If you look at it in a non-prosaic way, then everything is made up of just nine primary colours which cones and rods of our retina are able to receive: namely white (as an 'overall mixture' of the colour spectrum), black (as having 'no luminous stimulus'), magenta, yellow, cyanine blue, indigo, violet, green and orange.
The actual achievement is subsequently performed as usual by the human brain, which spreads out this narrow band of electromagnetic waves over 350,000 different sensations of colour.
And in order to round off the theory a little: let us not forget the difference between light colours and pigments.
The colours of objects in the natural environment are generally pigments. The impression of colour which the observer receives from an object takes place because part of the light which strikes the surface of the object is reflected by it, while the other part is absorbed.
The remaining reflected light determines the colour of the object. In contrast to pigments, light colours represent light themselves, the presumption being that particles exist which themselves radiate light as part of the light source.
Images on the computer monitor or TV arise from light colour, their representation here caused by the continuous transmission of electrons, which strike the surface of the screen and bring about a colourful brightening of the phosphorous.
Of course, this by no means explains those phenomena which are attributed to colours. However, anyone who at this point is already talking of distinct moods which colours can apparently influence in such an unerring way, should first listen to what anthropologists have to say on the subject: namely, that different cultural complexes certainly have their own colours! Would you like a few examples, perhaps?
+ In China, for example, the colour yellow is equated with the male, while black is regarded as its female counterpart. In the European cultural complex it is exactly the other way round. Black corresponds to the male principle and yellow to the female.
+ Red is regarded on the European continent (and also in Japan) as a classical colour with signalling power, usually associated with danger and aggression. The Chinese, on the other hand, use red to express joy and a highly festive mood.
+ White, for us, is the colour of purity and virtue, while in the Asiatic region a symbol of death and mourning.
+ Blue did not exist at all among the Japanese of former times, while in the 'rest' of the world blue exerted a quiet attraction as a symbol of power, truth and divinity.
Naturally, such applications and symbolism are partially connected to quite simple economic and socio-graphic framework conditions.
In historical times the colour red could only be obtained from Tyrian purple and 120,000 murex shells which produced precisely 1.4 grams of dye could only be afforded by the very wealthiest people and even then only for festive garments.
The indicators are often quite simple: in which area the people lived, the north or south? Which natural colours existed there? Fields, mountains, water etc.? Green, for example, is regarded as the colour of hope, and therefore could be connected to the fact that, after the period of winter deprivation, the newly sprouting green of springtime allows optimistic feelings to develop once again.
For desert people, green means much more, namely the colour of Paradise (and the holy colour of Islam) and is granted the highest value. In Europe green does not have this status, as it is the 'normal' colour of our landscape.
Incidentally, here too the patriarchal concept prevails: firstly, almost all cultural complexes regard expensive and valued colours as representing the male principle, while less important colours take second place and stand for the female principle..
Nevertheless colours can do more and there are facts to prove it, even going back to medieval times! The Arabic doctor, philosopher and alchemist Avicenna (980-1037) discovered the surprising possibility of healing his patients by means of colour radiation. In his Book of Recovery he proposes using colours to describe different kinds of temperament: choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic and attributes the latter to the elements fire, air earth and water, which correspond to the colours red, yellow, green and blue.
Avicenna believed that a person's feelings are stimulated most advantageously by sunlight which falls into a room through coloured glass panes.
Today, despite findings from extensive research, colour therapy still plays an outsider role in the school of medicine though nothing is incorrect with the research findings. Blue accelerates the healing of wounds and at the same time alleviates pain. Red activates all living creatures: plants grow better, hens lay more eggs and the pulse of human beings increases.
Canteens painted in yellow make for more relaxed eating, while soft green on the walls adds wings to the inventive imagination. A lighting mixture of red plus green helps against depression. Some opticians make use of the colour spectrum as therapy for eye muscles. Colours, according to scientists' theories, balance out energy fluctuations towards medium values, regardless of whether they are ingested as food or worn as clothes, whether one touches or only looks at them.
Thus hardly surprising is that also in body culture which is so extensive at the present time, the latest methods of producing 'well-being' are based on multi-colours as a way of bringing body and soul into harmony. Rapid energy drive, great charisma, increased immune defences: everything is possible. You must have read the following a hundred times and heard it at the last feng-shui seminar, colloquially translated, 'Whoever is green with envy is quick to see red. High time to get onto a green branch again, perhaps with a journey into the blue? Afterwards you will see life through rose-tinted spectacles.'
So is there anything that has a better claim to colour design than the space in which we live, our surroundings, than objects with which we are always preoccupied? With the surplus of possibilities in the present age architects and designers nevertheless seem to lean, almost as a reaction, in the other direction (exceptions regularly prove the rule!). Reduced objectivity and formal language have direct parallels with a deliberate renunciation of the colourful.
"The use or renunciation of colour is a clear statement of the designer. That makes it all the more important to go through a well-founded decision-making process beforehand", says Kai Stania, architect and designer at Bene, who has made intensive studies on the subject of colour. "Colours are an inexhaustible tool for accentuating and structuring." They can take over functions in a room and give that room functions. One just has to know how. ....
An interview with Kai Stania on the subject of colours at Bene will soon be appearing here in connection with the current occasion.