color UNIT II: Emotional and Symbolic Color

Project IIE Cultural Violation

Studio Fundamentals: To appreciate the artist's ability to achieve an emotional response in a viewer through color. To introduce cultural and symbolic significances of color.

Thematic Concept: To become aware of the purposes and wisdom of cultural practices and belief systems other than our own.

Project Overview In this assignment you will violate color associations through the creation of a painting, collage, or 3D object that contradicts accepted cultural conventions about color use.
References for further study
  • Zelanski and Fisher, Color (4th ed.), pp. 27 - 28; Chapter 4. Also from your book: Zwelethu Mthethwa (3.8), David Hicks (4.2), Luis Ortega (4.3), Larry Bell (4.6), Xenobia Bailey (7.29), Rufino Tamayo (9.8), Jacob Lawrence (9.9), Ravine and Ermine Headdress (10.1), Mrs. Minnie Sky Arrow (10.2), Rangoli, India (10.3), Li Cheng (10.4), Hindu Deities (10.5), Paul Gauguin (10.15), Andre Derain (10.16), Helen Frankenthaler (10.20), Mark Rothko (10.21), Kazuo Kawasaki (11.1), Levi's commercial (11.3), Ndebele house (11.9), From the lecture: Georges Seurat, The "Nabis", Pablo Picasso (his "blue period), Christian Iconography, Hindu color symbolism, Chinese color symbolism, signage.
  • artCore, Unit II, Emotional / Symbolic Color
Vocabulary emotional color, symbolic color, visual culture, color palette, cultural violation, border crossing, stereotype, cliche
Materials Materials are open. If you are working two-dimensionally, consider a 15" x 20" illustration board or a prestretched canvas. For collage work, assemble photos, magazine clippings, etc. and use a high quality glue stick or book binder's paste. Use an X-acto knife and cutting mat rather than scissors. For painting, use acrylic paints. You'll need brushes, mixing palette, water cup. may choose to go three dimensional with this assignment (consult your instructor).


Before coming to class, review the thematic concept of Other Voices as found on the website. Also, read the discussion on Emotional and Symbolic Color for Unit II. Review the Project References and Vocabulary above.

Research supporting material such as a book, article, or website for your idea. Once you have settled upon an example of visual culture, how would you create the inverse of the accepted cultural practices to which you are referring? You can use ideas from your own culture or that of another culture. For example, what is the color palette that comes to mind for a typical Mexican restaurant? A motocycle gang? A ballet class? A group of Tibetan monks?


Step One: Identify an example of "visual culture" for your project with a distinctive color palette.

Step Two: Create some color swatches in your notebook that record the particular colors used in your chosen example. Now, what colors would "violate" or contradict this palette?

Step Three: Spend some time considering methods of translating this palette into an original work of art. What format, media, and color relationships will you choose?

Step Four: Create your final project.

Discussion and Critique Ideas

When you have completed your composition, divide into small groups and exchange artworks with another group from the class. Within your group, work together to respond to each painting in turn. Consider the following:

  • Describe the color palettes your fellow artists used and discuss how various color effects were achieved.
  • In the context of the composition, point out any specific colors or shapes that the artist used to indicate a particular cultural association.
  • Did the artist suceed in "violating" our understanding of a particular example of color use?
  • After some sharing of interpretations, attempt to state the message of the composition in one sentence. (This artwork is about. . .)
  • Explain how the shapes, symbols, or other elements of the composition support its message.

From a problem by Melissa McGurgan, Rosalia Murillo, and Dan Collins, copyright 2005
artCORE Program, Arizona State University

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