The History of Yellow
Updated: Mar 17, 2021
I often say that Yellow is one of my favorite colors. Honestly, the idea of choosing a single favorite color has always seemed a bit odd to me. In the words of the amazing Dale Chihuly, "I never met a color I didn't like". That being said, I have come to feel a certain kinship with the color yellow, and the more I learn about the cheery hue the more my affinity seems to grow. The thing is yellow wants to be, and is, a joyful color. Its nature is to spread warmth and cheer, but yellow has (I believe entirely against its will) been misunderstood and misused at times. I feel you yellow…sincerely I do.
I think I was always partial to yellow, but my true affection for the color began at the end of a notably troublesome time in my life. Color is very personal for me. I believe it is for most of us honestly. I will confess, that whenever I've been in the throws of serious heartbreak or disappointment, I've usually found myself rummaging through my memory box at some point. My memory box is filled with a puzzle of unmatched edges. Only I know how to piece them together. The contents are battered, yellowing, and useless to anyone but me, but in this box I found a branch to pull myself from the mire of my own self-loathing during this terrible time in my life. The branch I'm speaking of was the picture I've posted above. This probably doesn't make a lot of sense, so let me explain. The truth is, I had become so afraid of everything. I was afraid of making mistakes. I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of not being liked or appreciated. I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid to make life choices. I was afraid of dogs. I was afraid to hold a bird for gosh sakes. Yep…not exaggerating, birds made me nervous. Yet I found myself staring at a photograph of my four year old self with a bright yellow bird perched atop my head. I couldn't tell you how long or how often I stared into the eyes of the girl in that photo, searching for the path back to whom I had been. There was no fear in my four year old eyes. I looked completely relaxed, curious, maybe even a bit pleased to have a bird for a hat, and I started to think that the girl in that photo was the real me…not the shell I'd become who wasted years of her life trying to please others, while slowly loosing track of her own truth. Growing up is a part of life, and unfortunately experiencing hurtful things is also a part of life. I've come to think of loss as the cost of truly loving, and I am a person who loves truly. Regardless of consequences, I'm proud of that.
Now that I've rambled on a bit about my personal love for yellow, I'll share with you what I've learned about the relationship yellow has had with the rest of the world. Yellow is one of the earliest color pigments known to man. Yellow has been found in artwork as early as the Lascaux cave paintings in France. Humans have often associated it with light, sunshine, happiness, and brightness. When I was young we had the Yellow Pages at the back of the phone book in America, and I think a number of other countries as well. You could find the phone number to any business in your city or town in the yellow pages. The yellow pages even had its own catchy slogan…Let your Fingers do the Walking. In America yellow is associated with intellect, but I think it's also associated with information in general. It is often paired with black on signage, due to high contrast and visibility. There is actually a Merriam-Webster definition for the term Yellow Book. It is defined as "an official report of government affairs bound in yellow". In the late 1800's the term Yellow Book was associated with a British literary periodical of the same name. The Yellow Book was an artistic journal, and it has been indicated that the choice of yellow for the publications cover was inspired by the yellow papers that were wrapped around certain works of fiction in France to alert potential readers to their decadent or scandalous interiors. Recently I read that in Christian Imagery yellow is used to symbolize deceit, and that Judas has often been depicted wearing it. Yellow was also the color of the star that Jewish people were forced to wear in nazi Germany. In addition, there is information that alleges some pretty hard to think about animal abuse back in history, associated with the color Indian Yellow. Yellow is symbolic of death in Egypt and much of Latin America, and it is associated with jealousy in Germany. On a brighter note, it symbolizes money or success in certain regions of Africa, and is only worn by those of a certain social rank.
Reading about the history of color has been so eye opening for me. I hope you find it interesting as well. Honestly, I never could have imagined that there was so much ugliness attached to any color, much less my favorite cheerful color, Yellow. Knowing what I know now, and also when I give it a bit of thought (full disclosure: I can't stop thinking about color these days) it seems obvious that all or most colors are likely to have some skeletons in their closets, because of our attachment to them. They say that beauty is seen through the eye of the beholder. I think we can all agree that color is beautiful. However, let's face it …when you've got humans as your beholder there are bound to be complications. I believe it's really important to be aware of and think about these things, so that I don't take colors, or other peoples feelings about them for granted. Yellow doesn't mean the same thing to everyone, and to me it's important to be aware of that. I think I've only begun to scratch the surface of what color has meant to humanity. I know I can never know everything that it has meant, but for now…in this moment I'll just keep waiting on the yellow birds to arrive with spring.