Red is one of the oldest colors known to humans. It is a color that carries with it significant emotional meanings. Red occurs in nature on Earth and in the cosmos. It is a dynamic color affecting people and animals. The paper will explore the history of the color red with regard to its chemical properties, natural history, and cultural significance. The study of color proves useful and fruitful across a plethora of disciplines such as chemistry, advertising, psychology, and art. For many humans, colors and sight circumscribe reality. For such people, life without colors diminishes its exuberance and meaning. The paper addresses multiple topics regarding the color red reflecting upon the ways the color generates meaning for individuals and cultures.
Humans perceive only a fraction of the light spectrum. Of the part of the spectrum that is visible to the human eye, the color red consists of the longest wavelengths perceived by human beings. The wavelengths just beyond red, invisible to the human eye, are called infrared and are detectable through tracking heat signatures. Red connects to heat and warmth. Color psychologists, artists, and advertisers understand the power of red to energize viewers. In western culture, sexy or attractive women wear items such as red lipstick, red high-heeled shoes, or a red dress. There exist two films about the seductive powers of women in red[footnoteRef:0] and a moderately famous song from the 1980s, a ballad, about the charms of a lady in red.[footnoteRef:1] Valentine's day is a holiday that saturates the market with products that are various shades of red. Therefore, red refers to sexual prowess, sexual appetite romantic feelings, love, and feelings such as passion and excitement. There is another song with a title and chorus that reads, "There is a Thin Line between Love and Hate."[footnoteRef:2] If people associate red with love and sex, they may also associate the color red with anger, rage, fury, and hate. When people become upset to the point that their systems are overwhelmed, they may describe the feeling as "seeing red." There is a very pointed use of the color red triggering rage in films such as Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2[footnoteRef:3], and V for Vendetta.[footnoteRef:4] In cultures across human history, what red has symbolized falls across a wide spectrum. Red has meant war, royalty, evil, purification, warning, and strength. Hovers et al. write: [0: Lewis Teague (dir.) The Lady in Red. 1979. John Sayles (writer); Gene Wilder (dir.) The Woman in Red. Orion Pictures, 1984. ] [1: Chris de Burgh. "The Lady in Red." Borderline, A & M, 1986] [2: Robert & Richard Poindexter. "Thin Line Between Love and Hate." Atco Records, 1971.] [3: Quentin Taratino (dir., writer) Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2. Miramax, 2003 -- 2004.] [4: James McTiegue (dir.) V for Vendetta. Warner Brothers Pictures, 2006.]
"Red, in particular, has a symbolic significance that crosscuts cultural boundaries (often being associated with life, success, and victory in African, Australian, and native North American societies). Cross-cultural linguistic studies support this hypothesis...Black and red pigments were the earliest to occur in prehistory and are relatively abundant in Paleolithic sites. Of the two colors, it is red that dominates the Paleolithic color palette (Bahn and Vertut 1997:115), usually in the form of ochre…" (Hovers et al., "An Early Case of Color Symbolism -- Ochre Use by Modern Humans in Qafzeh Cave," Page 493)
Red demonstrates itself as a truly dynamic and flexible color in the minds of humans.
Figure 1 - The Chemical Structure of Nile Red
The earliest known shades of red used by humans was called ochre. (Winsor & Newton, www.winsornewton.com/) Shades of red occur naturally in the dirt, sometimes called red earth. (Winsor & Newton, www.winsornewton.com/) Early humans use colors to decorate their homes, their bodies, and the objects they constructed. Many historians agree that the ancient Egyptians contributed significantly to the development and manufacture of colors, generating colors by washing and crushing assorted minerals. They are believed to have developed the first bright red, known as Cinnabar. (Winsor & Newton, www.winsornewton.com/) Approximately two millennia before the ancient Roman civilization, the Chinese civilization produced the red, Vermillion. The Chinese heated naturally occurring mercury and sulphur; this produced a very strong and deep red pigment that virtually replaced Cinnabar by the 18th century. (Winsor & Newton, www.winsornewton.com/) Cultures around the world washed, ground, and heated minerals and dirt that they found to create various shades of red. Hovers et al. agree: "Red ochre can either be collected from natural sources or produced, primarily by heating, from other iron minerals." (Hovers et al., "An Early Case of Color Symbolism -- Ochre Use by Modern Humans in Qafzeh Cave," Page 502) Therefore, human beings must inherently connect red with the earth itself. Red comes from the earth; red must resonate with humans in that way -- home, stability, or even just the ground itself. Mars, a neighboring planet of Earth, is known as the red planet because of the predominance of red in the rock and dirt on the surface. Red does not necessarily mean Earth as in the planet, but on a greater scale as in earth that is land. One may more clearly recognize the association between the color red and strength when considering the connection between the color red and earth.
Figure 2 -- Chemical Structure of Bromophenol Red
In performing research upon the color red, the author came across interesting studies into the color outside of the realm of chemistry. As aforementioned, there is a field of study known as color psychology. Psychology, mental health care, and the health care industry at large are aware of the power of colors in regarding to emotional and physical health. There is qualitative and quantitative evidence that demonstrates the array of affects colors directly have upon factors such as mood, attention, or rate of recovery from illness, injury, and/or trauma. Art therapists use color to help patients communicate feelings and events in various materials such as paint, watercolors, and flowers for Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging). Use of color in therapeutic situations allows patients to communicate non-verbally drawing more so from their unconscious minds while revealing to therapists, psychologists, and other health care professionals the truth of the internal psychological reality in a non-aggressive, somewhat indirect manner.
It was also intriguing to discover the ways in which industries such as advertising, marketing, film, television, and fashion analyze and intentionally use colors such as red. Invested filmmakers often use colors with great intention for many reasons. Colors may be used to connect characters, to symbolize emotions, to evoke a style or period, or even to provide hints or clues to the perceptive audience member, as director M. Night Shyamalan used the color red to indicate or foreshadow the climax of the film, which is that the protagonist, played by Bruce Willis, is a ghost, as signified by the stark, yet subtle presence of the color red whenever he is present.[footnoteRef:5] Fast food companies such as McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC use the color red to generate excitement and enthusiasm for their products in consumers. Each respective logo contains a predominance of red, and in advertisements, print or otherwise, red is always a dominant presence. [5: M. Night Shyamalan (dir.) The Sixth Sense. Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, 1999.]
There exist red pigments that are organic, inorganic, natural and synthetic. As aforementioned the earliest discoveries of red came from exploration of the natural environment. As human history proceeded into industrialization, the availability of chemical pigments for red increased. According to The Color of Art Pigment Database, there are hundreds of shades of reds that are available to the consumer, as artist, chemist, color psychology, other professional, or lover of color. (Myers, 2012) Reds in the Cinnabar and Vermillion family are natural and organic mercuric sulfides that produce bright reds to strong red browns. (Myers, 2012) Reds in the cobalt red family including pinks and roses, are also natural and organic containing cobalt magnesium oxide or magnesium cobalt oxide. (Myers, 2012) There are other reds in the Realgar group that can be both natural and synthetic examples of arsenic sulfides. Corals are composed of calcium carbonate and skeletons of soft-bodied marine animals, making those reds natural and organic as well. Reds in the Cochineal group are synthetic and organic as they consist of dried bodies of insects, as well as acids produced in laboratory setting only. (Myers, 2012). Red has a range of meanings and red has a range of forms in which it takes. There are many avenues humans may travel to reach production of the color red.
Figure 3 - Crocoite -- first found beneath Russia.
Fluorescence proves effective when performing a chemical analysis on red. The process of flow cytofluorometric analysis is another effective form of chemical analysis of red. (Greenspan, et al., 1985) When using fluorescence for chemical analysis, researchers have yielded results from fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence spectroscopy specifically. (Greenspan, et al., 1985)…