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What makes a color universal? If you think about the things that we all experience, such as an emotion, it might be easier to understand how colors can be perceived with a universal message. We all experience environmental colors, like warm pink, or pink light, or even red light, blackened sky of night, or a sky that appears brilliant blue. We perceive human emotion and health in the form of say, a red and angry face, or a greenish sick pallor, or a white and dead face.
We all need to sustain ourselves with edible foods. Green living plants, vibrant colorful fruits and vegetables, for example. These are just a few environmental, human, and life sustaining color associations. There are so many. If we all experience a color in a given context, in the same way, that color can be thought of as telling a color story that is universally understood. What about associations that are not universal but cultural.
In the west, a wedding dress, at least for a first marriage is often white. Because of its association with purity or virginity. White in the east is associated with death and is used to shroud a dead body. White would never be used for a wedding. Red symbolizes purity and life in India, a traditional color for a wedding dress. In South Africa, red symbolizes death and is the color of a warning. And in China, red is the symbol of good luck. Red in the west, it symbolizes warning, danger, excitement and passion.
The language of color is made even more complicated by the fact that each of us makes uniquely personal connections with colors, as well as seeing through a universal and a cultural lens. Much like the way that a person colors the words in a book with their own invented visual language based on experience, so it goes with colors. Color tells stories and makes us feel a particular way. Because we make these associations with our own stories in our heads, we color colors with our feelings, ideas and experiences.
Normal or saying with color in an image can be complicated. Because we make it personal, and that may not fit with someone else's ideas and feelings. Knowing what cultural, but more importantly, what universal associations are made and trusting our own instincts about a what color is saying to the viewer, help us make better decisions. Understanding the difference between our own personal color biases and that which speaks to a larger audience, can make the difference between getting our message across and making a deeper more profound connection with the viewer.
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