Symbolic and Emotional Meanings of Green
by Noel C. Thomas ART323
The color green is probably the most easily recognizable color to the human eye. It has a very wide hue range compared to other colors and is seen the most in our natural world1, second only to the blue of the voluminous skies and oceans. Colors play essential roles in how our emotional responses are influenced and triggered. While some colors such as red might cause agitation or hunger, other colors may cause one to feel more relaxed and calm.
Green is the most valuable color of the spectrum for peace of mind and tranquility. It is because we are surrounded by green in our natural environment, that we feel peaceful on a subliminal but very powerful subconscious level. Places where there are commonly high levels of anxiety such as hospitals and jails, will intentionally paint their walls with a light muted green3. It is common for performers to wait in a “green room” before taking stage in front of a large audience.
It is because of green‘s natural tone that we react positively to it. Green is widely accepted as the color of “Yes” or of being correct. It is the color of health and vegetation. When we see how healthy trees and grasses become, turning a deeper shade of green after a good rain, we connect that to our own sense of well-being. Generally speaking, green is the color that most reflects happiness and positivity, while alleviating depression and anxiety4.
Green has even been associated with academic progress. Studies have found that students reading through transparent green vellum had improved understanding of the material and faster reading speeds5. This is thought to be due to the ease of the retina for adjusting to green rather than white. Optical scientists have found that the lens of the human eye focuses green light exactly on the retina6. You could say that green is the easiest color to see.
Symbols and Cultures
Green is a color with diverse elements. For the most part it is largely known as a color representing things that are good. It is associated with good luck and fortune, which themselves are associated with money and wealth, also being synonymous with health and growth. Green is the OSHA standard color indicating a safe area7, or a ‘Green Zone’. Green does take on other meanings in other cultures, so it isn’t necessarily true that green is met with approval from everyone. Most often green is widely accepted as the color of good and right.
In Japan, green represents youthfulness and eternal life. In Egypt it symbolizes hope and rebirth8. More importantly to an entire culture, green represents the Irish9, similar to their flowing and richly green hillsides. To the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day, and the color green are all intertwined, along with the four leaf clover which is believed to bring good luck. Perhaps the culture which embraces the color green the most of all is the religion of Islam. Green is thought to be the Prophet Mohammed’s favorite color, and many Muslims will keep the Quran wrapped in green. Mohammed’s Apostle was believed to have had his face covered with a Hibra Burd after he died, which is a squared green garment. Supposedly Mohammed wrote about the color green and described paradise as a place where people wore green silky clothes10.
Green is not loved by all cultures however. In Indonesia it is a flat out forbidden color and unacceptable to wear. In some parts of South America it is considered bad form to wear clothing that blends into the dense foliage of the jungles, so green and camouflage is frowned upon and considered the color of death. In North Africa green is seen as the color of corruption and the drug lifestyle11.
The most noteworthy opposition to green comes from China. There it is the color of infidelity, particularly when referencing a man wearing a green hat. In China, a man who wears a green hat is saying to the world, “My wife is cheating on me!” This stigma stems from a legend in which a businessman traveled a lot. While he was away his wife would entertain other men. When he would return he would profess his love to her and she would make him wear a green hat. He thought the hat meant she loved him, but the color green was actually a sign of being lower class and all his neighbors would scoff at him, knowing what she was up to12. A green hat meant the man was a dupe.
Some green colors eliciting negative reactions tend to be yellowish greens which promote the thoughts of vomit and bile. Mustard-like yellows and khakis also evoke thoughts of military and war. Still, green is generally a pleasant color.
|The Green Man|
The language of green is spoken through charms and stones. Most recognizable is the Shamrock, or four leaf clover. This is a good luck charm and rare as it may be, some lucky people do find them. Dollar signs are always portrayed in green. Emeralds are green, as is Jade, a stone of great symbolic value in China. To the Chinese, Jade is a gem of royalty, and the deeper the green, the more precious the stone13.
Green is the color representing the heart chakra, called the Anahata14. A chakra, according to Hindu and Buddhist texts is a revolving wheel of energy embedded within each living being. People are said to have seven chakras, and the fourth is the heart chakra. This is believed to be the source for a person’s empathy, and compassion. It is connected fundamentally to the respiratory and circulatory system. It is believed to be the chakra that bridges the spiritual and physical worlds.
|Symbol of The Heart Chakra|
The mention of green is found in many texts and slang phrases. We hear that if a young person is a little green, then that implies that he is inexperienced, likened to fruit that is not yet ripe. He’s a lean, green, mean machine would describe an athlete in top shape. ‘Moving on to greener pastures’ has been used as way to say that a person has changed direction in pursuit of something better, such as a higher paying job or different baseball team.
Heard most of all is the term, ‘Green with envy’. This means that someone is very jealous of what another person either has or is experiencing. This is a negative connotation for the color green and it is not entirely clear where the saying originated. Mark Twain wrote the term in his book ‘A Connecticut Yankee’ as: “It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which was a great satisfaction to me.”15 Edgar Rice Burroughs also used the phrase in his book ‘The People That Time Forgot’: “The trophies that these Kro-lu left to the meat eaters would have turned an English big-game hunter green with envy.”16 It is not certain how this term came about, but I would figure that it has to do with the color of someone who is sickened by something. In this case, it would be something unseen. The Greenback is also slang for money. This is traced back to the currency that Abraham Lincoln issued during the Civil war, called Greenbacks. Someone with a green thumb has a
talent for getting plants to grow. The terminology goes on—green as grass, green around the gills, and green energy. ‘Go Green’, means to pursue habits and buy products that are environmentally friendly.
There are many characters which are known for being green, or associated with the color. Kermit the Frog of Sesame Street was green, and he would sometimes sing about how it wasn’t “easy being green”. The Incredible Hulk is another character who is green from head to toe. Perhaps he would have been less angry and more calm had he just looked at himself in a mirror. The Green Giant is found on cans of green beans, and he looks like a man with leaves growing all over him. Osiris from Egypt was always colored in green and was called ‘The Great Green’17. Other green heroes are The Green Lantern, Peter Pan, and Robin Hood18. The Celtic legend of the Green Man becomes a recurring theme in literature, and his face is depicted in churches around the globe with a beard of leaves. Green is often attached to characters of valor and generosity.
Green also has been the subject of songs. Besides Kermit the Frog’s melancholy hit, there is ‘A Certain Shade of Green’ by Incubus. We have ‘Forty Shades of Green’ by Johnny Cash. There is also ‘Ballad of the Green Berets" by Barry Sadler. The list is longer but why name them all. The rock band, Green Day is named after the color, and we can’t forget the television show Green Acres with its catchy opening tune. The culture of green is found everywhere, especially in art, music, and literature.
It is apparent that green is an important hue, if not the most versatile. Green surrounds us every day, and we connect to it in ways that are profound and unique. No other color is found so often in our earthly surroundings. It is indicative of a healthy environment that fosters growth. Whether it is for better emotional health or positive affirmation, green is the color of progress. Perhaps the Green Party is on to something. If anything, they chose an excellent color to represent themselves with. Who can argue with green?
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