Black a positive symbol, really!

Before I discuss black and its interpretations and connotations in contemporary popular culture and media I thought we should explore how it has been used throughout history.

Black has always figured predominantly in culture value segmentation. Black can be seen as the color of authority, seriousness and sumptuousness. It is used in academic dress, for formal occasions and by law practitioners; such as barristers and judges. In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, the color black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity, sweeping across to North America black plays out all its valued roles in the Peace Pipe Ceremony .

Black is the color of the west

Where the sun goes down.

Black is darkness, release, spirit protection.

In the darkness, the spirit beings come to us.
The spirit beings warn us, 

Protect us, foretell for us, release for us.

They are the spirit helpers to Wakan Tanka.
Black is the cup of water;
The life-giving rains come from the west,
Where the thunder beings live.
Water is life.
Black stands for the spirit world…

The aesthetic perfection of black can be seen in the revered master craftsman of Japan and the beauty of their traditional lacquer techniques. Black is also associated with honour and achievement (black belts).

How does all this feed into our contemporary world? With new media and global marketing the collective history of all these cultures is vocal, we can also thread a connected human response. In ancient China black was the symbol of north and water, like many of the other cultures discussed in this post, the themes of water and life begin to surface. How can we as communicators engage these similarities efficaciously?

Next week I shall explore black as a representative of societies negative agenda. How colour has been used to define people and polarize us for the benefit of powerful agenda setting groups.


About mlcgallery

Designer, communicator and curious commentator on the value and exploitation of colour to communicate thought, fears, agenda, boundedness, beauty and bounty.
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5 Responses to Black a positive symbol, really!

  1. Bryan says:

    It’s unsettling how strong my cultural bias is to the darkness. I couldn’t help but experience an almost ominous repugnance in the black of legal authority, overintellectualized academia, ghostly spirit world… bone-breaking blackbelt. I thought I was more openminded until reading your post and realizing the latent emotional visceralization of cultural teachings I perceive in such imagery.

    My world view tends to lean towards the balanced, where white and black (light and darkness) are equal. But apparently that contrived notion is more authentically indicative of an inner perception, where good wrestles with evil, and seemingly incongruent Jewish and Native American teachings of my youth come together in a struggle to bind rather than free my mind. Ouch.

    • mlcgallery says:

      Bryan I thought the image touched on the dichotomy of black and white when interpreted by different cultural groups. I am enjoying individuals interpretations to colour. The image to me highlights how culturally the black attire is entrenched in belief, pride of culture and authority. Then there is the black bold text making the definitive statement. From their perspective correct. From mine my beloved black has become oppressive. Change scene…me dressed as a black clad designer at an art opening, with black printed pricelist. I feel at ease but my use of black may provoke an oppressive or unsettling response from a guest not accustomed to this scene. I may not be attempting to limit their rights but nonetheless I am exploiting the power of black.

  2. This is really interesting Victor! Personally, I associate black with things such as death, darkness, evil, unknown etc. Predominantly for me, black is a very negative colour (or shade). Then again I can also associate black as quite a sexual and sensual colour. I guess it really depends on the context in which it is displayed.

    I never would of thought to even consider how a different colour could have so many different meanings in another culture. As communicators we really do need to fully understand and comprehended our stakeholders, from things such as their opinions to their colour interpretations.

  3. biancaagius says:

    I have always been told that I see the world in Black and White, with me there are few shades of colour and even fewer patches of grey. Black and white, is right and wrong, sin and purity, good and evil. Things either need to be one way or another. For me Black is possible one of the strongest shades. It is deeply emotive. It for me evokes strong feelings of loneliness and death. Black is also safe, sexy, sleek and professional in terms of my fashion style.

    I have never thought so much into colours, growing up I never really had a favourite colour. And often when asked now I say that may favourite colour in black – what does that say about me and my personality?

  4. jamielmyers says:

    I agree that it is really interesting to look at the different meanings of colours for different people around the world.

    The part of this that I find to be extremely interesting is the fact that we often associate meaning to colour without really knowing that we do. I mean when I look at say the background for this blog I see the colours red, blue and black. I see that they go together nicely but I don’t always acknowledge the emotive meanings that I associate with them although they are there. As communications practitioners I think that it is really important that we take this in to consideration. I also think that we need to think about what colours mean when we put them together. I mean for instance when a picture is black and white do we think it means good and bad?

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