Color Matters Blog

Color is always doing something. Sometimes color screams out a message, sometimes it casts a subliminal spell. So, what's happening in the world of color today? Yesterday? Tomorrow? What are the facts, what are the myths?

The Color of Insanity

insanity color blog

Typically people ask about the color of happiness, power, and other positive attributes. When a former student asked about the color of insanity, it deserved an answer. Here are a few things to ponder:

In Russia, a colloquial expression for an insane asylum is "yellow house" because (a long time ago) they used to be painted yellow.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Gilman Perkins has been tied to a certain form of OCD. Furthermore, the color of the wallpaper has been explored in a number of scholarly literary papers.

Van Gogh's palette became more and more yellow towards the end of his life. His "insanity" was supposedly caused by lead poisoning because he inadvertently "ate" his paints ("hand to mouth" gestures, holding a brush handle in his mouth, etc.).

Studies on the effects of LSD (& other hallucinogenic drugs) have shown drawings/paintings by "crazy" folks with much more yellow as the effects advanced.

Yellow was said to be Einstein’s favorite color as well as the favorite color of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Some say that yellow is the favorite color of those who display mental extremes.

"Safety yellow" (used on US road signs and packaging) is a bright yellow similar to the color in nature on venomous snakes and insects — and especially so when combined with black. Some say that we instinctively see yellow as dangerous and/or stressful.

If insanity can also be considered “decadence,” there’s the “Yellow Book” by Mathews and Lane — and the writings of Baudelaire, Wilde, and Beardsley.

On the other hand, it's worth noting quotes about yellow from the great masters of painting in Western art history: Vincent Van Gogh called it "a color capable of charming God," Kandinsky said "a picture painted in yellow always radiates spiritual warmth" and Degas said "What a horrible thing yellow is."

As is the case with any color, there are mixed meanings.It's impossible to declare any one color represents something. 

What do you say is the color of insanity? Please comment. You can also tell us what the color of happiness is at the Global Color Survey at http://www.colorcom.com/global-color-survey

(The studies cited in this piece are anecdotal information. We encourage you to research further.)

© Jill Morton

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