Thursday, May 21, 2009

The psychology of the color brown

When I decided to focus on color for a month, I chose May because it's a colorful time of year. I thought of bright, vibrant colors or soft Springtime pastels. I certainly didn't think of brown. But as I was looking at this photo that I took at a Paris flea market, I realized that I like it for two reasons: the color and the texture. If I were to convert the image to black and white, I think it would lose most of its appeal. But why? What does the color brown add?

I have no intention of creating a long post about brown (as I recently did about the color pink), but I wanted to see what the psychology of brown might reveal about why I prefer the monochromatic photo in color.

With unanimity, most sites about color mention that the color brown is associated with the earth (hence, its categorization as an "earth tone"), with being grounded in the natural world, with warmth and security. Brown is associated with the past, with tradition. But then the contradictions begin...

Brown is comforting, but it "can also create feelings of sadness and isolation."
Brown "will look great with almost any color", but "few colors work well with it." (I agree with the former.)

Brown tones tend to be more "friendly" than black and white (think about the uses of sepia). The brown background in this detail of a statue makes the hand look less severe (but possibly less "artsy") than it would look in black and white.

The most thorough look at the color brown that I found covers everything from the varied reactions to the color in different cultures to the use of brown in song titles. Among the factoids about brown is the following gem: "If you dream of the color brown, it means you will be lucky with money." In this troubled economy, here's hoping we'll all have dreams about farming.