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Yellow – the most dissonant colour

Yellow is the colour of contradiction. In our experience, it is the colour of the sun, of sunlight and, of course, of shimmering gold. From a historical perspective, yellow was the colour reserved for outsiders and depicted envy and jealousy. It is not a colour we are unreservedly in love with. It is only at the times of year when yellow blossoms lend their vibrant light to herbaceous borders and trees, do we realise how much we have missed yellow through the long, dark winter months. In nature, yellow signals the beginning of the ripening and growing cycle.

Despite enjoying the bright light cast by the colour of sunshine and buttercups, wider application of yellow as a background colour is only seen as appreciable or even tolerable in small doses.

The yellow of spring in full bloom. Health, a matter of pigmentation: tasting good and smelling good.
Yellow is a colour that doesn’t just look good, it also smells and tastes good. Flavonoids (flavus, lat. yellow) are among the main plant constituents. They colour the parts of the plant that grow above ground. – Many fruit and vegetable varieties owe their colouration to flavonoids. These have more than one function; for example, the yellow petals serve to attract pollinators or develop taste attributes. They lend fruit a note of bitterness but also health-boosting properties. Flavonoids are widely acknowledged as having a positive effect on health. They lower cancer risk by mopping up free radicals in the body while simultaneously strengthening the immune system.

What does the yellow colour of autumn leaves have to do with better sight in old age?
They are called xanthophylls, or more precisely, nitrogen-free carotenoids. When ingested, their pigment, lutein, is concentrated in the macula, the region of sharpest vision in the eye, or the area with the highest density of light and colour-sensitive rods and cones.

An adequate presence of lutein decreases the risk of macular degeneration. Nature offers versatile solutions to all living things thereby demonstrating a symbiotic relationship of astonishing intensity and value.

In France, lunatic asylums are called “Maisons jaunes”.
Our psychological-aesthetic relations with the pure shades of yellow are not marked out by unequivocal positives. A rich, dark yellow does not exist, even in our dreams. Nevertheless, we are in urgent need of yellow because it lends all the other colours wonderfully subtle nuances, from a celestially angelic shimmering yellow to a screaming-to-the-rafters, poisonous slime yellow.

The rare beauties in the yellow colour spectrum appear under even the simplest light source, whether at the lighter end of the chroma or in dark, dirt-besmirched areas in candlelight.

Shades of yellow in the same colour code as sorbet yellow react sensitively to even the slightest “impurity”. Adulteration with just a few foreign colour particles transforms sensual and fresh Pearl yellow RAL 095 90 20 into phlegmatic and listless Sapphire light yellow RAL 095 80 10, while the down-to-earth clarity of Pea green RAL 095 80 40 mutates into a noncommittal dull olive RAL 095 50 10.

Why yellow is not most people’s favourite colour.
Yellow is the colour most closely associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who brings people together. – Hermes is the symbol adopted as a logo by the German postal service whose livery is also yellow. The yellow letterbox references sender and addressee alike. Yellow is often given equivalence with gold; golden autumn, golden sheaves of corn, etc.

There are also positives to be taken from a trawl through the “history of yellow”. Minstrels in the Middle Ages sang of yellow as the colour of maturity and sensual love. Yellow symbolised a state of ultimate bliss.

At the same time, we are accustomed to seeing yellow as a warning colour. Its long-range visibility and shrill appearance up close mean yellow is the de facto international shorthand for emergencies. When a ship flies a yellow flag, it means that illness has broken out on board and no one may embark or disembark. In the Middle Ages, in cities affected by plague, a yellow flag was hoisted above the city walls. The wearing of yellow symbols has also been used down the centuries to discriminate against certain minorities.

In English, yellow is linguistically close to the verb to yell and therefore close in meaning to pushy and loud. The Yellow Press is synonymous with the gutter press or scandal sheets whose lurid headlines are crafted with the sole purpose of attracting attention, often at the expense of the truth.

An empirical study investigating colour attitudes to yellow demonstrates: The underlying impression is one of dissonance.
More than 50 study participants were set the task of visually illustrating a set of characteristic descriptors. With no further instruction, the participants were each given cards pre-printed with an empty space measuring 7 x 7 cm for each adjective, a box of watercolours, white paint and a paintbrush. – The participants were asked to interpret the given word in colour. A total of 350 words were included in the study.

The words illustrated with the highest proportion of yellow were:

Top 1: with 52% yellow: dry
Top 2: with 50% yellow: envious
Top 3: with 50% yellow: cheerful
Top 4: with 42% yellow: powerless
Top 5: with 39% yellow: mild

It quickly becomes clear that the semantic-semiotic profile for the yellow nuances occupies a place in the contradictory and dissonant part of everyday communication. If we consider the three top terms: dry, envious and cheerful, we can see that the various shades of yellow present us with options ranging from “useful” and “human” to “questionable”.

Yellow on the scale measuring stimulation, well-being and quietness.
Interior design and ambience, the indoors and outdoors of the home and its surroundings are increasingly becoming a refuge for contemplation and the focal point for the recharging of physical and mental batteries. Let us not forget that we spend seventy to eighty percent of our time at home.

Yellow colour nuances are becoming more accepted in interior design thanks to the significant benefits to be gained from their psychological and physiological impact. The popularity of yellow has been growing for years. Warm shades of yellow are among the most appealing holiday colours and best-loved colour schemes for living spaces. They are often used in combination with orange and red, cream and ochre or light blue and green. Empirical studies show that the highs in mood that people experience are closely connected to warmth and colour.

Colours are the visible manifestation of feelings and emotions. The leading role they play in daily life, at work and at play, has long been a hallmark of an open-minded, lively and active society.