The Significance of Colour

Coloured Pens in Guided Drawing

Coloured Pens in Guided Drawing

There are many different ways to approach the subject of the meaning and significance of colour. In art therapy sessions I encourage clients to honour colour in so far as to choose it according to the felt sense. If something feels blue inside, draw it blue; if it feels neutral, use a neutral colour such as black or brown. Such choices make the drawings more meaningful.

Experience has taught me to attach no interpretation and meaning to specific colours. The impact a colour has on someone is highly individual and depends on a momentary physical and emotional state, as well as spiritual and cultural aspects. In a study we conducted at university the same colour was perceived as ‘warm’ in one setting and ‘cold’ in another, even by the same person.



There are plenty of colour theories around. They can be found on the Internet. Joan Kellogg’s developed one for the MARI mandala assessment scheme.[1] Goethe wrote his Theory of Colour between 1790 and 1808[2]. Werner Arnet, with whom I studied Gestalt therapy, had based his entire psychological colour concept of “Eidos” (Greek for perception and the name of his school) on the teachings of Johannes Itten, who was part of the Bauhaus Group in the nineteen-twenties.[3] Ingrid Riedel has written in depth about the interpretation of colour in the Jungian context.[4] Theosophical teachings have a particular meaning attached to the colours of the seven rays of creation, the Hindus have a colour system for the chakras, Catholics another with instructions for gowns and altar-decorations according to the church calendar. There are significant cultural differences how colour is perceived. In China the colour for mourning is white, in the West it is black. In a multi-cultural society, clients have not necessarily been exposed to the same archetypal values as the therapist and will likely associate differently.


Goethe’s Theory of Colour

Goethe’s Theory of Colour


There are universal perceptions attached to colour such as: the sky is blue, grass is green, blood is red. But ultimately there is always the individual experience. The red of blood will evoke certain sensations in a woman with period cramps and others in someone who has just witnessed an accident. A doctor may associate medical details with blood, while for a voodoo shaman it is a sacred substance. The green of vegetation will have different significance for a tribe living in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea to peoples living in the Australian desert or to those in a metropolitan area.

 Accordingly, I will listen to clients’ perception of the colours they have chosen and the meaning they attach to them. Colours enhance emotions and they can act like a gateway to deeper insights.


[1] Kellogg, Joan. Mandala, Path of beauty. 1992

[2] Johannes Pawlik, Goethe, Farbenlehre, 1974. Johannes Pawlik, Theorie der Farbe, 1976

[3] Johannes Itten, Die Kunst der Farbe, Subjectives Erleben und objectives Erkennen als Wege zur Kunst, 1961; Paul Klee, Das bildnerische Denken, Schriften zur Form- und Gestaltungslehre, 1964

[4] Ingrid Riedel, Farben, in Religion, Gesellschaft, Kunst und Psychotherapie, 1983


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