Color of Power Term Paper

Pages: 15 (3939 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 12  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication

¶ … Color Semiotics of Power

Communication is the most studied science in the world. Whether through writing, speaking, presenting, sign language, music, painting, sculpture and even synchronized swimming, communication is the one science necessary for the comprehension of all other sciences. For instance, what good is Einstein's theory of photoelectricity if it is not communicated properly? Surely, he does not win the Nobel Prize for an idea that no one else is able to understand or implement!

Today, communication theories are most commonly explored in management and leadership treatises: As leaders, how do we motivate our bosses, colleagues and subordinates, and even peers and adversaries to act as we would like them to? To that end, the primary discussion of communication in management theory involves power. Which words, gestures and actions convey a particular set of ideals and ideas that result in a power shift towards the utterer, gesturer or actor?

One of the most theoretical tools to determine the answer to that question is semiotics. The study of signs, signifiers and the signified, semiotics intertwines with color theory to produce two colors that symbolize power more than any others: One, red, is not at all surprising, while the other, yellow, is quite a departure indeed.

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Ferdinand de Saussure, one of the pioneers of semiotics, first made the connection between sign / signifier / signified: "It is... possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as part of social life. It would form part of social psychology, and hence of general psychology. We shall call it semiology (from the Greek seme "on, 'sign'). It would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist. But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in Linguistics, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge." (Saussure, 15-16)

Saussure here made a bold step: He linked communication to psychology and sociology, and he understood that communication is not only the science of uttering, it is the science of conveying. Conveying, of course, implies comprehension by at least one other person.

How is semiotics useful? Chandler answers this question quite well: "Semiotics is often employed in the analysis of texts (although it is far more than just a mode of textual analysis). Here it should perhaps be noted that a 'text' can exist in any medium and may be verbal, non-verbal, or both, despite the logocentric bias of this distinction. The term text usually refers to a message which has been recorded in some way (e.g. writing, audio- and video-recording) so that it is physically independent of its sender or receiver. A text is an assemblage of signs (such as words, images, sounds and/or gestures) constructed (and interpreted) with reference to the conventions associated with a genre and in a particular medium of communication." (Chandler, 1)

In semiotics, textual analysis reaches its peak. Authorial intent in all communication is distinguished from the communication itself, and the communication is asked to stand alone.

For instance, as Chandler writes, a text can exist in any medium, whether verbal or non-verbal, and once it has been recorded, it is devoid of any intent infused in it by the "author." For our purposes, the colorer applies color to her painting, presentation, graphics module or sculpture, and she may have intended that color to symbolize either power or lack thereof, or specifically a certain type of power, but her designs over her designs simply matter not. Instead, our own interpretations of her work, our own decisions and inferences regarding her choices of colors are the true indicators of power or a particular type of power in the work.

And indeed, color is worthy of the study of semiotics. Take Saussure's view on linguistics and semiotics, for instance: "Linguistics is only one branch of this general science [of semiology]. The laws which semiology will discover will be laws applicable in linguistics... As far as we are concerned... The linguistic problem is first and foremost semiological... If one wishes to discover the true nature of language systems, one must first consider what they have in common with all other systems of the same kind... In this way, light will be thrown not only upon the linguistic problem. By considering rites, customs etc. As signs, it will be possible, we believe, to see them in a new perspective. The need will be felt to consider them as semiological phenomena and to explain them in terms of the laws of semiology." (Saussure, 16-17)

To paraphrase to draw our link, color is only one branch of the expression and communication of power. The laws which semiotics will discover will be laws applicable to color. As far as we are concerned, the interpretation of colors is first and foremost semiological. If one wishes to discover the true nature of colors and their meanings, especially along the power spectrum, one must first consider what they have in common with all other systems of the same kind (for instance, linguistics). In this way, light will be thrown not only upon the color interpretation spectrum. By considering all appearances of color as signs - not just those in intentional, artistic renderings - it will be possible, we believe, to see them in a new perspective. The need will be felt to consider them as semiological phenomena and to explain them in terms of the laws of semiology.

Color, therefore, substitutes quite nicely for linguistics in semiotics, and indeed in any study or method of communication. Color is, after all, a deliberate form of providing or accenting communication. Colors are often chosen for a reason - to convey power, for instance, to cite the purpose of this essay - or they are chosen quite at random. In the cases in which they are chosen at random, the subconscious implications of color and color choice must indeed be considered, just as the critical interpretations of a subconscious employment of a particular turn of phrase are considered in the semiological study of conventional literature, or written texts.

Colors and Semiotics

Perhaps the seminal text on colors and their relation to semiotics is Umberto Eco's essay "How Culture Conditions the Colours We See." Color is not an easy matter, Eco begins, and he cites James Gibson as saying, in his "The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems," that the meaning of the term or word color is one of the worst confusions in the history of science.

Eco continues to list different cultures and how they categorized color differently (For instance, Egyptians used blue in their paintings but had no linguistic term to designate it, and so on). Eco continues: "All of this is highly speculative, but we need not test every case. Let me concentrate on the following passage from Aulus Gellius. [...] Gellius is reporting a conversation he had with Fronto, a poet and grammarian, and Favorinus, a philosopher. Favorinus remarked that eyes are able to isolate more colours than words can name. Red (rufus) and green (viridis), he said, have only two names but many species. He was, without knowing it, introducing the contemporary scientific distinction between identification (understood as categorization) and discrimination [...]" (Eco)

After having recounted the conversation of these two men, Eco writes that "this puzzle [...] is neither a psychological nor an aesthetic one: it is a cultural one, and as such it is filtered through a linguistic system, through the system of verbal language." (ibid) We must then, Eco concludes, understand how verbal (oral) language makes the non-verbal experience recognizable, communicable (verbally and otherwise) and effable.

This is an intriguing example. First, the colors are present in the world. A particular color is the same everywhere in the world, but different cultures name that color differently (and sometimes even perceive or imagine it differently).

To that end, Eco writes: "When one utters a colour term one is not directly pointing to a state of the world [...], but, on the contrary, one is connecting or correlating that term with a cultural unit or concept. The utterance of the term is determined, obviously, by a given sensation, but the transformation of the sensory stimuli into a percept is in some way determined by the semiotic relationship between the linguistic expression and the meaning or content culturally correlated to it." (ibid)

Eco looks at verbal language for pragmatic reasons. However, he writes that other systems for signifying color would be feasible. Verbal language represents, Eco comments, the most powerful and therefore most familiar instrument humans use for defining their surrounding world and for communicating to one another about that same surrounding world.

After having excused himself for being outrageously simple Eco writes that to make communication possible, one needs… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Color of Power" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Color of Power.  (2005, January 18).  Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Color of Power."  18 January 2005.  Web.  1 June 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Color of Power."  January 18, 2005.  Accessed June 1, 2020.