1810 AD

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a literary genius born in Frankfurt, a part of the then Holy Roman Empire in the year 1779, was considered to be one of the best Lyrical and Epic poetry and Prose and Verse dramas. Also widely known for his Literary and Aesthetic Criticism, novels and numerous letters and drawings, he ventured into the field of Science in the year 1788 with a botanical paper named  “Metamorphosis of Plants” which led to an entire field of Science to be named “Goethean Science”. In 1810, he published what people consider his most important work even today, The Theory of Colours. Going deeper into his Theory of Colours, we find that he believes that “darkness is not absence of light, rather the shadow that interacts with light to produce what we know as colour”, unlike his other scientific contemporaries.


Yellow is a light which has been dampened by darkness; Blue is a darkness weakened by light.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Goethe, The Theory of Colours 

Remember those rainbow-colored wheels we find in Photo and Video editing and compositing softwares like Photoshop and After Effects? They are a brainchild of Goethe, called the Colour Wheel. Goethe went on to say, “When the eye sees a colour it is immediately excited and it is its nature, spontaneously and of necessity, at once to produce another, which with the original colour, comprehends the whole chromatic scale.” He arranged these colours based on the effect it evokes on the human eye.


Colours have been known to induce various different emotions on people with various factors such as age, gender and culture influencing the kind of emotions induced. Goethe, based on common observation, related red to “beautiful”, blue to “common”, orange to “noble”, green to “useful”, yellow to “good” and violet to “unnecessary and luxurious”.

What emotions do these colours exactly evoke?


Red is the colour usually assigned to violence. It is the colour of our blood and it is said to signify anger, vengeance and power. It is a commonly known fact that Red light has a longer wavelength and is hence used in traffic signals and warning beacons. 


Studies show that Red induces hunger and is hence used in almost every fast food restaurant from McDonalds to KFC and Dominos to Pizza Hut. All their logos, marketing materials, billboards, banners and pamphlets all contain red as one of their primary colours. In certain restaurants, the interior design extensively uses red to stimulate hunger among the customers.



Blue is a colour that spells sophistication. It is a colour widely prevalent in huge offices and busy hubs as it is scientifically proven to enhance productivity. Blue, being the colour of the sky and water bodies also means peace and tranquility but the darker shades of blue are melancholic, sad and depressing. It generates a cold, chill feeling. That is why dark blue colours are to be avoided for bedroom walls. The colour Blue in fashion has a huge historical significance as English and other European traders came to India to trade on Indigo, a blue coloured dye.



Yellow is bright and straightforward. Often compared to honesty and good personality, yellow colours are used to gain attention at places where red would be a little too powerful. While red means hot, yellow creates a feeling of warmth.  Yellow coloured medicines and pills create a placebo effect on patients, leading to increased stimulant effects.




Green is the colour of nature. It is the colour of leaves, bushes, rainforests and meadows, aptly called greenery.  Green is known to relieve stress. It is said to be relaxing and peaceful. This nature of green is why it finds its place in the National Flag of India.



Pink is a colour equated to feminine nature due to its presence in nature as flowers. It is associated with the tenderness of a baby’s skin.

Purple and Violet shades are associated with luxury and magnificence. Darker shades of Violet are associated with evil and disgust, while lighter shades like lavender are soothing and relaxing.

Orange is energetic and is hence used to market energy drinks and health suppliments.

Black is sophisticated but is culturally used to deep sorrow and death and so black walls are generally not preferred.

White is generic and simple. It is minimalistic. It signifies purity and is hence used as a perfect background for logos that use darker shades and complicated designs. 

Humans are emotional beings known for spontaneous judgement of character from appearances. How is this possible? If we were living in a monochromatic world, this would be far difficult as our brain automatically perceives emotions and feelings through colours. The author of Chromophobia and Minimalism, David Batchelor says, “Colour is uncontainable. It effortlessly reveals the limits of language and evades our best attempts to impose a rational order on it… To work with colour is to become acutely aware of the insufficiency of language and theory – which is both disturbing and pleasurable.”

Or simply like the great Joseph Addison puts it,

Colours speak all Languages”.


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