Color Meanings & Symbolism
This is part two of a three-part series on color. Part one was Color Therapy & Healing. You can read part three: The Psychological Effects of Color, where we will delve into the psychology of some specific colors and how they might affect your everyday life.
Here are the topics covered in this article:
- The Meaning of Colors You Choose
- How Do We See Color?
- The Traditional Color Wheel
- What is Color Symbolism?
- Examples of Cultural & Religious Symbolism of Color
- Color Meanings & Symbolism of Primary and Secondary Colors
- Color Meanings/Symbolism Charts
- Books About Color Symbolism & Meaning
The Meaning of Colors You Choose
Carl Jung, a renowned psychiatrist and proponent of art therapy, encouraged his patients to use color because he felt this would help them express some of the deeper parts of their psyche. It is believed that the color choices you make reflect a deeper meaning about your personality traits. For example, introverts and extroverts are likely to choose different colors – blue and red respectively.
The colors you choose to wear might also say something about how you are feeling that day. Some days you may fee like wearing something lighter, something red, or something blue. These choices are often a reflection of how you are feeling at the moment. Additionally, wearing certain colors may cause you to react differently to certain situations.
How Do We See Color?
There are 2 main sources of light that create the colors we see: the sun and lightbulbs. As you know, the light from the sun allows us to see things during the day as well as during the night when the sun’s light reflects off the moon. There is a visible spectrum of colors that we can see in addition to the combination of all colors (white) and the absence of color (black).
Surfaces reflect and absorb light differently, which results in the colors we see through our eyes. For example, a tomato absorbs all light on the spectrum except the red rays of light. The red rays of light are reflected off the surface of the tomato which then reach our eyes for processing.
The colored light enters the eye through the pupil, goes through the lens, then reaches the back of the eye called the retina. On the retina there are a bunch of light sensors called rods and cones. These rods and cones send a signal to the brain about what the eye is seeing. The cones are capable of seeing three colors: red, green, and blue. These are known as primary colors (RGB Model) – more about this below.
The Traditional Color Wheel – primary, secondary, and tertiary colors
Here you can see a basic color wheel. It is based on 3 different types of colors: primary, secondary, and tertiary.
Primary Colors (Traditional RYB Model)
Primary colors consist of red, yellow, and blue. These 3 hues can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. Additionally, all other colors are created by mixing these three colors.
Secondsary colors consist of green, orange and purple (violet). Secondary colors are formed by mixing 2 primary colors.
Tertairy colors consiste of red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. Tertiary colors are formed by mixing primary and secondary colors, resulting in the two-word names.
If you’d like to know more about RGB and RYB models, CMYK, reflective and transmitted light, then there are lots of additional sources out there that cover more in-depth color theory. These are just some basic concepts for our series on color therapy, meanings, symbolism, et cetera.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of traditional color theory, let’s review color symbolism.
What is Color Symbolism?
Color symbolism is the use of color as a representation or meaning of something that is usually specific to a particular culture or society. Context, culture and time are certainly important factors to consider when thinking about color symbolism.
Examples of Cultural & Religious Symbolism of Color
Depending on the culture or society, colors may symbolize diffferent things for different people. Consider the United States as an example. What colors come to mind when you think about traffic lights and signs? What about the flag? How about Christmas or Halloween?
Even within the United States, there are cultures that hold certain colors sacred. For example, at least 3 Native American nations hold the same three colors sacred: black, white and yellow. Although, they each have 4 different colors they hold sacred in addition to black, white and yellow.
Navajo Nation –> turquoise
Apache Nation –> green
Iowa Nation –> red
Color Meanings of Primary and Secondary Colors
The following is a list of primary and secondary colors and possible meanings of each color. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. You can also view these charts as well as the main Color Symbolism Chart:
Next, you’ll find some common color meanings and symbolism of the 6 main colors…
Meaning of the Color Red
From: Color Symbolism Chart – RED
Meaning of the Color Orange
From: Color Symbolism Chart – ORANGE
Meaning of the Color Yellow
From: Color Symbolism Chart – YELLOW
Meaning of the Color Green
From: Color Symbolism Chart – GREEN
Meaning of the Color Blue
From: Color Symbolism Chart – BLUE
Meaning of the Color Purple (Violet)
From: Color Symbolism Chart – PURPLE