Colours and meaning

There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of colours. Their codic meaning is universal because it is determined by their physical characteristics. The abstract meaning, although sometimes very clear, can not be automatically translated into words. There are no fixed rules, because language is an open system. The ‘translation’ is rather something like laying a tangram, the Chinese puzzle that suggests a figure. Phrases like “red means love” assume a strict, unambiguous relationship. ‘Red’ does not get meaning through ‘love’.

In reverse, the words get meaning through the colours, they are ‘emotionally coloured’ as in “love is red”. In Dutch and within a certain context, ‘love’ is assigned the same code as bright red ‘naturally’ produces in us. The abstract meaning of the colours is universal, their external meaning is culturally given, which does not imply that it would be entirely conventional.

‘Understanding’ or ‘grasping’ is to fit the idea into a cell within the conceptual framework it belongs. The reasons why an idea lands in a certain cell can often be very diverse.

The keywords earth and heaven in the semantic colour space.

According to the comparative research of Alpaerts & Michiels (2006), “Earth” eg. was placed under the code 000, i.e. the codic combination for the colour blue. (Fig.8) On a dimensional level, the idea of earth can be described as the sum of cold (depth back) + hard (height top) + passive (breadth left). There is a frequently recurring relationship with the term “earth” and the colour blue. The earth is referred to, among other things, as the ‘blue planet’. In many simple images such as logos the globe is presented in blue. In Christian representations, the heavenly God is depicted in yellow opposite the blue earth over which he rules. According to the psychologist Heller (1989), blue is the colour of the reunification with (mother) earth and has a calming effect. Campbell (1969) explains that Buddhist meditation techniques focus the mind on colours. “The earth, then, was to be seen as lapis lazuli, transparent and radiant.” In Ancient Egypt as well as in India (Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna), blue is a divine colour, not that of a heavenly god but of an earth god.