The psychology of color is a fascinating topic. From advertising to interior design, it plays a role in our daily lives even if we don’t always consciously notice it. Of course, this extends to artwork, too—certain colors and color palettes can evoke certain feelings in a subtle yet powerful way.
One particular artist that highlights how color can affect the mood of the piece and therefore your perception of it is Pablo Picasso. The artist famously has work that art historians categorize by colors: two of his earlier bodies of work are delineated into the “blue period” and the “rose period”. When looking at his work, you can feel the somber sadness of the blue-dominated compositions provoked by a bout of depression, and the joy of the pink-dominated ones which came after.
So, what colors evoke what emotions? Of course, other factors go into how an artwork makes you feel—composition, brushstroke treatment, subject, scale, and more—but colors certainly play a vital role in it, and are often extremely intentional choices made by artists.
A Quick Look at Individual Colors
Blue is a calming color, making you feel relaxed. However, it can also be a color of somberness, as Picasso’s Blue Period shows.
Green is refreshing and can symbolize health and wealth. It is easy on the eyes and is quite relaxing. It also conjures images of nature to the mind, perhaps provoking feelings of serenity.
Red is a fascinating color because it can trigger widely varying emotions. For example, it can be a color of love and passion, but can also indicate danger or urgency.
Orange is often considered to be an enthusiastic color—similar to red, it demands attention, but is less aggressive.
Pink is airy and romantic, often associated with femininity and tenderness.
Brown is calm and dependable, often evoking a sense of connection to the earth. It is warm and approachable.
Grey is serious and mature but can also be perceived as lacking in emotion.
Black is elegant, serious, and bold. It can also evoke feelings of sadness.
White is minimal and neutral and sometimes associated with simplicity and innocence.
Yellow is an optimistic, cheerful color, often associated with the sun. It can also feel a bit spontaneous.
In addition to the color itself, the hue and saturation affect how we perceive colors. Of course, highly saturated colors will appear more energetic, whereas a composition full of pastel colors might feel more serene. Neutrals, in general, often feel very calm. In a sense, colors are all relative to the ones they sit next to in a work of art.
The psychology of colors is subjective and can vary in respect to culture. For example, in some cultures, black is closely linked to mourning, and viewers could bring that association with them when viewing a piece of art. There are not extensive amounts of concrete research, but we can notice how certain colors make us feel personally and go from there.
Considering how our minds understand and interpret colors is a good starting point when purchasing a work of art. Do you want to have artwork that is calming or energizing in your domestic space? Especially if you’re hanging artwork somewhere where you spend a lot of time, make sure that you feel how you want to feel when looking at it. Art can truly be a world of its own and allow you to be transported into another world by simply standing in front of it.