Color Symbolism
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Color Symbolism

Color symbolism in art and anthropology refers to the use of color as a symbol in various cultures. There is great diversity in the use of colors and their associations between cultures[1] and even within the same culture in different time periods.[2] The same color may have very different associations within the same culture at any time. Diversity in color symbolism occurs because color meanings and symbolism occur on an individual, cultural and universal basis. Color symbolism is also context-dependent and influenced by changes over time.[3] Symbolic representations of religious concepts or articles may include a specific color with which the concept or object is associated.[4] There is evidence to suggest that colors have been used for this purpose as early as 90,000 BC.[]

Common associations


Red is often associated with love, passion, and lust. It is frequently used in relation to Valentine's Day.[5] It can also be used to signify danger or warning. For instance, it is used for stop signs[6] and fire engines.[7] In China, red is often used to symbolize good luck or happiness, and is used for many holidays or weddings.[8]


Blue is the color of the ocean and the sky; it often symbolizes serenity, stability, or inspiration.[9] It can be a calming color, and symbolize reliability.[10] In the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary is most often depicted wearing blue, to symbolize her divinity.[11] Blue is widely used for baby boys' clothes or bedrooms, although the reason blue is so strongly associated with boys is debated.[12]


Yellow is a color often associated with sunshine or joy.[13] It is sometimes used in association with cowardice or fear, i.e, the phrase "yellow-bellied".[14] Children tend to like this color, and it is used to market products to children;[15] it is also used for school buses and taxi cabs since it is such a bright, noticeable color.[15]


Green is most often used to represent nature, healing, or fertility, since it's such a dominant color in nature. It can be a very relaxing color[16] but is also used in the US to symbolize money, greed, or jealousy.[16] Saying that someone is "green" means they're inexperienced or new.[17]


Black, in Western culture, is considered a negative color and usually symbolizes death, grief, or evil.[18] People often wear black for mourning, although this practice isn't as wide-spread as it was in the past.[19]


White most often symbolizes perfection, faith, innocence, softness, and cleanliness.[20] Brides often wear white dresses to symbolize virginity or purity.[21]


Pink is associated with softness, femininity, sweetness, and love.[22] However, it was formerly used as a masculine color, frequently used for baby boys; it wasn't until the early 20th century that the gender roles of pink and blue were reversed.[23]

Color symbolism in marketing

Color plays an important role in setting expectations for a product and communicating its key characteristics.[24] Color is the second most important element that allows consumers to identify brand packaging.[25]

Marketers for products with an international market navigate the color symbolism variances between cultures with targeted advertising. The car manufacturer, Volkswagen ran a commercial in Italy with a black sheep in the middle of a larger flock symbolizing those who owned a VW Golf as someone unique and self-assured among a crowd of others who were not. In several cultures around the world, a black sheep represents an outcast and is seen as something undesirable. In Italy, a black sheep represents confidence and independence.

Friaul Val Aupa Drentus Sheep credit Kaspar Nickles 2017

There are many additional variances in color symbolism between cultures. Cold is symbolized by blue in East Asia, the USA, and Sweden while warmth is symbolized by yellow in the USA and by blue in The Netherlands. Sometimes the meanings of colors are in stark opposition across geographic boundaries, requiring products marketed to specific demographics to account for those changes across different markets. For instance, feminity is symbolized by blue in The Netherlands and pink in the USA., whereas masculinity is symbolized by blue in Sweden and the USA, and red in the UK and France.[24] In some instances color symbolism in marketing is constructed. For companies whose products are defined by the name of their color their sales are susceptible to the symbolism and association of that name. In one example, a company selling a paint color named "off white" more than doubled its sales by renaming the same color as "ancient silk."[25]

Conceptualizations of colors cross-culturally

Color symbolism has morphed over time. Between the 5th and 17th centuries color was largely related to in a religious context. Blue was symbolic of heaven and white of purity. Today, purity is still symbolized by white in Australia and the USA but by blue in other countries like India. Similarly, the church influenced the perception of colors like crimson and purple. Largely because the dyes for these colors could only be sourced from precious pigments, religious figures like Madonna, Cardinals, and the Virgin were seen in scarlet and purple.

Vatican II - Dubois - Liénart

Today, purple symbolizes evil and infidelity in Japan, but the same is symbolized by blue in East Asia and by yellow in France. Additionally, the sacred color of Hindu and Buddhist monks is orange.

Preah Pithu T Monks - Siem Reap

The Renaissance was also a time in which black and purple were colors of mourning. Today, Mourning or death is symbolized by white in East Asia, black in the USA, and blue in Iran, while happiness is symbolized by white in Australia and NZ, and yellow in China.[24]

There is a general disagreement over whether reactions to color and their symbolism are a result of cultural conditioning or of instinct. Several studies concluded that color is part of the social learning process because of the significant symbolism within the culture. High quality, trustworthiness and dependability are symbolized by blue in the USA, Japan, Korea and green and yellow in China - as well as purple in China, South Korea and Japan. Because of these variances, critical cues vary across cultures. Warning signs are coded differently as danger is symbolized by green in Malaysia, and red in the USA and Mexico. The same color of green symbolizes envy in Belgium and the USA, but envy is symbolized by yellow in Germany and Russia, and purple in Mexico. Even the colors that denote powerful emotions vary. Love is symbolized by green in Japan, red and purple in China, Korea, Japan and the USA. Unluckiness is symbolized by red in Chad, Nigeria and Germany. Luckiness is symbolized by red in China, Denmark and Argentina. The traditional bridal color is red in China and white in the USA. Ambition and desire are symbolized by red in India.[24]

Color symbolism in Arabic culture

Color has different meanings in different countries.  We can specifically look at the Arabic culture and take it into consideration. We can start with the color white. In the Arabic culture, white is thought of as the color that is symbolic for nature.  Since it related with nature, it has a meaning that is one of positivity. It also relates with that of being clean and pure.  White is a color that is commonly worn during prayers and with that, it symbolizes purity. White's positive connotation carries out into other aspects.  It is also used as a symbol for positivity in the future. White is also used to symbolize the end of war. You will also see women adorn white at their weddings as a sign of positivity.  Since doves are white, they share the symbolic meaning that comes with the color.  This in turn causes them to be associated with positivity of good news.

When you look at the color Black in Arabic culture you can find that it is related to funerals and death. Women will often wear black to funerals in order to show that they are sad for those who have passed.  Also relating to death, black is associated with hell. Black is also used to symbolize dark.  Hell is thought to be a dark black place associating black as negative.  Black in general is looked at as having negative connotations around it. For example, the symbolism of a black heart refers to someone who is unkind. 

Red rose with black background.jpg

Green is a color that is commonly found in Islam.  It is a color found in nature and with this, it is associated with and represents goodness. Green is a color that has an overall positive meaning.   The color green also has to do with truthfulness, again going with positivity.  If you look at phrases, the symbolic meanings are generally positive.  If you look at the phrase green hand, it relates to being generous which is a positive thing.

Red has an overall positive association with it. Often you will find that red is a color associated with roses and blood.  The color red has to do with love and passion.  In sayings you can find it to have either a negative or positive meaning such as the term red eye relates with anger.  The Arabic culture also associates this color with death.

Blue is related with positivity when discussing it with nature, otherwise it can be related with negative connotations. When used in the phrase blue eyes, it refers to jealousy. A blue body relates with death and therefore is associated with negativity.

Yellow is another color that is also associated with nature and the sun.  Again, since it is a color related with nature, it takes on the symbolic meaning of positivity.  Gold is also categorized under here and is also takes on a positive meaning.  Generally, when used in phrases, the color yellow has to do with negativity.  For example, a yellow smile means to be mean.


Colors and emotions

Emotions - 3.png

Color symbolism is displayed in many ways. One of the most common ways we see color symbolism displayed in through our emotions. In this article Color-emotions associations: Past experience and personal preference it takes a look at how we connect colors with our emotions and how it depends on a person's preference and or their past experiences. This article first starts out by talking about the different colors and what they are associated with. The first color it talks about is the color blue and how people see blue as comfort and security and how they see orange as being upsetting. The next one they talk about is yellow which is more of a happy color compared to purple which they say is dignified but I have never heard of purple being seen that way. The next one this article talks about which I find very interesting is the color red. People view the color red in two different ways, one being as a strong and passionate color. However, it is also seen in a very different way, people see it as an aggressive color because it is the color of blood. The last color this article talks about is the color green and how just like red it has two different views. Green can be viewed positively as in quietness but can also be viewed negatively as in guilt. This study took a look at how we associate colors with emotions. This study was done and showed that we associated lighter colors such as blue or yellow with more positive emotions. It then showed how we associated darker colors such as grey or black with more native emotions. However, something very interesting that this study did find is that most young prefer the color black over many other colors. The study was done with college aged students to see how they associate their emotions with colors. Many tests were done such as matching tasks and matching color tests to see what colors they associate with their emotions. The study had 44 men and 54 women in it and they again were all college students. They identified a color sample with one emotion only and it showed what emotional response is connected to a color. The results from this study did find that people mostly associate the color green with being the most positive. Over 95% off people said that green s the most positive because it makes them feel relaxed and then comfortable and at peace. It also showed that people saw yellow as the more excited and energetic emotion, with over 90% agreeing with this. 79% of students found that blue was a calming color because it reminded them of the ocean which is known as a calming place. People did have different answers when it came to red because like explained earlier, red is seen in two very different ways, It has been seen as love by many but also as evil because it remind people of blood. Many people did not seem to like the color purple very much as it was not favored by many for their preferences. The color black was seen to be more negative emotions like fear and depression. Overall, this article shows how color can be important because it is how people associate their emotions and things based on color symbolism.[27][28]

See also


  1. ^ Smith, N.S.; Whitfield, T.W.A.; Wiltshire, T.J. (April 1990). "The accuracy of the NCS, DIN, and OSA-UCS colour atlases". Color Research & Application. 15 (2): 111-116. doi:10.1002/col.5080150209. ISSN 0361-2317.
  2. ^ Birren, Faber (2006). Color psychology and color therapy: a factual study of the influence of color on human life. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1425424107. OCLC 74452551.
  3. ^ Edith Anderson Feisner; Ronald Reed, eds. (2016). "Color symbolism". Color Studies (3rd ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. doi:10.5040/ ISBN 978-1-50130-336-4. OCLC 1053938255.
  4. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (in German). doi:10.1163/9789004337862_lgbo_com_050367.
  5. ^ "valentine - Google Search". Retrieved .
  6. ^ Road vertical signs. Variable message traffic signs, BSI British Standards, doi:10.3403/03263875u
  7. ^ "Why are fire trucks red?". Retrieved .
  8. ^ "Color Symbolism in Chinese Culture: What do Traditional Chinese Colors Mean?". 2015-01-16. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "Meaning of The Color Blue". Bourn Creative. 2011-01-15. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "Blue Color Meaning - The Color Blue". 2013-03-01. Retrieved .
  11. ^ "Why is the Blessed Virgin Mary always wearing blue?". Aleteia -- Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture. 2017-06-24. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Wolchover, Natalie (1 August 2012). "Why Is Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys?". Live Science. Retrieved 2018.
  13. ^ Morton, Jill. "Yellow". Retrieved .
  14. ^ "yellow-bellied - Dictionary Definition". Retrieved .
  15. ^ a b "Meaning of The Color Yellow". Bourn Creative. 2011-02-05. Retrieved .
  16. ^ a b "Meaning of The Color Green". Bourn Creative. 2011-01-25. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "Green definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary". Retrieved .
  18. ^ "Black Color Psychology - Black Meaning & Personality". Color Psychology. Retrieved .
  19. ^ Jalland, Pat (1996-11-07), "Death and the Victorian Doctors", Death in the Victorian Family, Oxford University Press, pp. 77-97, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198201885.003.0005, ISBN 9780198201885
  20. ^ "Meaning of The Color White". Bourn Creative. 2010-12-05. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Davis, Lexxi. "Why Do Brides Wear White? And Other Questions". Retrieved .
  22. ^ "Meaning of The Color Pink". Bourn Creative. 2010-11-15. Retrieved .
  23. ^ Ant, Puja Bhattacharjee, CNN Animation by Giant. "The complicated gender history of pink". CNN. Retrieved .
  24. ^ a b c d Aslam, Mubeen M. (2006). "Are You Selling the Right Colour? A Cross-Cultural Review of Colour as a Marketing Cue". Journal of Marketing Communications. 12 (1): 15-30. doi:10.1080/13527260500247827.
  25. ^ a b Popa, C.N.; Popescu, S.; Berehoiu, R.M.T.; Berehoiu, S.M.T. (2013). "Considerations regarding use and role of colour in marketing" (PDF). Scientific Papers Series - Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development. 13 (1): 269-274.
  26. ^ Hasan, Amna (2011). "How Colours are Semantically Construed in the Arabic and English Culture: A Comparative study" (PDF). English Language Teaching. 4: 206-213.
  27. ^ Kaya & H., Naz & Helen. Color-emotion association: Past experience and personal preference. The University of Georgia, Department of Textiles, Merchandising, and Interiors, 2004.
  28. ^ "AIC 2004 Color and Paints, Interim Meeting of the International Color Association, Proceedings".

External links

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