Can certain colors—or certain groupings of colors—promote well-being, or even healing?
I created this montage of photo samples by snipping random bits from the pages of a single catalog from the mid 1990s called the Red Rose Collection, consisting of products designed to promote inner peace.
The photographer and graphic designer were evidently working from a controlled chart of colors, which I’ve graphed with the color wheel mask, above. The color scheme includes violets, greens, and cool reds, but avoids hot reds and yellows.
An entire field of alternative medicine called color therapy or chromotherapy has grown up around the belief that colors have specific therapeutic properties on the mind and body.
These practices are rooted in very old beliefs of the Ayurveda in India, and in ancient Egypt, where rooms were built with colored glass windows to promote effects on the body. In China, specific colors were associated with certain organs of the body.
In various practices of color therapy, patients observe colors through special viewers, or colors are applied to accupoints on the body, using gemstones, candles, prisms, penlights, colored fabrics, or tinted glass.
Although not all systems of color therapy agree on the associations of each color, most agree that red signifies blood and the base passions, including anger and power. Orange is associated with warmth, appetite and energy, followed by yellow, which represents the energy of the sun, and which is used for glandular problems.
These bright, warm colors are also almost univerally used by advertisers to sell fast food and soda pop.
The spectrum of colors continues through green, blue, indigo, and violet, moving more and more toward states of serenity and meditation.
This progression corresponds to the ascending chakras of yogic practice, and can be charted on the body by superimposing the progression of hues on each of the seven spiritual centers of the body.
The association of spectral color with chakra centers has recently been taken up by mainstream marketers, even appearing on the website of major interior paint manufacturers. (Link).
Critics of chromotherapy argue that these designations are nothing more than pseudoscience, because the health benefits can’t be proven by clinical tests. If the contemplation of certain colors has any effect on a patient’s recovery, they would argue, it’s simply due to the placebo effect.
To some extent, the color symbolism of catalogs like the Red Rose Collection owes as much to fads and fashions as it does to physiological response. Recent catalogs, like Gaiam Harmony have a rather different palette than we would have seen ten years ago; these days health-promoting catalogs tend to sport golds, dull olives, and venetian reds.
I haven’t made my mind up about all this, and would be curious to learn more. In any event, I believe that we artists, designers, and photographers should remain open to the general idea that color can affect us at a physiological level. Color can stimulate us, and it can soothe us—not just psychologically and emotionally, but at even deeper levels.
We should fine-tune our awareness of how we are influenced by the colors around us—not isolated individual colors, but combinations of colors.
Interior decoration and associated chakras, Link
More on associations of each color, Link
Outline of contemporary theories and equipment, Link