is a Hue”.
Until we meet again, Happy Valentine’s Day.