What do you see? Is it the indigo blue of your first lover’s jeans? Is it the emerald green of the ring you pawned some time ago? Is it the dark grey skies before a thunderstorm?
It is not possible to imagine a color we’ve never seen before; we have indeed seen all these color before. Whether it is the indigo blue of your first lover’s jeans; the emerald green of the ring you pawned some time ago; the dark grey skies before a thunderstorm; the intense red of your mother’s lipstick.
This was first mentioned in a TED Talk by Tim Brown on creativity and play that the brain cannot perform this task because we build new thoughts and ideas based on past experiences, emotions, and the
knowledge we come across.
Yet as early as 40,000 years ago, artists were experimenting with colors never before seen in the history of painting using only a palette of five basic tones. One of these tones is red ochre. Red is perhaps the oldest color in history.
Often associated with romance and passion, red is a color that is defined by the cultural context. In 1888, Vincent van Gogh wrote that he “sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions”. While on the other hand, red has always symbolized prosperity and joy in China so much so that it is banned from funerals.
A relatively more modern invention is color blue. It was the Egyptians who first found the way to produce a blue dye. This was done through mining and unearthing lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone that was scarce and highly-prized. The bright blue robe in which painters depicted Virgin Mary it was not chosen because of its religious symbolism but because of its hefty price tag.
Soon, other ancient civilizations tried to create the color blue using various methods. For example, in China, copper was blended with heavy elements such as mercury to create shades of blue and then attributed with healing qualities. As a result, about 40 percent of the Chinese emperors suffered from heavy-element poisoning.
One of the more difficult colors to replicate is perhaps green. Because of the unstable nature of the dyes used to create green, what looks like green at first tend to turn brown or black. From this, the color green derived its association with a chance, which is why card tables and snooker tables are covered with green baize today.
The color grey is mostly used as the background color in painting. Grey has become the most common background for the portraits of Rembrandt van Rijn. This is perhaps why the color is associated with neutrality.
If any of the above colors piqued your interest, be sure to check out our PowerCube Colours series.
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