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The Power of Black and White Artwork: The Emotion of Color

June 29, 2021

Why white and black hue’d artwork is so captivating and how to add it into your art collection.

The perception of color fascinates neuroscientists. And our brain influences our perception of colors to such a degree that some scientists consider colors to be merely an illusion.

A series of experiments showed that humans have been conditioned to expect certain items in certain colors: example: green ketchup doesn’t make sense and is kinda gross.

Color enters your brain at every turn, but makes an impact in at least two major ways;

  1. one dominant color registers in the subconscious before the subject is known; example; a background color.
  2. the ambient light temperature – a warmer white balance setting that shifts towards red and yellow channels, will impart artwork with a particular quality and tone.

In this article we’ll stray from color and delve into equally powerful and tonal, black and white artwork.

Cream Geometric Painting

Umbilic Priapic Knobby

22″ x 22″
Collage: archival pigment prints on watercolor paper.

Cream Geometric Painting

Dancing Echinacea

28″ H x 24″ W
Digital photography printed on art paper

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In the absence of color, brightness (luminosity), shape, and contrast become the main mode of communicating but instead of it limiting the viewer, an achromatic piece of art can create visual cohesion and interest without the “interference” of color.

Why? Black traps space, while white opens space. Black evokes sophistication; white communicates innocence. It’s clear: black and white are opposites.

Contrast creates completion. The convergence of black and white (more so than any other color combination) is an example of how two divergent colors communicate more powerfully together than they do on their own.

Cream Geometric Painting


48″ H x 48″ W
Wood sculpture

Cream Geometric Painting

I’m the Lucky One

34″H × 34″W × 1″D

Digital thermal print scans printed on velvet, cotton thread, vinyl, batting. Handsewn.

What the color black says to us:

Black is visually heavy and its message is strong. Black’s most common association is power, authority, and strength. In stories of good versus evil black and darkness is always symbolic of the villain. Other associations of black include intelligence (black horn-rimmed glasses), professionalism (suit and briefcase), mourning and mystery. As a deep and serious color, black can direct communication in a powerful way.

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What the color white says to us;

White is considered safe and open. In direct contrast to black, white is directly linked to that which is righteous, good and peaceful. Furthermore, white projects clarity, cleanliness (doctors in white coats), purity (wedding dresses) and salvation. White is said to promote creative thought (a blank whiteboard) and is also synonymous with fresh beginnings. As a positive, clear and open color, white can direct communication in a powerful way.

Cream Geometric Painting


42″ H x 42″ W
Oil on canvas

Cream Geometric Painting


16″ H x 20″ W
Acrylic on canvas

Cream Geometric Painting

Grifology #2

51″ H x 34″ W
Cotton fabric and batting

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Most humans respond in similar ways to color, namely:

Red – danger, warning, attention;

Blue – cool, calming, relaxing;

Yellow – warm, friendly, open;

Green – natural, fresh;

Black – mysterious, sinister, classic, premium, heavy;

White – pure, open, light, honest, clean

Gray – apathy

Simply put, there’s a reason why most people purchase red sports cars, and most hospital rooms are white.

Black And White Starburst Throw Pillow

Objects of Significance Jackdaw II

9″ H x 8.5″ W x 1.5″D
Watercolor on cut shaped paper with quartz crystal and gold thread

Black And White Starburst Throw Pillow
Coping Skills Wall - Black And White Artwork 1

Coping Skills creating a bold statement.

Coping Skills

24″ H x 24″ W x 2″D
Mixed media on panel

Black And White Starburst Throw Pillow
Night Walk - Staged - Black And White Artwork 2

Night Walk displayed in a modern, neutral home.

Night Walk

12″ H x 12″ W
Photography, archival pigment print

Another way humans respond to color is through contrast: one color against a backdrop of a complimentary color (red and green or blue and orange) then the colors will pop because it’s the only thing in the scene that is visually discordant.

However, the absence of color allows humans to concentrate on the subject without any distracting elements. Without color, the eye and mind immediately see the components, subject, mood, composition of the artwork. Black and white can have various looks too.

There are an infinite number of grey, black, white levels, as well as contrasts. These can also have a dramatic influence on the emotion of a black and white artwork.

So as much as you enjoy color don’t overlook the power and incredible emotion that black and white artwork can bring your home or office.

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