Understanding the color red and what it means in society, art, culture, and media, is a complex undertaking. You have to understand that the meaning of the color red comes from a variety of sources. On the one hand you have natural physical properties, such as the color of fire, or blood, which are common to all humans and which affect our psychological and emotional reaction to the color in similar ways. One the other hand, you have regional and historical thoughts and ideas, which also affect the perception people, will have of this color. One example of this is the difference between Americans, who view red as a violent color, and Chinese who tend to view it as a soothing tone.
One of the reasons that different cultures can have different views on the meaning of the color red, despite those cultures sharing the fact that fire is red, and blood is red, comes from the fact that strawberries and sunsets are also red. This means that different cultures can emphasize different things when cueing up thoughts of the color.
In America red has some very specific and profound implications. A fierce color, it often immediately brings up subconscious thoughts of violence. It is the war standard of our culture, the badge of battle. Even in our flag the color stands for a fierce determination to face down any foe.
Red is also the most energetic color. Your metabolism tends to work slightly faster in its presence, giving you more strength and will to get active. It is inspiring in many ways, and can even be agitating in the extreme. For this reason interior designers who are psych-savvy often use it in rooms where clients feel they need to wake up, and stop procrastinating.
Another aspect of the color red is that it is passionate. The dark of night is where you rest your eyes, but add a little red, and suddenly you can’t sleep. All you can think of is the fiery passion of a sultry encounter. This is where we get terms such as red light district, an area of dark lit only by the glow of seductive tones.
In advertising, red is used to make people take action. It is also used to indicate how extreme something is. This is done by advertisers who have studied the effects of this color, and know what it does to a person’s subconscious mind. In this way, they are using knowledge to manipulate the way you think and act.
Red of course has many shades. Lighter reds tend to swing back the pendulum as gentle airy pinks and rose colored hues. Darker maroon tones however can give a deep and menacing look to the color.
Red is a complex and powerful color. Understanding its symbolic meaning, allows us to read the subtext of the world, in the language of color, and even to write our own lives in shades of red.