As we saw in the first two articles about the psychology of color, color is one of the most important elements in art to that help convey a message.
Each color has positive and negative connotations, depending on the context and its relation with other elements. Both can be used to make your pieces say what you intend. You can use a negative connotation of a color mixed with positive of other colors to communicate different emotions.
In the first two parts we learned about warm and cool colors. This time we’ll tackle neutral colors. We call them neutral because they’re in the extremes and in the middle, and they’re mostly used as a base to accent with other colors. Let’s take a look.
It is the sum of all colors. The absolute absorption of all wavelengths, nothing reflected. It may sound a bit crazy that something containing all colors can feel so empty. But it’s because it’s basically the absence of light, since no light bounces back for you to see. The psychological significances of this are important.
In the positive, black is associated with sophistication, elegance and excellence. That’s why it’s used in clothing when attending fancy events. High end brands use it in their logos. Power, security and efficiency are also linked to black.
The negative side of black is pretty obvious to everyone. It’s the absence of light. All darkness. And most associations originate from that. Oppression, menace, fear (of the dark). It has always been linked to everything negative and evil. And death. It represents feelings of anger, aggression, and sadness. Every word used with “black” before it means the bad side of it.
Opposing black’s total absorption of light, white is the reflection of every color. It’s all light surrounding us. It can convey a sense of austerity and minimalism. Some may perceive this as calming or refreshing, but others may find it stark or bland. It’s mostly associated with purity and cleanliness. But it also has its bad side.
White represents purity and innocence (the white dress for brides is an example). It’s associated with cleanliness, hygiene, clarity and freshness. It gives a heightened perception of space. Interior designers use it to make rooms feel spacious and bright. As with black, it’s also related to sophistication and efficiency. It’s also used to communicate delicacy.
It can be cold, bland and sterile. It also may seem unfriendly, and give a feeling of isolation and emptiness. It can give a sense of boredom and starkness.
Gray, if pure, would be in the absolute middle of white and black. It would reflect all wavelengths equally. Therefore, it represents neutrality and balance. Most grays, though, aren’t exact, so it’s a good idea to make them warm or cool depending on the color composition of your pieces. It’s the color of architecture and commerce. It’s both gothic and industrial. It’s the color of the masses, the everything yet nothing.
It looks exquisite, formal and refined (especially if accented with other colors). Because of its neutrality, it’s used by designers as their foundation in many cases. It’s linked to futurism. It represents neutrality, stability, dignity and compromise. Also associated with wisdom, knowledge and the intellect.
It’s the color of conformism, lack of confidence and energy. Monotonous, unattached, impartial and also indecisive. Still and emotionless. It’s associated with depression and loss, and also with sadness. It looks moderate, dull and discouraging.
Earth colors (browns)
It’s the color of earth. We don’t call them earth tones for nothing. It represents nature in its stable form, providing stability and comfort. It’s the color of wood, which we associate directly with shelter, and therefore, home.
It gives a feeling of warmth, comfort and security. Because it’s seen as solid, it gives a sense of strength and reliability. It’s associated with resilience and dependability. It connects us to Earth, home and family. It’s a grounding color (“down to earth”). It’s linked to trust, loyalty and maturity.
When excessive, it can feel dull, stark and empty, like a dessert or a lonely planet. It can bring feelings of loneliness, numbness and isolation. It’s not surprising or energetic, so it can be associated with passiveness and indifference.
They’re not exactly colors, but metallic versions. Gold and silver are so present and so widely used, that I thought it would be good to include them in these articles.
Gold stands for success, wealth and status. Most of its associations are positive, the negative coming mostly from its overuse. It is linked to masculine energy and the power of the sun. As it is valuable in its natural form, so it’s derived its psychological meaning.
The color of winners and winning. Medals and stars are given with this color for the top performers. It is associated with high quality, sophistication, elegance and status. Also linked to higher ideals, wisdom, knowledge and enlightenment.
An excess of gold gives feelings of pretentiousness, self-importance, extravagance and arrogance. It can seem egotistical, demanding, mean spirited and false.
Its metallic essence gives it some of the same characteristics as gold, like elegance and sophistication, being also a precious metal. It represents feminine energy and the sensitivity of the moon.
It’s fluid, emotional, sensitive and mysterious. Like gold, it symbolizes riches and wealth. It’s technological, industrial, modern and futuristic. Glamorous, graceful, elegant and ornamental. It’s associated with clarity and focus. It’s soothing, calming and purifying.
As with gold, there are not many negative connotations to silver. The one that stands out is its devious, insincere and immoral nature. It could be associated with deception, snobbery and dishonesty.
Color is fun and always an incredibly interesting subject. I hope you enjoyed this series and learned a bit about colors and what they convey so you can use this information to make good choices when creating your art pieces. And even decorate your rooms!
Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina.