We’re Seeing Red (Of All Tints, Shades & Tones)!

Color psychology is a hot topic. It controls much of how we interpret the world without us even knowing it. Looking at it holistically, it’s overwhelming to see how much color goes into the varying parts of the rainbow, including psychology, cultural use, and context. It is a shallow dip into a deep pool when you look at all the colors at once. 

The color we’ll discuss here is the:

  • First color on the spectrum
  • Warmest with the lowest wavelength
  • Lowest energy of visible light
  • One of the first colors used in human artwork

Can you guess which color it is? It’s red – one of our favorite colors at TM!

This topic is a two-post series. This post will take a deep dive into how red has risen to great cultural prevalence over human history. In the final post, we’ll also discuss how TM interprets it, consciously and subconsciously! Knowing its background history will contextualize red within our world and inform us on how we interpret it today.

Seeing Red: Through the Ages

The history of red is very interesting – it is one of the first pigments used by man. Looking at ancient cave paintings, there’s a reddish pigment underlying the dark blacks and browns, which gives real color to the animals. Like this image of a bull cave painting found in the Caves of Altamira in Spain:

This bull dates back to the Paleolithic era, between 18,000 – 14,000 BCE. We’ve had a long love affair with red, 20,000 years long!

Thinking about this in context makes red a very primal color that’s embedded in human history as a whole. Derived from ochres, a natural clay, its innovation took over through a continued use that grew with us anthropologically. As wealth structures formed, the wealthy class enjoyed brighter pigments of red. These pigments were derived from cinnabar and other toxic elements in Egypt and during Greco-Roman periods. The refinement of the pigment continued through the ages. We see minium, a type of red lead; vermillion, the closest shade of red to TM‘s heart; and finally carmine and cadmium

Throughout history, red has been synonymous with luxury. It was only accessible to the wealthy and their commissioned artists. It added rich punches of color to artwork and immediately called for the viewer’s attention. Blood is one of the most common naturally occurring instances of red. It also took on the symbolic embodiment of martyrdom and courage.

Various Associations

In later centuries, we even begin to see the association of love as well. For example, the use of the symbolic heart and seeing red roses romanticized. While this can seem pure initially, this use tainted the eras as we begin to red become synonymous with sexuality and sin. So this is a double-edged sword, depending on the religious context of the period you are living. Think about the literary classic, The Scarlet Letter. Hester is an unmarried, pregnant woman who lives in a puritanical settlement. She also wore an emblazoned red A declaring she was ‘unpure’ in the eyes of her Christian Colony. 

Many of the ancient associations with red have persisted across the ages. Courage, attention, love, and many more are still evoked by it today. As it always has gone, this interpretation depends on the context, shade, and implementation of the color. As humanity has advanced, so has the nuance of our color use. In our first segment on color psychology, we touch on why big red brush strokes across the floor could feel inventive and brighten a space. But contextually if that space is a hospital, it is highly inappropriate. So if you’re working in a space where color interpretations are immediately influenced by your context, you have to think twice.

Understanding Red’s Context

It’s always good to have a baseline understanding of the history of color. It’s important to understand which outside influences alter the way you use it in a place or industry. What the color evokes when you are looking at its swatch is equally important. 

Come back soon as we’ll share our next article. We will delve deeper into the symbolism informed by this historical context.

How do you see the colors in your world? We’ll love to hear your thoughts and interpretations of seeing red and other colors!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read Related Posts