Thursday, October 16, 2008


Use caution when teaching about color symbolism. Symbolism of colors vary
from culture to culture. (See note to students) 
Color is considered one of the most useful and powerful design tools you have. People respond to different colors in different ways, and these responses take place on a subconscious, emotional level. In our American culture, black has long been associated with death, while white is believed to signify life and purity. In the Orient, however, white is the traditional color of mourning. In the United States, black has also come to suggest sophistication and formality. Americans generally associate trust an stability with the color blue, while Koreans have this reaction to pink and other pastel colors. 
In the Western Culture: 

Purple and gold are often associated with Royalty, wealth and opulence 
Red, White and Blue reminiscent of the American flag, immediately convey notions of patriotism and, to some extent, conservatism. 
Green has taken on a very strong connotation as the color representing ecology and concern for the environment, however, it also conveys meanings associated with money and the suggestion "to go ahead" which is obviously derived from traffic lights. 
Colors represent holidays and seasons of the year. 
The Fall foliage colors of Red, orange, yellow, and brown are clearly expressive of Thanksgiving. Halloween: Orange and Black. Red and Green represent Christmas. Purple and Yellow and other pastels colors represent Easter. 
Blue, Red, White and Grey = Stability, Power, Trustworthiness, Conservatism 
Yellow, Brown, Orange, Green = Nature, earthiness, warmth 
Red, Orange, yellow = more warmth 
Blues and Aquas = water and coolness 
Primary colors (Red, Blue, Yellow) = Convey fun  

Color symbolism in Zulu beading. 
Young girls learned bead work and the meaning of the symbols and colors used from their older sisters. The bead work was usually worn as a head or neck band. Men depended on female relatives to explain the code. The patterns and colors can also tell what region a woman comes from and what her social standing is.

Native American Color Symbolism

Colors in Native American culture often symbolize different things from
culture to culture....African cultures have different meanings....and
so on. Colors symbolize different qualities in various European cultures.

Native American color symbols--Cherokee

The Four Directions
Colors were associated with the four directions.
Blue represented North which meant cold, defeat and trouble.
White was South representing warmth, peace and happiness.
Red was East, the color of the Sacred Fire, blood, and success.
West was black the color meaning problems and death.
Other colors also had special meanings.
Brown was good but yellow meant trouble and strife.

Navajo Meanings of Colors

This information was posted to Getty Teacher Art Exchange by Christine Merriam

The Four Sacred Mountains and directions are associated with colors. The Navajos belief is that their Creator placed them on the land between the following 4 mountains representing the 4 cardinal directions:

White: Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini' - Dawn or White Shell Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the East near Alamosa in San Luis Valley, Colorado 
Blue: Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil - Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the South north of Laguna, New Mexico 
Yellow: San Francisco Peaks (Doko'oosliid - Abalone Shell Mountain) Sacred Mountain of the West near Flagstaff, Arizona 
Black: Mount Hesperus Dibé Nitsaa (Big Mountain Sheep) - Obsidian Mountain Sacred Mountain of the North La Plata Mountains, Colorado. 

The principal colors, white, blue, yellow and black are linked to the four sacred mountains as well as the directions- Red is often considered a sacred color and represents sunlight. (source for this is off line now)

White Mountain Apaches
Four sacred colors of the White Mountain Apaches in east central Arizona contrast
interestingly with the Cherokee colors:
White represents the north, source of snow
Yellow is east, where the sun comes up
Green is south
Black is west, home of the sun's setting
These colors are used in a variety of settings, from the tribal government
seal to the ribbons on the cane of Changing Woman (the girls' puberty

Medicine Wheel color symbolism:
EAST- dawn of new day-Yellow-illumination-inspiration-eagle
SOUTH- red or green-passion, heart, warmth-emotions-porcupine 
WEST- black-introspection, self examination, reflection-bear 
NORTH- wisdom of our elders-white-white buffalo 

The Flag of the Flag of the Iowa Nation
The color of the streamers brings together the four primary
colors in Native American art, the black, yellow, red and white. These
colors are said to represent the four races of man and the four prime
directions of the compass. With its use of color and its chosen emblems the
flag of the Iowas may be the most typical of all Native American

Information below was from a site I would not go to with students (site is no longer online) I have omitted all of the pagan color symbolism from this page. Sources were not documented.

Native American Color Symbolism (varies by ethnic group - this source was not "authoritative")

Red (Faith): Communication
Yellow (Love): Overcoming challenges through unconditional love
Blue (Intuition): Using intuition to teach and serve
Green (Will): Living willfully
Pink (Creativity): Working
White (Magnetism): Sharing
Purple (Wisdom): Gratitude/healing
Orange (Learning): Kinship
Gray (Honoring): Friendship
Brown (Knowing): Self-discipline
Rose (Seeing): Motivation
Black (Hearing) Harmony; listening
Crystal (Clarity): Wholeness 

Asian Color Symbolism

Red: Happiness, marriage, prosperity
Pink Marriage
Yellow: Against evil, for the dead, geomantic blessings
Green: Eternity, family, harmony, health, peace, posterity
Blue: Self-cultivation, wealth
Purple: Wealth
White: Children, helpful people, marriage,
mourning, peace, purity, travel
Gold: Strength, wealth
Gray: Helpful people, travel
Black: Career, evil influences, knowledge, mourning, penance, self-cultivation

Astrological Color Associations  

Aries -- White
Taurus -- Yellow
Gemini -- Red or Purple
Cancer -- Bright Green
Leo -- Golden Yellow/Orange
Virgo -- Pale Blue or Violet
Libra -- Violet
Scorpio -- Reddish Brown
Sagittarius -- Orange or Purple
Capricorn -- Brown or Blue
Aquarius -- Dark Blue
Pisces -- White or Purple


Color Therapy - Color and the Brain 

Specific colors have different effects (list copied from
Black: self-confidence, power, strength
Blue: calming, lowers blood pressure, decreases respiration
Green: soothing, relaxing mentally as well as physically, helps those suffering from depression, anxiety, nervousness
Violet: suppresses appetite, provides a peaceful environment, good for migraines
Pink: used in diet therapy as an appetite suppressant, relaxes muscles, relieves tension, soothing
Yellow: energizes, relieves depression, improves memory, stimulates appetite
Orange: energizes, stimulates appetite and digestive system
Red: stimulates brain wave activity, increases heart rate, respirations and blood pressure.....

Additional Links for Color Symbolism

Color in Motion Fun interactive site on symbolism of colors. Meet the characters (colors) - watch the movies and test your knowledge. Masters research project by Claudia Cortés.

Color Symbolism in Stained Glass The symbolism of color as established by Dante

Color Order Systems in Art and Science Color systems and colors for various cultures. 
Isaac Newton’s Theory of Colour, Goethe’s and more - a total of 59 richly illustrated color theories from the Antiquity to modern times along with color symbolism in many cultures.

What Color Means: Color Symbolism and Emotions of Color Explanation of color symbolism (from

Color Symbolism Matching Exercise - Try it just for fun. Now you know that colors mean different things to different cultures - See if you feel the same as the author of this quiz.

Orange Color Symbolism Blue Color Symbolism Brown Color Symbolism
Black and White Color Symbolism Red and Pink Color Symbolism  
Yellow and Gold Color Symbolism Gray and Silver Color Symbolism  
Purple and Lavender Color Symbolism Green and Teal Color Symbolism  

Color Meanings - from About .com Desktop Publishing

Color Symbolism Chart Has some different cultures listed. From Wired 4 Success Web Design.

Color Matters - Culture Matters Interesting page on "green"

Symbolism and Color - Chart that matches some of the most popular rose colors
with the sentiments they express. Several different color symbolism charts for roses can be found on line.

Color Symbolism Color symbolism given with comparisons to Japanese culture. Page is written by Michael Thomas for is site on Anime.

Dictionary of Symbolism - Look up your color word. University of Michigan Fantasy and Science Fiction. Originally Constructed by Allison Protas.

Psychology of Color What is color? How does the human eye perceive it? How do we name a color? What are the physiological and psychological effects of color? What are the symbolic meanings of various colors in this and other cultures? This article offers answers

More on the Psychology of color from (has pop-up ads)

Color Symbolism - Ancient Egypt from Ancient Egypt: The Mythology - site by April McDevitt.

Heraldry on the Internet This site is designed to help you conduct heraldry research on the Internet -- many links as to the various sources of heraldic material available. Symbolism of Heraldry Teacher recommended site.  

Web See Causes of Color, Color Vision and Art and Pigments 

Color Symbolism in the Bible Teachers, you will have to decide if this can be shown to your students. Use your judgment. 

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