Blue Skies - Perspectives No. 250

Blue Skies

Perspectives from The Artist's Road

Landscape Painting by William Merritt Chase
Shinnecock Landscape          William Merritt Chase

   As artists, we breathe a sigh of relief when the Wizard of Oz movie takes us from black and white into full color. After all, colors are the artist's tools and it is unimaginable to think of life without them. But why do people have different favorite colors?

   Many studies have been conducted to try to answer the question, with varying results. Psychology Today magazine cites a study done by psychologists at the University of California Berkeley (1) which tested 48 participants who rated 32 colors in order of how much they liked each color. They found that muted or pastel colors were less favored than bright colors. Blues, reds and greens were most highly favored. Brown and olive green ranked lower than orange or yellow. The researchers continued by having study participants rate the appeal of certain objects—objects which tend to have specific colors (for example, red apples and brown dirt). They compared these ratings with those given by different participants viewing solid color swatches. The preferences between the two groups matched perfectly. The conclusion drawn by this study is that we derive our color preferences from the objects that we prefer.

   Scientists have long thought that color preferences might be tied to things that promote survival and health. Blue, which tends to rank high across most cultures, may be favored because of its relationship to clear blue skies and calm weather.

   In addition to those studies asking participants to name their favorite colors, scientists have also investigated the physiological effects of color on the brain by measuring blood pressure and doing brain electroencephalograms while participants studied color swatches of red, green and blue. (2) The studies concluded that red caused higher brain activity in the areas of attention and of perception and possibly elicited more anxiety than blue.

   A study done in the marketing and business world (3) asked participants from eight countries to rate their color preferences of ten colors. Blue, green and white were similarly high ranking.

   Interestingly, while blue seems to consistently rank high as a favorite and yellow low, in the small percentage of males who suffer from red-green dichromacy (color-blindness), yellow was ranked high and blue much lower. (4)

   Although the drama of a stormy sky or the smoldering colors of a Midwest sunset are candy to an outdoor painter, blue skies still carry the day for creating a sense of calm and relaxation in life and in art.

(1) Stephen Palmer and Karen Schloss in the 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

(2) Ai Yoto, University of Shizuoka, Shizuoka-shi, Japan, 2007.

(3) Thomas Madden, Kelly Hewett, Ma1rtin Roth, Journal of the American Marketing Association, 2000.

(4) Leticia Álvaro, Humberto Moreira, Julio Lillo, Anna Franklin, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2015.


Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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