What are the meanings and symbolism of colors in artwork, and the motivations behind the color choices of artists? Including abstract, portrait and landscape. Artists often use colors in subtle ways, yet strategically used to gain and create certain reactions and effects at the unconscious level.

Symbolism of colors in art.

Artists use colors to influence our emotions, and can even alter our visual perceptions to enhance distances between objects in certain types of artwork.

Artists in many forms, including interior designers and graphic designers, use color to invoke emotions and to draw our attention to specific areas. Once you learn the simple principles of how to use color, you will be able to create various forms of art and design to achieve a desired reaction or effect.

Artists often use color to influence our perceptions of depth in a piece of artwork. Warm and cool colors are used to increase or enhance the depth of certain areas of an image or painting. Warm colors are often used to make areas appear nearer, and cooler colors to make areas seem further away. This could be used to good effect in landscape painting. For example, using green and blue in large abundances, perhaps used for trees and the ocean in the background to amplify distance.

Analogous Colors, Green Yellow.

Artists are often seeking color harmony, with the use of analogous colors. This is a way of blending colors which gives a natural look. A good example of this would be the changing color of leaves in autumn, which change from green, yellow-green to yellow.

Meaning & Symbolism of Colors in Art

The use of light and dark colors also often represents positive and negative emotions, or the good and the bad. White or lightness symbolizes hope, purity, innocence, goodness, openness, angelic and heaven. Black or darkness symbolizes despair, pessimism, hidden, death, shadows or general negativity.  

Pink or pinkish shades are often used to portray sensitivity, compassion, youth, feminine, naivety, emotion and nurture.

Red is often used to show anger, aggression and danger, red is used in art in many forms. In stories, red is often used to represent evil characters, due to red’s obvious associations with blood. An example, would be evil characters or creatures having red eyes, or in Star Wars, the Sith have red light sabers.

Blue is often used by artists to suggest trust, honesty and tranquility, dark blue suggests authority, tradition and seriousness.

Green symbolizes balance, growth, healing and has obvious connections to nature.

Purple often represents creativity in some form in paintings, and it can also be used to project depressive feelings.

Brown is often used in art to represent traits such as being dependable and reliable. Brown can also be used to portray low energy, negative emotions and depression.

Yellow often symbolizes the sun, and is often used to invoke feelings of warmth. Yellow also represents positive uplifting emotions.  

Abstract Art

I’m appreciative of art in many forms. However, abstract art is definitely a favorite of mine. The use of color in landscapes and portraits is often subtle, it’s additional to the rest of the artwork. However, in abstract art, color is often the central focus, and the effects of color are usually very obvious, instant and can be profound.

If you look at the abstract on the left you should feel the energy and the uplifting emotions. The abstract on the right should cause a loss of energy, calming with a sedating effect.

You can look at two very similar pieces of abstract art. While similar, a slight change of focus on a particular color will have a very different and obvious effect on the person viewing it. Monochromatic abstract art, one focusing on a warm color, and the other focusing on a cool color, will have some of the most obvious influences on people when viewed next to each other.

Final Thoughts

Color is incredibly important in the world of art and design. Color can invoke emotion, direct focus, and is actually able to change our visual perceptions. Color and art in general will be particularly important to those of us that have a particular sensitivity to aesthetics. Personality psychologists link this aesthetic sensitivity and love for general creativity to a personality trait called openness.

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