Bauhaus: Colour & Shape Combinations

Feeling slightly under the (lovely) weather and having time on my hands to sort through piles of work in my living room, I came across a brown folder with many slips of paper with coloured shapes. During my Takeover week at Manchester Art Gallery this summer (see previous post here), I decided to run an informal survey which presented participants (all ages) with 3 blank shapes (circle, triangle, square). I wanted to test whether they would intuitively follow the Bauhaus colour theory, matching the primary colours by colouring in the shapes as follows: blue circle, red square, yellow triangle.

Wassily Kandinsky believed that there was a universal bias to matching the colours and shapes in the way above, which formed part of his teachings on spirituality in art and psychology of colours, inspired also by Goethe. Kandinsky tested this theory with his students at the Bauhaus school and, unsurprisingly, the students followed their teacher's theory and the results were unanimous. There's more background information to read here. The theory has since been criticised and the results have since been disputed and disproven as irrelevant to our contemporary culture and the way we interpret symbols of colour and shape.

Well, having spent some time counting up the combinations, the results of my mini-survey are displayed in the image as follows:

My colour-shape match results!

So, you can see that out of the 295 people who chose to take part, the most popular combination was red circle, yellow triangle, blue square, closely followed by yellow circle, red triangle and blue square. In a lot of cases, the circle was viewed as a sun or planet; the triangle was viewed as a pyramid, nacho or something spiky and agressive and the square was often a container for water, the sea, the sky and something calm.

I did get really into this and recorded all of the responses and frequency of reasons. Here are some of the highlights:

"(blue circle) the moon - just chillin, (yellow triangle) DANGER - unnaturality, high voltage, (red square) unstoppable force"

"(blue circle) water drop, (red triangle) broken glass, (yellow square) pee"

"(red circle) sun, (yellow triangle) tortillas, (blue square) pool"

"(red circle) The clowns red nose, (yellow triangle) Roof of the houses, (blue square) Window in the house"

"(blue circle) I din't do it neat because I support M/C UNITED, (yellow triangle) Made me happy, (red square) It made me angry"

"(blue circle) An Allien egg, (yellow triangle) pyramid, (red square) button"

"(yellow circle) happy / the middle of a daisy, (red square) = stop / post box"

"(yellow circle) Joyful, because I think of happy faces and the sun, (red triangle) Angry because red is an angry colour. Red is for warning and danger signs, (blue square) gloomy"

 18 didn't conform to the instructions, either by colouring the shapes all one colour, just two colours, using two colours for one shape, or mixing primary colours to make secondary colours - many of these examples were by younger children or rebellious/non-conformist adults.

What is interesting is thinking about how these reasons change according to culture, age, background, interests, personalities etc. Also, by reducing these fabulous little coloured shape combinations into statistics, we also miss out on seeing the way each individual chose to colour their shape in and there were some great examples of this too! I'd like to turn into a piece of art soon... WATCH THIS BLANK COLOURED SPACE.