When Europeans first came to Australia and started painting the landscape, they used the colours they were familiar with from their training in Europe. We can look at these paintings now in art galleries, and although they are meant to depict Australian scenes, to our modern eye they don’t look Australian at all – the colours and even the shapes of the trees seem to come straight out of Europe.
Humans vary in the number of colours we can distinguish, but estimates range from 1 million to 100 million different colours. Artists are particularly highly trained to differentiate and reproduce a wide range of colours, but as the example above shows, not even an artist can necessarily ‘see’ true colours without the influence of their cultural upbringing.
It is an interesting exercise to look around and notice just how many different colours and shades of colours there are in our environment. Some of the questions we can ask ourselves as we explore colours might be:
- How different do colours look in sunshine and in shade? In the morning, or at noon?
- What do I notice when looking at man-made colours, or colours in nature?
- Do I have different emotional responses to different colours?
- How many different gradients of colours does a single flower have?
- What colours do I enjoy wearing, and which ones do I feel uncomfortable in?
- If I were to do a meditation breathing colour into my body, what colour would I choose today?
People often comment that colours seem brighter after a meditation retreat, and I have noticed this for myself as well. We can explore colours through painting, crafts, fashion or photography. Or we can sit in front of a painting, or in a park or at the beach, and allow ourselves to become absorbed in the different colours and notice the effect they have on us. There are psychological theories about the impact of various colours on our moods and our health which are interesting to learn about. However, we can also explore these as a mindfulness practice for ourselves – becoming more aware of the great richness of colours around us, and of their impact on us.
As the painter Wassily Kandinsky said once,
‘Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.’