Dissertation Title:

Color Theory and Depth Psychology: A Hermeneutic Inquiry


Heather McMillen

Date, Time & Place:

September 16, 2023 at 12:00 pm


Using a phenomenological hermeneutic methodology, this dissertation engages the ideas of C. G. Jung and James Hillman to approach color theory from a depth psychological perspective. The question framing this inquiry is: “How might depth psychology benefit from a psyche-centered examination of color and color theory?” The investigative portions of the research name instances where color theory has been misquoted or misapplied in the depth psychological literature, and an argument is made that existing models for color interpretation are limited and limiting. A thorough investigation of color theory is needed to reframe what color can teach us—both general audiences and depth-oriented practitioners—about ourselves. In turn, color theory may benefit from a depth psychological approach to the problem of what drives the human need to order color in the first place. Five models in the history of color theory have been reviewed: Aristotle’s notions of color and light, Newton’s wielding of the prism, Goethe’s color circle, Itten’s Bauhaus-era color pedagogy, and Munsell’s color sphere. The findings address the spectral phenomenon of the rainbow, and the culturally constructed color wheel and color sphere, alongside corresponding images from the alchemical and archetypal notions of depth psychology. There is special emphasis on dualism, and challenges to duality, integrating the notion of opposites in depth psychology with complements in color theory.

  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology with Specialization in Integrative Therapy & Healing Practices, H, 2017
  • Chair: Dr. Sabine Oishi
  • Reader: Dr. Carol Burbank
  • External Reader: Robert Hopcke, MFT
  • Keywords: Color Theory, Rainbow, Complements, Opposites, Archetypal, Analytic