Let it be red

Red is the first colour of the rainbow, a prime colour, which means that it cannot be created from other colours. If you mix red with yellow you get orange, with blue you get violet, which are secondary colours. When using graphics programs, you get the perfect red colour under the hexadecimal number #FF0000 or by giving the RGB value 255, 0, 0. But what kind of connotations do people associate to this colour?

Skoflek István diaképei (kardinális pinty) - Kuny Domokos Múzeum, CC BYIt is almost impossible to list what a certain colour that is formed at a given wavelength of light can represent. Aristotle matched red with fire from the four elements of the world. Hippocrates paired it with the sanguine human type. Red is a warm colour; one associates it with intensity, energy, action, attention, speed, dynamics and riot, thus it is often the colour of revolution. Red also means warning; you can find it in nature on some poisonous plants and animals – for example the fly-agaric is a frequent illustration in children’s books, but some poison dart frogs also use this colour in order to deter its enemies. Humans also use red if they want to call attention to danger or prohibition, for example on traffic lights: ‘red means stop’.

In blazonry, red means valiancy. The red colour in our national flag represents the power. Red is also the colour of love, affection, passion, the heart, eroticism, desire and sexuality – that is the reason why an area with brothels is often called a ‘red-light’ district. If you see the words ‘red’ and ‘flower’ written side by side, most people think of a red rose immediately. Curiously, bees cannot see the red colour, thus the pollination of red flowers does not depend on them.

Royal Szálló, Budapest, 1970-es évek eleje - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe red colour appears in many adverts, on leaflets, posters and labels as well. It is not just a coincidence, because red is stimulating, has an encouraging, urging effect, it attracts attention and makes you act. That is why it is used in trade at discounts and sales, or in the food industry to increase consumers’ appetite. Just think of all the products in your fridge with red logos on them.

In visual art, the symbology of colours has been used from the beginning, but film art can use it only since the invention of the coloured film. You can find a lot of clips on the internet, which deal with the colour schemes that certain directors use on purpose during film-making. Jean-Pierre Jeunet used green-gold-red colours predominantly in Amélie. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was black and white basically, except for two scenes, where only the red colour appears. In the composition you can watch Stanley Kubrick’s reds if you are old enough, because Kubrick paints horror, tension and violence red.


Translated by Zita Aknai