At the heart of symbolism

The colour approaches


Composition by Carla Accardi, 1947, Museum of contemporary art , Milan

Outer and inner revelations

Colours are a manifestation of light that illuminates and reveals the world to us. They are absorbed, reflected and propagated in the form of corpuscles or waves. Captured by the eye, they are transmitted to the brain and transformed into coloured sensations. Then, the outer colours are becoming inner in the strict sense of the word. Next, they are comprehended, that is to say taken together with their whole environment, to be interpreted according to each one's itinerary.

That the meaning of colours varies across regions and eras hardly raises doubts. And that lead us to ask, for example, why the colour of mourning is black in the West and white in the East ? By the way, are black and white really colours ? The answer can only be yes and no, unless it is no and yes. No matter what, let us continue with mourning:

  • Black absorbs all (other) colours. This means the disappearance of all vivid colours of the world, the world of the living. As such, black perfectly suits as a symbol of death;
  • White, by contrast, reflects all (other) colours which are returning to life, to the world of the living. It echoes a rebirth following death. Death is not an ultimate end, but only the end of a cycle heralding a new one, a revival.

Colours of mourning differ less than the points of view about. Indeed, both are complementary. Everything depends on the connotation given to the word “end”. And why not including instead of opposing them. It is the end of something and the beginning of something else, even if it remains largely unknown. Besides, the colours of mourning are never completely black or white. Black and white are often accompanied by a touch of white or black. A richer approach would precisely consist in broadening our vision and investigate the relationships between black and white… and (other) colours.

If the interpretation of colours depends on the environmental and cultural context, it also goes beyond them to acquire a deeper meaning. Deeper than shape that is appearance, deeper than place and time that are contingencies.

There is many a slip twixt the photon or electromagnetic wave, proper to the outer world, and the deep feeling, characteristic of the inner world. Therefore, no wonder the divergence between outer and scientific views and inner and symbolic visions.

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