Student: That sounds like psychology.
Professor: Well, color theory is used in psychology too.
Some psychologists do use their field's version of color theory to diagnose and treat patients.
Um… anyway, Goethe conducted a number of experiments trying to figure out which colors corresponded to which emotions.
And in terms of that goal, he wasn't very successful.
But his experiments actually did show a lot about the relationships between colors themselves, about how colors change when placed next to other colors, about how they interact with one another.
Scientists studying optics and chromatics today still marvel at his findings.
But Goethe wasn't really able to establish a clear connection between colors and emotions.
Then in 1806, he received a letter from a relatively unknown German artist, a painter named Philip Otto Runge.
In the letter, Runge outlined his own color theory, specifically the connections he made between colors and emotions.
And his ideas about what colors symbolize, about the emotions that different colors inspire were based on the colors red, yellow and blue.
Runge's choice of red, yellow and blue had nothing to do with what we know from modern-day chromatics, it had to do with Runge's complex system of symbolism, his experience of nature, particularly with his experience of the quality of light at various times of the day, morning, noon and night.
So each color had a specific symbolic value.
Well, four years later, Goethe published a book entitled Color Lesson.
In Color Lesson, Goethe COINCIDENTLY cites the same colors as primary colors.
At this point, Goethe was already a well-known author, so he was easily able to popularize this idea of primary colors, and specifically the idea of red, yellow and blue as THE primary colors.
Student: But he didn't mention Runge?
Professor: Well, he did put Runge's letter in the book, at the end.
But he added a disclaimer implying that Runge's letter didn't influence his work.
Apparently, what Goethe was saying was that they just HAPPENED TO come up with the same theory at the same time.