We all have color preferences. But did you know they are based on much more than our personal likes and dislikes? Our prediliction for certain hues is a result of many reasons, from many different levels of our being, each building upon each other, forming what is called the “color experience pyramid”. This was first explained to me by one of my esteemed teachers in the IACCNA, Frank Mahnke. If you have further interest in this subject, it is explained in depth in his book Color, Environment and Human Response.
The base of this pyramid is formed by our biological reactions to color stimuli. It comes down to mere survival. Animals have relied on color cues to know when a fruit is ripe and ready to eat or that a potential mate has good genetic breeding material. Changing colors have alerted us to changing of seasons. These biological reactions are completely out of our conscious control.
The next level is referred to as the “collective unconscious”, archetypal images that we have inherited from our primordial ancestors. We are born with this knowledge; it is part of the genetic makeup of our brain. From these inherited experiences of millions of years of past generations we carry on such behavior, including our color reactions.
On top of this sits our associations with color, also known as color conscious symbolism. We all make color associations and many are universal. For instance, if you were to ask people, from any part of the world what colors they associate with the words love, growth and hatred, they would reply with red, green and black respectively. Expressions such as ‘I’m green with envy” or “I’ve got the blues” are color associations.
Cultural influences come next. Specific cultures all have associations and experience color accordingly. While white is the color of mourning for the Chinese, in the west it represents pureness. Red is auspicious for some and threatening to others.
Fashion and trends follow in sequence. Don’t be thinking you’re not immune to their sneaky influence. You may believe it was actually your idea to paint your dining room “wasabi”, or “aubergine”, but it probably, more likely, is a subliminal reaction to the insidious effects of advertising. Whatever the Color Marketing Group has decided will be the next year’s “in” colors, we consumers tend to follow.
We’ve finally climbed to the summit of the color experience pyramid, that very small part atop, resting upon the supporting lower strata. Here lies your personal relationship with color, your very own likes and dislikes. Well, at least you thought they were your own.
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