Colors Red and Purple: A History of Emotion

Metro station in Paris at night. The Metro is the rapid transit metro system in Paris. It has become a symbol of the city, noted for its density within the city limits and its uniform architecture influenced by Art Nouveau. The Metro network's sixteen lines are mostly underground and run to 214 km (133 mi) in length. There are 300 stations (384 stops), of which 62 facilitate transfer to another line. Paris has one of the densest metro networks in the world, with 245 stations within 86.9 km2 (34 sq mi) of the City of Paris. Lines are numbered 1 to 14.Have you recently had a conversation about how color invokes emotion? It’s no surprise if you have. Colors are a big deal to us!

Magazines are just one place we see how colors invoke emotion. With each turn of the page, strategic color schemes draw our eyes to title lines; fashion trends send bold signals that trigger thoughts of new clothes; photographs of paradise remind us to long for tranquility, even between the hours of 9 and 5.

How did color and emotion come to go hand in hand? Let’s take a closer look at the history of colors red and purple, to see if we can discover when color symbolism began.

Red

Do any emotional descriptions come to mind when you think of the color red? Love, anger and violent are all words descriptive of emotions and they are all words associated with the color red.

Historically, red was used by the Greeks as a symbol of heroism. Christians have used red as a symbolic color within the crucifixion. Over time, these symbolic uses of the color have formed current perception of red and how it has very specific emotional representations.

Interestingly, the color red focuses behind the retina. This makes the lenses of the eye convex, which makes us see red areas as if they are moving forward. These scientific aspects might also be a contributing factor to our concepts of red.

Purple

Purple is a color that is rarely found in nature. Historically, many people probably never saw a purple flower or a purple colored fish. Even those who could create purple dye found the process extensive and thus, purple colored garments were reserved for only the privileged. These historical factors have contributed to the color purple being associated with a supernatural feel.

Biologically, purples are the hardest colors for the eye to distinguish. It is now known that this color is the most visible wavelength of electromagnetic energy, which is another reason why shades of purple tend to be associated with the divine, the unearthly, and the cosmic and invoke otherworldly emotions.

Next time you find yourself examining a photo or a painting, take a moment to consider how color has been used. Do certain colors draw your eye? Can you detect some of the color symbolism discussed here? Do the color collections invoke emotion?

Image made available by Marian Kraus at www.mariankrausphotography.com

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