The Psychology of Colour.


Our Colour – Liz West
Site-specific Installation (T5 fluorescent bulbs, cellulose gels)
Dimensions variable, this image shows 10,000 sq ft

Liz West is a light installation artist, concerned with the psychological influence of colour, its effect and sensory impact upon the viewer.  She immerses the viewer in colour and asks, what does this feel like?


Our Colour Reflection
Installation (mirror, acrylic tubing)
1100cm (L) 20cm x (H) x 1100cm (W)
“Our Colour Reflection creates a conversation between the viewer and the setting using more than 765 mirrors made of coloured acrylic. There are 15 colours in all and the mirrors with diameters of 30, 40, 50 and 60cm are set at different heights so that they both reflect the roof space of the old nave, revealing parts of the architecture that would otherwise be invisible, and project colour up into the historic interior. It is playful, elegant and engaging but also thoughtful.”

The meanings and value that we culturally attribute to the phenomena of colour, have changed over the centuries, from early Egyptian and Chinese health treatments to the 20th century search for the connection of human psychology and our colour preferences.

Rorschach (1942) and Eysenck (1941) Clinical psychologists who researched extensively following the second world war, and reported their findings of employing colour in the analysis of personality, and were both criticised by some and supported by other researchers, in there findings. I believe that the validation that they did gain will increase over time, and we will gain a deeper understanding of the positive effects of colour and our wellbeing.


I personally find that the picture above, for some unknown reason inspires something emotional to me, joy, pleasure, something I can’t quite capture in words. I often visit the NASA website for their photographic library….. it has truly beautiful imagery of the colours of the universe we exist in.


Zena O’connor in her report Colour Psychology and the Colour Therapy: Caveat Emptor (2009) looks at our history of colour beliefs, covering the extensive use of “factoids” none factual beliefs, in magazines citing home spun beliefs about colours that will positively affect the emotions of say … wearing yellow to improve your mood. She historically cites the work of Faber Birren, Kurt Goldstein, amongst others, within the 20th century who worked extensively researching the connection between our preferences in colour and what this psychologically could attest to. O’conner is clear in the title of her paper, Caveat Emptor (latin- buyer beware) and refutes the studies covered with in the 20th century giving 7 reasons, she clearly discredits the findings of past studies as lacking in the methodical criteria we would expect in the 21st century and finds the historical examinations lacking in stringency. She then clearly refutes the unscientific basis of ancient religious traditions who do offer important incites into the importance of colour to our human aspects of spirituality , stating…

“It is important to note that ancient belief systems are not always a guarantee of veracity as evidenced by the superseded beliefs that the world is flat, and the sun and moon orbit the earth. While not intending to dispar- age the wisdom of the ancients, a fair proportion of this wisdom has been superseded by later scientific discovery and the existence of a link with ancient wisdom should not of itself be used as evidential proof of any claim.” (O’Conner 2009)

I’ve added this quote because it made me laugh outloud, .. there is no intention to disparage, I am sure, but we are equally led astray when we adopt the arrogance of not accepting unless we have the proof ….ie the world is flat, which was accepted until proven. O’connor just demonstrated the human condition, its not a misperception until you can see its a misperception, and our understanding could be led by ancient understandings that have been lost in time, not the opposite way around.

Some amazing scientific minds have found many times that arrogantly believing that knowledge is a linear process and that we gain overtime is something of an illusion, conceding that the texts of the past have alluded to current dilemmas and solutions.

Chinese medicine is not completely accepted (except by the “odd” clinician) in the west for its central aspects of relying on the existence of Qi. Un able to see this energy force within our body in a physical dimension, the western culture demands a means to encapsulate and prove. Anyone who undertakes regular meditation can feel and sense this energy , harness it and improve their health. The scientific western community stands in the cold, waiting for the perception of Qi, from an outside source, but in the main…. we are becoming more open to changing.

Following along the lines of Liz West I find my self drawn to the use of colour in my work and what this work can bring to the viewer, therefore my research question for my MA is, How can collections of colour be used to create contemplative objects ?


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