Culture in its broadest sense, like colour, is all around us. It is the world in which we live. This page can only touch the tip of this subject.
In clothing and furnishings we have the significance of the colours of the moment. For example in a recent magazine article discussing the trends for 2009, the prediction for fashion was colours will be muted in keeping with the economic downturn.
The colours around us express the mood of the times.
Looking back to the late 1960’s there was the explosion of psychedelia, vivid colours that appeared in clothes and furnishings, colours that matched those giddy times of mind-expanding drugs, youthful optimism and revolution. The mid 1970’s saw black return with a vengeance as it became the emblem of punk. Black – a colour that absorbs all light, a colour that destroys rather than builds, like wintertime before a new spring. Punk was an end to the pomp, glitz and glamour that had been before, it was a time of breakdown in order that new growth could explode.
We can also consider colour as it appears in different cultures. Dare I say that, generally speaking, tropical cultures feature brighter colours than do the cooler climates. In contrast, white and black, also grey and silver, are generally seen as sophisticated colours in the West. In fact these colours are not truly colours in the sense that they do not appear in the rainbow. These colours predominate in the modern day temples of high civilisation: art galleries and the like. For an analysis of this see – Chromophobia by David Bachelor – an excellent book on the causes and significance of this.
Colour is sometimes used in the world of film to communicate ideas and states. The bright colours of the land of Oz in the Wizard of Oz contrasted with the grey of Kansas and emphasised Oz’s other-worldliness. In later years this film and the heroine Dorothy became a beacon for gay people as they broke free from the constraints of (black and white) social expectations to become true to themselves – to follow their own yellow brick road if you will.
Another film, Pleasantville, also used colour to emphasise the tension between social expectations and awakening to ones own true self and values. Colour increasingly erupts into the rigid world of 1950′s perfection in the USA as the film’s characters have to honour their own needs and truth.
Blue and Red have long represented the polarity of “isms” – conservatism versus socialism through the 20th century. Blue for bosses, red for the workers. Then the Green movement appeared, a sympathy with Mother earth and a need to share resources and recycle. Humanity still has a long way to travel on this road, the world cannot continue in either a blue or red direction without addressing the green issues.
Towards the end of the 20th century we saw the Rainbow Nation, South Africa, emerge from the breakdown of black and white politics. Since then in the 21st century we have witnessed colour become an important signifier in political movements. First there was the Orange revolution in the Ukraine. There were further colour coded bids for change in the former Soviet Union, while in Thailand yellow and red are the colours worn by differing opposition groups. In Iran – even as i write – green has become the colour that expresses opposition to the June 2009 election result. Colour has become an increasingly potent symbol in 21st century politics.
There are so many more interesting connections between colour and culture. One way to learn more is to join my email club and be kept up to date with further publications.