How do you feel when you gaze at a large red Rothko painting, spend time in a room with regal red wallpaper, or see a stop sign? While the color red carries different meanings depending on its context, the body’s biological response is the same: red can raise both your pulse and your blood pressure. Additionally, red can even make you feel hungry by increasing your body’s metabolism – which is why many restaurants use the color red in their logos and decor!
Red is the longest visible light wave, ranging from light pinks to deep crimsons that have a wavelength between 610 and 780 nm. Our modern word “red” comes from the Old English word rēad. This warm, eye-catching color has strong meanings that tap into the heart of various human emotions and experiences, depending on the specific context in which it is found.
For instance, in Western culture, red can signify anger and aggression (as in “blood red” or “a face that turns red with anger”), but it can also denote love, lust and passion (from red roses to the red-light district). It also functions as a strong warning color that represents danger or emergencies.
On the other hand, the color red in China is related to happiness and good fortune. In both China and India, red is the traditional color for wedding dresses. In Africa however, red is associated with death and mourning.
Red is one of the earliest pigments used by our prehistoric ancestors, who made red ochre pigment from clay to paint the walls of caves. Red pigments have been created from several surprising sources, such as crushed cochineal insects used to make carmine red. Madder lake derives from the roots of the madder plant, while vermilion was made from powdered mineral cinnabar, which is a red mercury ore. These days, most red artists’ pigments are created synthetically in factories, including hues such as poppy red, cadmium red, rose, alizarin crimson, and quinacridrone magenta.