Simply Red: Why One Colour Became So Powerful

Who gets to walk on the red carpet? What makes red-letter days so special? Where is the red line that must not be crossed? When do we go to red alert? Why do you see red? And how can one colour have such diverse meanings in our lives?

These questions are not answered by Newton’s famous experiments with prisms, which led to the colour red being defined as the long end of the visible spectrum. The wavelength of light is a very abstract idea and completely irrelevant to our everyday experience of colour. It does nothing, for example, to explain why contestants in red sports kits are statistically more likely to win than those in other colours.

Red is simply sensational and its dominant place in today’s world of colour owes much to events that took place many thousands of years ago. One of humankind’s earliest observable activities was their decorative use of colour – in fact, it is one of the things that makes us human. And we can track down red’s hold over us by tracing the way artists got their colour over time – from animals, vegetables and minerals. Continue reading