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The Most Powerful Color is also the Most Meaningful

As a designer and artist, I know all the theories dealing with the psychological and cultural effects and meanings of the color red. That is not what this article is about. Rather, it is about why I personally like the color red and why I think it is an important color in art, culture and life. I don't believe there is anything objective or accidental about my liking red. I was seduced into liking it - but that is a good thing; and, therefore, I sing the color Red. (If I were a poet, this would be a poem.)

I sing the color Red because my sports car is red, my coffee table is red, half the pillows on my sofa are red, one quarter of the decorative objects in my house are red. I love red. Red is sexy, red is elegant and red is fun. But it is also the most meaningful of all the colors because of where it came from.

I did not choose the color red, it chose me. Like a visitor from the Red Planet, it came into my life and took me over - emotionally and psychologically. There is a reason red is said to be the color of passion and love (as well as power and war). It is overpowering, and has a power all its own.

Think about it. From day one, we had basically four colors that were forced upon us: red, blue, yellow and green. Those were the colors of almost every game or toy we ever owned, almost every piece of candy we ever ate, almost every cartoon we ever watched. The other two colors we would later adopt were purple and orange, mainly because of the flavors they represented. Add to those brown and black, and you have a basic box of crayons.

What was the color of almost every object we, as kids, read about in books? Red. The red fire engine, the little red wagon, the red car, the red ball, the red pony - red, red, red. Even our jokes were saturated with red: "black and white and red all over." Because God chose to paint much of His creation in blue - blue sky and blue sea, obviously - we also got a lot of blue growing up. But most of the man-made objects seemed to be red. Is there any wonder that when we played board games, everyone wanted to be either red or blue. No one wanted to be green, and certainly not yellow.

What color of car always attracts the attention of little boys so that they point them out to their parents? Red. I can't tell you how many parents have told me that their little boys liked my red car. And what color will those little boys most likely select when they grow up and buy a car? Red. What color will they most likely choose when they go through mid-life crisis? Red. Which color do girls notice when they start thinking about boys and their cars? Red. Which color do women say is most fun for a car, a dress or makeup? Red. What color do men think looks sexiest on women? Red.

We've been conditioned to think that red is the color. I don't believe it is built in. Visually, of course, red does stand out. But why does it stand out? Because of what we have been taught. We have been taught that red is special because it occurs infrequently in Nature. Except for blood and a handful of flowers, where else do we see it? In a world that is primarily green and brown, red stands out. (Red is the complementary opposite of green, and green and red mixed together make brown.)

We have been taught that red is special - and it is. Red is special, primarily because it occurs in blood, and blood is very special. It is the substance of life, of passion, of love, of war, of power. Thus, red, the color of blood, is also all those things. For this reason, red was selected by the Roman emperors as their color and the color of their armies. For the same reason, it was selected as the color for the Vatican, one of the two colors for Christmas and the main color for St. Valentine's Day.

In contrast, kings have traditionally chosen either blue or purple as their color (Rome was adamantly against kings), and those are also the colors of Easter, which celebrates the King of Kings. Blue has exactly the opposite effect and meaning as red: it represents calm and peace. I love blue as much as I love red. (I'm a two color man. :) ) But I am not as emotionally tied to blue as I am to red. I was brainwashed into liking blue because blue is the color of boys. Nevertheless, I chose blue, it didn't choose me. (I could have chosen brown, the way a lot of boys do.) But red goes deeper - it chose me. Red invaded my world of blue, and now the two exist, happily, side by side. (I have a third color I love - apple green. But that's another story for another time.)

Red is a powerful color, and, symbolically, one of the colors of Christ. It was His blood that bought our freedom from sin. Our sins were red as blood, but He turned them white as snow. As Isaiah 1:18 says, "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.'" It is interesting that it was His red blood that turned our red sins to white, indicating that we are now pure, free from sin. I'd like to see someone do that in a chemistry lab! How powerful is the blood of Christ, and how wonderful is the color of that blood - red!

I sing the color Red! I sing the Blood of Christ!


Waitsel Smith, February 10, 2008

Text © 2008 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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