True Colors

Inspired by the cliché, “show your true colors,” this a collaborative project about the perception of colors and our association with other senses and emotions.

As children, we learn to describe objects using colors. We say a hat is blue, a lion is yellow and a barn is red. We learn from Dr. Seuss that eggs are not desirable when they are green, and served with ham. When we get older, we learn to use colors to describe concepts. We say feeling blue, caught red-handed, green with envy or yellow-bellied. These clichés become part of our lexicon, and often we don’t even know their origin or the back story.

I’m interested in the feelings we associate with colors. When we think of love, do we associate red? Is sadness blue? Is death black? It turns out I’m not the only one interested in this subject. Indeed, there are a whole lot of folks spending considerable resources on trying to understand what different colors mean. In fact, the psychology of color in marketing and branding is a big business that appears, to me, to be a blend of fact-based science with some amount of art. These marketers are betting the farm that a certain shade of yellow is right for Nikon and blue is the right color for Facebook.

Using Facebook, I enlisted the help of friends to collaborate on this art project. I asked them to spend 10 minutes filling out an online survey that involved reading a word and picking a color that best relates to the word. They were told to pick the first color that popped into their minds and to not overthink. There was a choice of nine colors: blue, red, yellow, green, orange, purple, white, gray and black for each word. Write-ins were not allowed. 

I made digital illustrations using the percentage of colors from the survey and combined it with a photograph.