The Energy Aesthetic

The first item on Ingrid Fettel Lee’s list of “10 Aesthetics of Joy” is probably the most obvious thing we connect with a feeling of exuberance: The energy that’s created by vibrant color and light.

The human ability to see such a rich spectrum of color evolved from our need to identify sources of energy in the landscape. The ability to pick out the deep shades of ripe fruits and rich foliage was critical to survival, and we still carry that emotional connection deep in our DNA. (And it’s why red and green are speculated to be the first receptors we developed).

A vivid color, Lee says in her book, “activates an ancient circuit that lights up with pleasure at the idea of finding something sweet to eat”.

Of course, there are plenty of other human drives that shape our color preferences beyond basic survival. We are, above all, social creatures, and colors that signify status, class, or belonging to a particular group wield a powerful influence on how we choose to adorn ourselves and our spaces. In modern society, aspirational appetites are more likely to determine our modern “taste” for certain palettes than primal hunger signals, , and this, Ingrid Fettell Lee would suggest, is depriving many of us of a natural source of energy and pleasure.

But the fear of making a mistake with bold colors — a.k.a. “chromophobia— is why the guidance of a professional designer can be so important. The quality of product also plays a key role. An old rule of thumb is, the brighter the color or splashier the print, the higher quality the material and construction needs to be.

Sandy Hughes