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Color Symbolism of Grey: A Tangent of Balance and Neutrality

Colors symbolize emotions, so much so that they influence our thoughts and make us perceive things differently. Over the centuries, colors have been given different connotations, driven sometimes by their natural occurrences, while other times by their distinct associations with certain elements. The color gray is a mixture of two colors with exactly opposite properties and therefore has the qualities of both. The colors black and white in different combinations, give the different shades of gray. White is a color that reflects all light and appears the brightest. Therefore, the symbolism of the gray color is combined with abundance and enlightenment. Black, on the other hand, absorbs all light and reflects nothing. This makes it the color of the hidden and nothing. The two constituent colors of gray have the effect of counteracting each other’s attributes. Therefore, it is strongly associated with balance and neutrality.

‘Grey area’ is an expression used to describe cloudy elements, which cannot be considered positive (symbolized by white) or negative (symbolized by black). Gray is related to sadness and discouragement. This interpretation stems from the occasional gray clouds in the sky that prevent sunlight from reaching Earth, thus creating a depressing atmosphere. Artists from various sects of painting have used gray skies to highlight unhappiness and feelings. The Renaissance painters used the shades of gray to paint the clothing of the peasantry, the bourgeoisie and the underprivileged, which were a representation of real life and a technique to highlight the other significant aspects of their pieces. Holy men and hermits in Elizabethan times in England also wore gray clothing to represent simplicity. Gray was a popular choice for European painters to create underpaintings, using a monochrome underpainting as the base for full color painting. One of the classic examples of a grayscale under painting is the ‘Odalisque’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

In European nations, the symbolism color of gray advocated mourning, death and lamentation, due to the color of ashes. The biblical interpretation of gray is repentance, selflessness, purity of thoughts, fasting and worship. It is related to the time of ‘Lent’ (days immediately before Holy Week). Gray universally symbolizes intelligence, due to its reference to the gray neurons of the brain. Gray can be used in combination with different colors. The color scheme in such cases derives its essential character from the other colors that are used. The gray color individually represents formality, sophistication, antiquity, deference, experience, wisdom, reliability, traditions, security, plant life, lack of distinction, feelings, disappearance, dirt and pollution.

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