When Stacey Merren was a girl, her mother painted her bedroom yellow, thinking it would brighten the room, making it a cheerier place to be.
But to Merren, the effect was traumatic."The color, the brightness of it - it was very hard to relax in a room like that," she says.
She doesn't blame her mother. At that time people thought yellow was a good color for a child's room. But she never forgot the room or forgave its color.
"I can't stand yellow," she says.
Today, Merren agrees with colorists who say that yellow is an unsettling color for a bedroom, a color perhaps best left for hallways or other areas one moves through quickly.
Merren, who is assistant curator of education at the Birmingham Museum of Art, believes color affects people every day in different ways.
She leads small workshops at the museum that explore the historical, artistic, technical, psychological and creative aspects of color.
The class was created by Toby Richards, coordinator of The Museum School. As all the classes are intended to expose students to the arts, Richards says, the All About Color workshop was designed to make people aware of how color is used in art and how it affects people.
"Color is inherent in cultures, especially ours," Merren says. "Color is symbolic. Green means go, red means stop and yellow means speed up."
Color was symbolic long before we had to obey traffic lights. Walk through any city's museum. In many paintings the Virgin Mary is draped in blue, which represents purity. Yet she also is usually painted wearing something red, to symbolize the suffering of Christ, says Merren.
The color red suggests other meanings as well. Consider the use of red as a sign of warning or danger: stop signs, signal flags or a fire truck. Red is the color of Hester Prynne's sin in "The Scarlett Letter," the confusion of red tape, the anger in seeing red and the embarrassment of being red-faced when you're caught red-handed.
Red has positive connotations as well. What red-blooded (virile) man doesn't want to take his red-hot momma (sexy) out and paint the town red (have fun)? It would be a red-letter day (special day).
Restaurants often paint their dining room walls red because it is believed that red stimulates appetite. That explains the widespread use of red-checkered tablecloths, too. On the other hand, red also raises blood pressure and makes people feel hot.
Most other colors also are burdened by such contradictory expressions, Merren says. Even the color white, generally associated with purity, goodness and cleanliness, is maligned by white lies, white elephants, whitewashes and being white-lipped or white-livered.
Colors also have significance in nature. Did you know, Merren asks, that mosquitoes avoid the color orange? Or that beekeepers wear white because dark colors bring on more attacks by bees?
Looking at the color wheel, she explains that colors are divided down the middle into two categories: warm and cool.