The Art Symbolism of Color
Anybody can enjoy art, regardless of their knowledge of art and the different styles and -isms out there. But a little knowledge can go a long way to giving people greater appreciation and enjoyment of art. One way to gain knowledge is to better understand the different types of art symbolism. Many artists use symbolism of some type of other, ranging from numerology, shapes, cultural traditions, religious symbols, and color theory.
One of the easiest art symbolism systems for a beginner to study and to begin to understand is color symbolism. It is also helpful to study because many abstract artists depend upon color, and abstract art is difficult enough to understand on its own, so any bit of help can go a long way. I also believe color is a good place to start because most color symbolism is based upon a natural human reaction to a color (though there are some cultural differences).
Lets take a look at some of the primary and secondary colors, as well as a few other popular colors used in art, and their various meanings in western culture.
Red – this vibrant color can mean almost opposite things; from love to war, excitement and energy to aggression and violence. It is the color of power, danger and fire. The main thing to remember about red in art symbolism is that it can represent all things intense and passionate.
Yellow – generally yellow is a happy and joyful color, reminding one of a sunny, summer day. It is the color of optimism, idealism and hope. But it also has its negative side, it can symbolize cowardice, hazards, caution and deceit.
Blue – overall this color is one of peace and tranquility. Blue is the color of water, it is soothing and encourages trust and harmony. It symbolizes calm and stability.
Orange – this is a warm and energetic color, full of energy, vibrancy and warmth, but also demanding of attention.
Green – the color of nature and the environment, the art symbolism is full of health, youth, fertility, renewal and good luck. But it can also symbolize jealousy, envy and misfortune.
Purple – This is the color of royalty, those of noble birth. It also represents ceremony and that which is spiritual and mysterious. Besides being the color of wisdom and enlightenment, it can also stand for cruelty and arrogance.
Brown – This is the color of the earth and outdoors, as well as hearth and home. It stands for stability, comfort, reliability and simplicity.
White – in art symbolism white is the color of purity and peace. It represents cleanliness, reverence and humility. It also stands for innocence and marriage.
Black – is generally a color of unhappiness, evil and death. It stands for remorse, fear and anger. It is also a more formal color that can stand for elegance, power, sexuality and mystery.
If you are looking at a western painting, these color meanings can help you to better understand the feeling and message that the artist is trying to portray. If it is a piece of Eastern art, then some colors will have different representations (white is the color of death, red of weddings and happiness).
Since colors can have many different meanings, both positive and negative, you many wonder how to interpret them in a painting. Remember to take other things into consideration, such as the color combinations and the look of the brush stroke. When you look at an abstract painting it may be hard to verbalize your feelings, so just try to remember the art symbolism of each color and then open yourself up to your unconscious feelings.
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