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Colour of Music and Colours ‘Heard’: ‘A Colour Symphony’ by Arthur Bliss, and Dana Cook, Artist, Who Is Colour-Blind

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Ann likes to investigate the unusual, especially when it comes to blending the unexpected, questioning how it's done.

Double Keyboard of Colour

Double Keyboard of Colour

Colour Fascination

Lately, I have been studying colour; specific names of colours found in a box of watercolours, on a pastel chart, on tubes of oil paint. I wanted to encourage writers to use terms such as ‘Cerulean’ and ‘Gamboge’ rather than a bland blue or yawning yellow, just to jazz things up a bit, stimulate the imagination, put a zing in our lives.

Unwittingly, I had opened up a crate of colour-calls, a spectrum of tangents, much to my surprise and joy! A fellow writer, Lora Hollings, told me about Arthur Bliss’ symphony, a musical portrayal of heraldic colours, and another drew me to the art of painting when colour-blind (see links below).

Both use the connection of colour and music or sounds, in interesting ways.

'A Colour Symphony'

Arthur Bliss, an English composer and conductor, wanted to write a symphony but his quandary was the theme. In 1921 he was reading about Heraldry, became fascinated by it, and decided to write his symphony around the importance of heraldic colours.

To illustrate the background to his work, we’ll look briefly at those colours, referred to in Heraldry as ‘tinctures’, which are divided into metals, colours, and furs. The metals are ‘or’ and ‘argent’ (gold and silver) and the colours number five. One is ‘sable’ (black) and the four others are ‘gules’ (red), ‘azure’ (blue), ‘vert’ (green) and ‘purpure' (purple). It is those four last colours that Bliss chose for his symphony. There are rules, albeit quite flexible, as to how metals and colours are used on heraldic devices but the colours themselves have specific meanings.

The following explains what each colour represents and how Bliss used it in his composition. Each movement represents the characteristics of its respective colour rather than trying to depict the colours themselves. He dedicated this symphony to the conductor Adrian Boult, a noted conductor of his time.

The Four Movements Are:

Colours of Musical Movements

Colours of Musical Movements

The Sounds and Emotions of Colours

As you listen to each part, the music does indeed conjure images, in turn, of pageantry and death, lively movement, lapping water and melancholy, and uplifting feelings of hope.

So colours inspire music and music can represent colours or, more specifically, the emotions and images which go with them.

Talking of colours expressing sounds and emotions, I’d like to tell you about a special artist, Dana Cook.

Using the 'Sound' and Feeling of Colours

Now we turn to painting, but with a difference. Is it possible to paint with colours even if you’re colour-blind? It certainly is!

I had heard of artists who were colour-blind but never understood how it was possible. A fellow writer, Shauna Bowling, gave me some insight through her own article about her brother, Dana Cook, an established painter in Boynton Beach, Florida, USA.

He uses mostly acrylic paints on a variety of subjects, as you can see in Shauna’s article. Being fascinated by his capabilities, I asked how he went about creating colour with such precision. Looking at his work, you wouldn’t have any idea of his underlying difficulty with colours.

A local newspaper article described his painting as “….more like ‘a mathematics exercise…., with adding and subtracting shades, than a visual experience, like it is for most people.”

Dana says he “has to go with the mood that a color gives him sometimes and memorize ‘color hearing’ to get it right”, his definition of ‘color hearing’, being “the color has to resonate in the mind like a song. Only then can someone who is colorblind differentiate the shades.”

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This, in his own words, is how Dana sees colour:

"When I start a painting I set the time of day/night, the composition and the mood (the light). I know exactly what I'm looking for and only mix on a palate to see if I'm close. Then I usually mix directly on the canvas. I do understand mixing "labeled" colors from a tube, but I lay out my colors exactly the same every time and line the paint tubes up accordingly so I don't screw up - which is easy if I don't use this process. Although I know exactly what I'm doing as I paint, 99% of the time when I look at it days or even hours later, I have no clue of the colors. I just can't see them but I keenly see the mood I was trying to achieve. I never look at anything and say - oh - what a beautiful color! I can only feel and hear it."

For me, this is remarkable. Colours resonating like a song? What a wonderful concept. It makes sense to me but only because it’s been highlighted in this way. Can you imagine doing the same? Hearing a colour or colour-combination? Maybe it’s akin to synaesthetes having colours for days of the week or numbers. Anyone who can produce even a good painting is gifted in my book, but to produce an excellent piece despite not being able to differentiate colours is not only remarkable but defies imagination!

The Full Spectrum

So we have another connection between colour and music, the sounds colours create in the mind, the moods they evoke. We have gone full circle.

I leave you with this painting created by Dana Cook, an artist who likes to ‘encourage and educate’. Outstanding!

Acrylic Painting by Dana Cook


Acknowledgements and Sources

I would like to thank Shauna Bowling and Dana Cook for their permission to write about them and for their cooperation in putting together the details of Dana’s painting methods and skills.

Link to Shauna’s article on Dana Cook:

Thanks also to Lora Hollings for bringing 'A Colour Symphony' to my attention.

Link to Lora Hollings:

Other sources:

© 2021 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 15, 2021:

Hello Mary! I hope you enjoy listening to the symphony. I found it remarkable, especially when one knows the reasons behind it. Yes, Dana's painting is wonderful, isn't it? We really are looking out of that window. Glad you like it.

Let me know what you think of the symphony, if you manage to listen to it.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Keep safe and well.


Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 15, 2021:

Colour symphony. I need to encounter this. That painting of Dana Cook evokes so much emotion. I just love it.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 14, 2021:

Thank you Peggy. I know, it's amazing isn't it? I'm lucky if I get anywhere near that standard at all!

You are a good artist though; I've seen your articles about what you do. However, being colour-blind adds that extra challenge to Dana's work! I wonder, though, if that's what adds the quality, picking up moods/sounds and depth in his painting.

Good to see you today. Hope you're keeping well.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2021:

What a fascinating article! I cannot even imagine being able to paint something as lovely as that one by Dana Cook without being able to see the colors.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 13, 2021:

Thanks Flourish. That's interesting about your daughter. Glad you found this interesting. I appreciate your visit.

Keep safe and well.


FlourishAnyway from USA on February 13, 2021:

I loved the offbeat colors. Daddodil is one of my favorite colors. The discussion of synthesesia was also very interesting. My daughter has that. She would confuse me when she'd say that one of our cats smelled warm or that a given number had a color.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 13, 2021:

Thank you so much, Lora, for your kind comments on this. After seeing Shauna's hub about her brother and then you mentioning Bliss, I couldn't help but see the connections and contrasts between the two. It bowled me over and now I'm looking at the fact that musical notes have been given colours - the research continues! I'm therefore grateful to you for having contributed to my interest in it all.

I thought I'd named you in this hub (apart from the link) but I see I didn't, so I'm going to rectify that.

Keep safe and well.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 13, 2021:

Thank you, Audrey, for your kind words. You will already appreciate the effects of music and how it can be used to represent just about anything. To use music as a representation of colour was new to me, but now I find so many threads to it all that I'm 'hooked' on finding out more. Your support is much appreciated.

I hope you too are keeping safe and well.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 13, 2021:

Hi Denise! Thanks for reading and commenting. You know a lot about colours, of course, and are an expert at blending and contrasting them. They link our emotions and thoughts in so many ways that, for some strange reason, I had not really thought about before. Now I'm exploring all the tangents!

I appreciate your support. Hope you're keeping well.


Lora Hollings on February 12, 2021:

I’m so glad that you included this awesome symphony in your wonderful article about color, Ann. I love the way Bliss uses music and sounds to evoke different emotions and images throughout the four movements. I can hear how the mood changes with the color that the movement represents and I can hear his allusion to other composers in the different textures and themes he has created. You’ve done a beautiful job with this!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 12, 2021:

A beautiful journey for exploring and creating colors. We tend to overlook the arrangement and effect that colors bring to art, music, nature, and life itself. Thank you for bringing more awareness and history to a "colorful" subject.

Be safe, Ann,


Denise McGill from Fresno CA on February 12, 2021:

Yes, I believe it. Colors resonate and vibrate. We take for granted the hues we see but my brother is color blind (red and green) and I learned a lot living with him and growing to appreciate what I can see in a new light. Thanks for the symphony.



Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thank you to you too, Linda. I'm amazed how this is extending to all sorts of aspects of colour, sounds, emotions....

There is, indeed, much to think about and so much more to explore.

Good to see you. Take care.


Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 12, 2021:

You’ve created a very interesting article that gives me a lot to think about. Thanks for sharing the information, Ann. Thank you to the other people that you’ve mentioned as well.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thank you, Dora, for your kind comment. This feels like a team effort, with Shauna, Dana, and Lora as well. As I say, there is much more to this and my research continues.

I appreciate your support, as ever, Dora. It certainly is worth a try at imagining.


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 12, 2021:

This has opened up a whole new world. Thanks to you and Dana and Shauna for introducing it. I have to close my eyes and imagine the mysterious pleasure that could arrive from feeling and hearing the mood of a color. It's worth a try. More thanks!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

For Shauna and anyone else who's interested, here's a link to the colours of musical notes:

There is much more to all of this - it just goes on and on!


Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 12, 2021:

Oh, please pass that on, Ann. It sounds quite intriguing. I think Dana will enjoy it too.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thank you for such a wonderful comment, Sha. I really appreciate it and I appreciated all your help and suggestions, as well as Dana's.

Talking of the complexity of the subject, I came across the colours of sound - visually - yesterday. Someone has come up specific colours for specific sounds, like a score for music but in colour! How cool is that! I had no idea but I'm going to have a good look at that too now!


Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 12, 2021:

Ann, you've done a wonderful job of taking color beyond the naked eye, so to speak. We humans tend to see things at face value, but life and the colors inspired by nature go far beyond. They permeate the soul. They inspire. And, yes, they resonate.

I enjoyed learning about Arthur Bliss and his use of music to create color. My brother does the same, but in reverse.

I was thrilled - and proud - when you asked to share my brother's work and methods in this article. As my brother said, "You’re a great writer Ann! It all gets to a great point but you may find you’ve only scratched the surface on this intriguing topic. So much more to write and talk about!"

Thanks for awakening our senses, my friend. Great job!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thank you, Sankhajit! Good to see you and thanks for reading.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thanks, Pamela. Glad you enjoyed this. His work is outstanding isn't it? It's worth going over to Shauna's hub too, which you might well have done already, I can't remember!

Thanks for your valuable input.


Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on February 12, 2021:

absolutely gorgeous...

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 12, 2021:

The way Dana Cook goes about painting is fascinating. His painting is beautiful I love the connection between colors and music. I think the art of color is so interesting. I really enjoyed reading your article, Ann. I have enjoyed learning about color from your articles.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 12, 2021:

Thank you, bill! Great to see you at my door but I wish you could leave some snow here! We keep having stupid flurries that do nothing. The children get all excited and then it doesn't happen, though there does tend to be more on the ground up in Bristol when it arrives.

Glad this brought a smile. I was so taken by Sha's descriptions of Dana's approach to his painting, that I wanted to get my head round it some more. And Lora had suggested I listen to Bliss so that brought the two things together in my head - not necessarily logical but they had a connection for me! I really enjoyed doing this.

Yes, I suppose the writing process is not an easy one to describe but then most of us do it without any added difficulties. Dyslexics have difficulty writing but I've seen some of them come up with amazing poetry! Takes all sorts and how brilliant all their contributions are!

Have a fun Friday, bill, and a wicked weekend! Build a snowman for me - now there's a challenge!


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 12, 2021:

What an enjoyable read, made more enjoyable because of the reference to Sha! All very fascinating. I have no artistic ability at all, but I am still fascinated by the process.

There are others who would say the same thing about writers i.e. "how do they do that?" and I suppose the answer is we all have gifts we can't explain, but isn't it wonderful that we do?

Loved this, my friend. It brought a smile to my face for a variety of reasons.

Have a brilliant weekend. We are about to be buried under 18 inches of snow. Joy in Whiteness!


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