Dr. Reuben Amber, in his book Colour Therapy says that proper attention to colour can control obesity. “Overweight,” says Reuben, “is the result of an overdose of blue rays or the lack of red rays in the body.” According to him you can lose weight by using red bulbs around the house, eating red foods — beets, cabbages, cherries, meat, etc, and “solarizing” drinking water and other liquids in red glass containers.
We’ve all wondered about the power of colour. If the principally orange and red decor at many McDonald’s and other fast food outlets can make us salivate sooner, eat faster and get back out on the street quicker, there has to be something in it.
Many artists have suggested that warmer is better than cooler. Red gets attention that blue can only dream of. In galleries I’ve noticed red-dominant paintings pulling folks up short as if they were coming to stop signs. Even as a minor “colour surprise,” red draws you in. Colours are also associative, often as not based on convention. Yellow, for example, was as vile as bile to the mediaeval mind, while in India and Japan, yellow, like the sun, was traditionally associated with the highest states of godhood. Why, we might ask, do green walls calm us down in our favorite mental hospitals? Why does that green gown get you in a nice mood to meet your proctologist?
Colours are signals. In the wild world they signify arousal, threat, invitation. And absence of colour is nature’s most profound understatement. Grayness is its own beauty, and the brilliant depend on gray’s shyness for their effectiveness.
Colours may calm, excite, arrest, motivate, or even heal. In art they need to be understood and used with both intelligence and intuition. We’re dealing with primal stuff here. To my thinking there’s one main rule: “What colour does it need?” As well as the needs of the work, one asks in the psychology department as well as in reality. Sorting through the mumbo-jumbo and quackery, I secretly wonder whether painting red paintings might make you thinner.
PS: “Diseases treated with red: (in part) Anemia, Bronchitis, Melancholia, Pneumonia, Listlessness, Idiocy. For Hypothyroidism, use orange. Blue is used for Insomnia, Jaundice, Measles and Baldness.” (Dr. Reuben Amber)
Esoterica: A red dot is the universal signal that a work of art has found a believer. A blue dot generally signals that a work of art is on hold. Half a green dot signals that somebody is confused, indecisive and not fully able to make meaningful acquisitions.
by Tamara Landre, Napa Valley, CA, USA
Fruits and vegetables containing certain color-producing substances, such as beta carotene, attract us to their nutrients because of their color, so does that mean eating a “balanced” diet is eating a color-balanced diet? For example, bananas, which are of course externally yellow, contain potassium. Therefore, if you crave the color yellow, you might actually need more potassium in your diet, if not on your palette. Diets that contain blue, red, yellow, orange, green, etc., are high in cancer-preventing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. I originally heard about this from a nutritionist who was teaching a class on herbs at the Culinary Institute of America, but much of it has been confirmed by anti-oxidant research since then.
(RG note) Two recently published books — What Color Is Your Diet? by Dr. David Heber, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California at Los Angeles, with Susan Bowerman, a dietitian, and The Color Code by Dr. James A. Joseph, Dr. Daniel A. Nadeau and Anne Underwood — emphasize the importance of increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, and the need to choose broadly among the richly colored options. (thanks Tamara)
by Russell McCrackin, Corvallis, OR, USA
“I secretly wonder whether painting red paintings might make you thinner.” Maybe I would sell more paintings if I painted more red. Also, I could stand to be thinner. And maybe when I paint a green scene with green paint, I should get fatter, but not sell. But if I don’t sell, I won’t get fatter. Hmmm.
Power of red
by Karen Jacobs
I discovered the power of red about the time I moved from realism to abstract. A little became a lot and began to dominate my paintings to the point that my friends refer to my “buckets of barn red paint”. Of course I use other colors, and create many paintings that contain no red at all, but I do enjoy painting that color! My upcoming show in New Orleans will feature a red painting on the invitation.
Is colour a language?
by Cecilia Echeverria, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Your letter asked a question I frequently ask myself — in almost every aspect of life: Is there a right way and a wrong way to anything? I profoundly think there is not. Let me exaggerate the question playfully, and arrive at the issue that authoritarians love rules. You say, “In art they (colors) need to be understood and used with both intelligence and intuition.” So, you are saying colors mean something very concrete? Artists must understand a color because a color is not subjective but a neat, definite objective? So, going to the very essence, color is like a language? Every word has a clear and distinct meaning? I have a rebel inside. Just now it is starting a revolution. This is horrible. Can’t be that way. If there’s something lovely with art it is play. Play with substance, colors, even words, getting them out of frames, regulations, standards. But man is always looking for rules, so they can meet the specifications and be accepted. Our biggest fight, as artists and persons, is to find our sense of what is right or not… I wish I could declare rebellion regarding the regulated, ISO, meaning of colors! Do I dare? And does it make sense?
(RG note) Just as words have shades of meaning, so do colours. My point is also that colours in one culture have a different meaning in others. Recently we dealt with some of the historical and artistic highlights of the primaries. They are at Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and The story of red.
by Janet Warrick, Chicago, IL, USA
Color! To me, the word is synonymous with beauty, for what is art without beautiful color? An art teacher told me years ago that color didn’t matter if the value was right. She said that if I got the value correct, I could use any color, and it would look right. It took me years of struggling with bad color to realize what a ridiculous statement that was. I don’t think color, value, or composition can be separated in importance. Certainly color is as important as the other two, for if you have a painting with perfect values and a dynamic composition, but have ugly color, what do you really have? To me, color is the soul of a painting, the life force. It is what first attracts me to a painting, and what keeps me spellbound, whether it be dazzlingly bright color, subtle grays, or just beautiful mud. It certainly cannot be arbitrary in its selection. But color is a funny thing. People have as many prejudices about color as they do about anything else. And it certainly is suggestive. Last year while at the museum, I was standing enthralled before a portrait of a woman done by Edouard Manet. The painting was a remarkable rendering of subtle grayed-green flesh tones. Two women walked by pausing only long enough to give the painting a perfunctory glance. As they turned away, one woman loudly proclaimed to the other “She looks sick!”
by Anne Copeland
I always wondered about the Japanese flag — it has a red dot in the center, and I had always thought to myself that I could understand say, stars and stripes, but a red dot? But if it signifies that the art has found a believer, perhaps that makes sense now. I guess flag art could be a whole topic in itself. Is there something about the symbolism and colors used in flags? They seem to use more or less universal colors and a pretty limited palette too. I don’t think I have seen a flag with brown in it, lime green, or fuschia. Really interesting about how color does seem to signal different meanings. What surprises me even more is that I bet my sense of blue is not the same as someone else’s, so how do we come to have universal colors that we all can recognize? Who determines that this blue is the blue that is universal?
(RG note) The Japanese red dot is the rising sun. In Japanese mythology they consider themselves a rising people, the first so blessed on the edge of the great eastern-facing ocean.
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
In our area they have changed the color of the emergency vehicles from red to yellow. Is yellow going to be easier for us to see the approaching vehicle? Will that draw our eye better? Probably my ears will draw my eye faster then the color. But then I have been conditioned to see red fire engines. Just as I would rather see red barns. We are so used to having certain colors mean something, that is why we are “pulling up short,” realizing that we might have to stop or watch for something as at a stop sign. We automatically stop or we certainly hope so. And as you mentioned, “yellow was bile to the medieval mind and traditionally associated with the highest states of godhood in India and Japan,” leading me to believe again, it is what we have been taught or have done for a long time that keeps us in that condition of thought. Ivan Pavlov has already proved that theory. He also found that if something is changed long enough, that feeling or reflex can be changed. There is hope!
(RG note) Question: Why do firemen wear red suspenders?” Answer: To hold up their pants.
Value in art schools
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Anyone who has gone to art school will tell you it is all about figuring out what to do. Art school is all about experimentation. You push the corners of the envelope and almost everything flops, at least the first time. I was in art school for four years and I kept saying to myself “…the bulk of the greatest work of my life is waiting to be done after I finish school…” I took sculpture and photography and drawing and 3-D design and I even spent a year in sheer hell doing lithography. I remember saying in my final critique for litho “…I am not a lithographer…”
Following your heart
by Aleta Pippin
Sticking with a single “style” is an issue I am constantly deliberating. I love to experiment and try many different processes, which is completely okay with me. The problem that arises is marketing when one experiments with so many different styles. As artists, we’re told that the galleries want a specific style. That’s understandable. If they’re selling a lot of your paintings and you suddenly change your style, it may have a negative impact on their sales.
We’re in a quandary — do we follow our hearts or our pocketbooks? I believe that following our hearts will also create abundance in our pocketbooks. I don’t believe that following our pocketbooks will have the same impact on our hearts. So the solution seems simple, doesn’t it? Yet, I persist with the internal dialogue.
Only you can rebirth
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
When you take on a challenge or a project, you start with a terrific surge of energy that sees you through quite a lot of hitches and may even blind you to problems which may or not be obvious to everyone else. Somewhere along the line something can take its toll on that birthing energy and only you can rebirth! The tired spirit is a hungry spirit. Inspiration can come from any direction, but only you can tap into it. Of course, you can’t “pull it off” every time. If “Don’t stop now!” is the basic command, then “Get on with it!” is the immediate battery charge. The effects of both these phrases is increased if they are repeated as mantras, painted in lipstick or acrylics on mirrors, or even written out 100 times in your best joined handwriting, just as “Procrastination is the thief of time!” which was the self-fulfilling prophecy dealt out by my class teacher to (us) misbehaving school kids.
painting by Stacey Malysh, Vancouver, Canada
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Ortrud K Tyler who writes, “I use a lot of red in my abstracts and love it, as an accent, or the exclamation point. After all these years I am still dieting like crazy. When red works well in my paintings I want a chocolate bar too, just to celebrate. I thought you all needed to know this.”