Why are bright, colorful things so cheerful and why is America so afraid of them? I've spent my whole life becoming fascinated by color and it's combinations, from fingerpaintings to oil paintings to colorful gemstone jewelry. I've often wondered why so many cultures embrace and celebrate color while my own seems to suppress and marginalize it. In Mexico, colorful living is standard practice, a way of releasing control over their lives and giving it back to God. In America, only the fringe live colorfully: artists, bohemians, hippies. Here, a colorful outfit is a sign of a dangerous mind, of an impulsive rule-breaker, of someone who's not afraid to stick out.
My mom had us playing with color as far back as I can remember. She'd set us up at the kitchen table with watercolors or crayons and we'd just go to town for hours! I remember that new boxes of sharp crayons or pristine, unmuddied watercolor sets were the most exciting presents. I used to get so distressed when, in my haste, I'd muddied up a once bright yellow pan of watercolor. Mom would always swoop in with a napkin and resuscitate my sunny friend. I suppose that this early training predisposed me to a love of colorful things.
Now I know that color exists in America, but the "adult" and the "professional" and the normal rhythm of our society lean toward quiet, somber, dignified colors. The next time you're in a crowd - look around - most outfits are composed of dark blues, greys, blacks, white, beige, khaki and forest and olive greens with the occasional red accent thrown in. Take a look at all those cars out on our roads - they paint the same picture. The next neighborhood you drive around - check out the house colors - equally drab. A culture of people who, by and large, play it safe and follow the rules and believe in protocol and proper conduct. Good news for personal safety, bad news for beauty.
The wonderful colors found everywhere in Mexican society are a natural extension of their whole cultural attitude of freedom and taking chances.
By contrast, in Mexico (not the only colorful country, but it's the one I know best,) color runs rampant. There are just as many pink or green houses as white ones. There are even houses painted all three of those colors! Color is everywhere, even the normally boring plastic housewares are a riot of pink, purple, orange, red, blue, yellow and green. I read somewhere that this flagrant use of color in Mexico started as a way of living closer to God. "Let go and let God," if you will. It's a letting go of control over your environment, an act of recognizing that existence is, ultimately, out of our hands. The wonderful colors found everywhere in Mexican society are a natural extension of their whole cultural attitude of freedom and taking chances.
In America "colorful" is at once marginalized and admired. When children say they want to grow up to be artists, parents try to steer them toward something more "respectable" with tales of the starving artist and of doing something with your life. (Thank goodness my parents aren't like that, because they would have been awfully disappointed!) People in really colorful outfits are seen as eccentric at best, freaks at worst. While at the same time, works of art are bought for millions of dollars and people lament their inability to be artistic (as if it was the exclusive dominion of a few gifted souls.)
In America "colorful" is at once marginalized and admired.
Boy am I glad I married someone from Mexico so I could be closer to such a colorful culture. I need color like other people need T.V. or heroin. Funny thing is that my Mexican husband is actually quite fond of subdued colors for big things like walls and vehicles and for his own outfits. It is his American wife who is always sprinkling the house with orange afghans and lime-green pillows and pinning magenta silk flowers to his nice, brown, deer head. Poor guy.
How do you all feel about the cultural color divide? Am I completely off my rocker, do you think that America is plenty colorful (thankyouverymuch)? I don't mean to say that America is devoid of color or lovers of color. I'm simply suggesting that the whole of our society tends to lean toward a more homogenous and safe color pallette. Tell me what you think, leave a comment ;)
Images by Jenny Hoople.