How each color gains meaning from people
US anthropologist Clifford Geertz once noted that culture is “a web of meaning” that people create through symbolic interaction and “thick description.”
We attach meaning to everything around us. We are simply cramming meaning into the world, and color is a very good resource, according to James Fox, the author of “the World According to Color.”
In the 2021 book, the British art historian talks so many things about the seven elemental colors of black, red, yellow, blue, white, purple, and green.
The 226-page book then traces meanings related to the colors via a series of stories and vignettes based on Fox’s encyclopedic knowledge.
Fox comments that the meanings are different for different societies because colors aren’t inherently meaningful.
“Their meanings are created by the people who live with them. This is why a single color can mean different things in different places,” he says.
“In English, green is the color of envy, but in French, it is the color of fear, in Thai of rage, and in Russian, sadness or boredom.”
However, the author claims that color might even be our most powerful bear of meaning as it speaks to us in a very direct and vivid voice.
“Color seeps deep into our lives, saturating our words, thoughts, and feelings, belonging to a larger web of significance that our species weaves around itself,” he says.
“For millennia, we have used color as a universal language, to communicate ideas of fundamental importance: how to live and love, what to worship or fear, who we are and where we belong.”
As color is ultimately made by its perceivers, or human beings, Fox concludes that color is a pigment of our imaginations we paint all over the world.
“Color is a pigment of our imaginations that we paint all over the world,” he writes.
“Larger than any city, more intricate than any machine, more beautiful than any painting, it might, in fact, be the greatest human creation of them all.”