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Energy Made Visible - The Power of Color Therapy

Color communicates in strange, sentient, often unseen ways. A bright, ebullient hue can lift a mood. A dark, powerful tone, transform a room. But color doesn’t really exist – at least in the way we think it does…



The polychromatic world we perceive around us is actually just a reflection. How different objects, places, and living organisms look is determined by the ways different materials and surfaces absorb and repel sunlight. When the sun goes down and light energy dims, colors fade into a sort of monotone tedium, which explains why everything seems to be tainted with the same dull brush at night. Color may not be completely real, but our experience with it is. Best described as energy made visible, these different wavelengths of reflective light can affect us emotionally, physically, and mentally. The sun-worshipping Ancient Egyptians understood this. The forebearers of Color Therapy or Chromotherapy built sun-activated, crystal-encased solariums, believing different-coloured rays would penetrate the body and treat specific ailments. Traditional Chinese medicine links certain colors to alignments and imbalances to harmonious flow with the body’s Qi energy. Classical Greek philosophers mused on the scientific and spiritual components of color, while Ayurveda – the so-called ‘science of life’ – internalises color within the body to symbolise each of the seven chakras.  In recent centuries, the mysterious, alluring powers of color has been wielded by esoterically-minded artists. In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s treatise on color, drew from ancient learnings and outlined how different shades could alter psychological perceptions and affect physiological conditions, inspiring artists ever since. Gauguin called color “a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams,” while Kandinsky believed it possessed “a power which directly influences the soul.” Impressionists, surrealists, and abstract painters, all embraced specific pigments to evoke targets feelings and reactions from their audiences.


It’s not always about healing though. Sometimes color can be weaponised. Back in the 17th Century, England dressed its New Model Army soldiers in Venetian Red because it was shown to heighten people’s heartbeat - a subtle shock and awe effect on the enemy. Perceived through the longest wavelength, red commands attention making things that reflect red seem closer than they actually are, which is why stop signs and traffic lights utilise red.

In the modern world, color science has been eagerly embraced by marketing maestros for commercial gain. Both food advertisements and restaurants use yellow and orange to make customers more hungry. This susceptibility to color is exploited by food producers who add augmented color compounds to enhance desirability and flavour - if only in our minds. The way food looks pre-programs our neural response before it even hits our taste-buds - an evolutionary psychological shortcut to manage perceptions and ensure we don't eat anything unsafe. More worryingly, some sporting stadiums have taken inspiration from US prisons (where ‘drunk tank pink’ coloured walls have been shown to make inmates more docile), painting the visiting side’s locker room pink to make players feel passive and less energetic.


Knowing how to navigate through the universe’s confounding rainbow can bring benefits too, though. Green calms us down. TV studios painted their ‘green rooms’ to ease talents’ nerves for this very reason. The replenishing power of a walk in a park or forest is therefore as much about the fresh air as the curative color of the greenery. As the color of intuition and perception, blue facilitates concentration and introspection. Blue also stimulates right brain activity, which is connected to our creativity and spatial skills, while inducing a more rested mind that causes the body to produce chemicals that calm us down. Saffron orange affects us on an even deeper level. For the Buddhists, it symbolises purity, illumination and the perfected self. In India, it is also worn by the Sanyasis when they leave home in search of greater truth and purpose. More than just a source of stimulation, orange is said to bring joy, emotional strength, and allow us to see beyond ourselves. Centuries ago, yellow became popular in both painting and apparel because of its warming effect; said to spark cheerfulness and stimulate new thoughts and ideas. Too much can have a disturbing effect, though. Studies have shown that babies tend to cry more in rooms painted yellow. As with everything in life, moderation, common sense, and striking a balance is of the essence.


Text: Liam Aldous

Location: James Turrell House of Light, Japan

Moving image: Jahved Crockett