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Thread: Color Theory in Marilyn Manson's Work

  1. #1
    Hallelujah motherfuckers thatrussianman's Avatar
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    Default Color Theory in Marilyn Manson's Work

    I'm sure this subject has been explored somewhere on this website, but as a visual artist, I find that exploring the artwork that accompanies Maryiln Manson's music to be supplemental to understanding the intention of each album. As a man truly obsessed with his image, MM is by no means a novice when it comes to the visual arts; everything he does concerning his look from his album covers to his logos has meaning and a purpose. I'm reviewing the albums in the order of which I think are the most interesting to talk about, not in the order of greatness.

    What is Color Theory?

    If you've taken any basic course on art, you've probably seen the color wheel before:



    This basic color wheel shows the primary colors Red, Blue, and Yellow. It also shows secondary colors like Green, Purple, and Orange. What this wheel doesn't show is different levels of saturation, as you'll notice there are no blacks or shades of grey here. The most important thing to understand about colors is the way they complement each other. Complementary colors are literally colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green and blue and orange. Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the wheel.

    Our unconscious mind associates colors with different moods. For example, most people think the color yellow is joyful, optimistic, and sunny (which is why you never see yellow in Manson's artwork). Whereas the color grey reminds people of neautrality and stability. There is a phenomenon called synesthesia where people associate colors with certain things like numbers. Someone might associate the number 7 with the color green, and another person might associate it with the color red. The point is, colors are tied into the neural network of our human experience. As we go through life, we find patterns in the way colors appear at specific times. This is why sometimes you associate a person with a color, or you can recall a distant memory and still be able to describe in detail the color of a person's hair. So now that we all understand how intrinsic colors are to the fabric of our lives, let's actually start talking about Marilyn Manson.


    #1. Why The High End of Low's Color Theory is on point.

    I couldn't think of a better title. Let's look at the cover art for The High End of Low, one of Manson's most divisive albums (for no good reason, the album is fucking awesome). But as you know, if there's anything Manson loves it's division, chaos, and contrast. It's in his name.



    The colors RED and BLUE are the most important colors on this album (and another one but I'll get to it later). They're the colors that stick out the most when you see the cover. Now you probably already know the association with the "blues" as Manson made that association clear himself. On this album he is feeling sad, or "the blues". Pretty simple, right? And red, of course, is associated with love. Red and Blue are primary colors, and because they are at almost opposite ends of the color wheel, they visually contrast each other. To really understand the way red and blue tie into the themes of this album, we have to analyze the lyrics of the first and last song.

    Devour
    "And I will love you if you let me."
    This line is a passive statement, it's the protagonist saying that his love is at the mercy of the person he loves. He still believes in love in the romantic sense, as in letting your guard down for another person because you love them.

    15
    "I'll teach you about loss."
    This song is filled with hate, vitriol, and bitterness. There is self-deception, false bravado, and death threats. But the change in tone from the first song is the most noticable thing. The first song wasn't really a love balled, there was still pain there, but 15 is devoid of any love. The protagonist has realized he was right all along and he never should have opened up his heart to this person. His future looks dark, and we know this because he tells us he percieves as a fight. He won't hesitate to kill to protect for what he believes in. Clearly over the course of making this album the protagonist has gone from a starry-eyed, self-depricating romantic love to a cold hard shell of a person. There is no love anymore. There is nothing but ice. When you love someone, you tend to feel warm inside. Scientifically this is because blood is rushing to certain parts in your body (your cheeks, your genitals, etc). But when you see someone you hate, or an ex that you ended on bad terms with, you feel cold. There is no more warmth between you two. And well would you look at that, there are colors for those feelings.



    So it would be safe to say that Red and Blue not only represent the conflict between love and depression on this album, but the duality of Marilyn Manson himself (light/dark, good/evil). After all, the album is named after being High (red) and Low (blue), and refernces the movie High and Low too.The album starts full of warm RED love, and ends with cold BLUE darkness. Look at the shot of the same wall, with the two primary colors overtaking the entire picture, showing the change in mood.






    Manson lit in blue with the dark black void surrounding him, echoing the lyrics of 15.


    The light is manipulated here so that his face is drenched in red but the rest of the picture is black and blue

    Going back to the cover of album, now that we know what the colors represent, did you notice something about the composition of the two colors? The way they are arranged? The color red is hanging over Manson's head like a halo (obvious christ symbolism) and the rest of his face is covered in blue. What does this mean? Well, clearly Manson has love on the mind, but the rest of his body is cold. The warm love that he has is a small island in an abyss of dark, icy blue water, which is reflected not only in the cover art but in promotional photography for the album as well. Love makes up a smaller part of the album, it is certainly the key factor here, but the majority of the album is drenched in sadness and self-loathing.

    I mentioned that there was one other color that played a significant role in this album. You probably already know what it is. It's white. But where is white on the cover? On the logo of course. And what flag has the colors Red, White, and Blue on it? You know. Now Manson has not only tied in his personal feelings into the color theory on the album, but has made a political statement as well. We're From America is the only political song on the album, and if you think it's only about politics, it would seem out of place. But it's not. Manson has stated in interviews that the song is about how he felt the state of American politics was at the time (2009), and that in his opinion it was in a pretty shitty state. His specific reasons he addresses in the song. But he also hinted that as flawed as he said America was, he said it was as shitty as he was feeling at the time. In a spectacular display of self-hatred, Manson is comparing himself to the country he just put on blast. He has done this before in the lyrics to Rock N Roll Nigger, when he said, "I was made in America, and America hates me for what I am. I am your shit [America], you should be ashamed of what you have eaten." This is also evidenced in the line "I'm in recovery from America" in the song We're From America. The whole album is about a recovery from a breakup, and Manson is saying that not only is he isolated and broken off from his home country but he is just as flawed a human being as it. Why do you think he covered himself in red and blue on the album cover and colored his name in white?

    Manson literally draped in the American flag inside the album booklet.


    As we know, many (if not all) Manson albums are cyclical, and I think Manson has made clear his obsession with the beginning of things and the end of things as evidenced in,
    *"This is where it starts, this is where it will end."
    *Alpha and Omega
    *His numerous references to revelations
    *"Creator, preserver, destroyer."
    So thematically, the colors Red and Blue represent the beginning and end of Manson's journey through this slice of his life, and serves as his commentary on relationships in general. When you're in love with someone, in the beginning everything is right with the world. But that love has an expiration date. That blue is getting him high and making him low.

    I'll analyze the color theory of the rest of the albums if people like this post.
    Last edited by thatrussianman; 03-09-2017 at 04:44 AM.
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    Thanks for this interesting post, I look forward to the other albums. But mostly to see how you analyse the colour choice of the album cover for GOAG and just in generally all of the photos and album cover in Born Villian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AudioViolence View Post
    Thanks for this interesting post, I look forward to the other albums. But mostly to see how you analyse the colour choice of the album cover for GOAG and just in generally all of the photos and album cover in Born Villian.
    Those are some of the more interesting albums covers because they're so minimalist! Black plays a very specific and important role in both those albums, especially TGOAG (hint: Para-Noir). The negative space Manson created in the Born Villain album cover is intentionally mimicking a diagonal cut... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Of course since those covers are so sparse I will be going into the other choices manson made for those eras, respectively in promotional photography such as:





    My personal favorite cover is Mechanical Animals and I can't wait to get into that one.
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    Quote Originally Posted by thatrussianman View Post
    My personal favorite cover is Mechanical Animals and I can't wait to get into that one.
    Thats mine as well, up there with 'The Last Tour on Earth' cover. Will you being doing an analysis of that cover or nah as there is a lot less to talk about that.

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    Hallelujah motherfuckers thatrussianman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AudioViolence View Post
    Thats mine as well, up there with 'The Last Tour on Earth' cover. Will you being doing an analysis of that cover or nah as there is a lot less to talk about that.
    There is always something to talk about when it comes to Marilyn Manson's art. I will cover that in a bonus section along with Smells Like Children, and Lest We Forget
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    #2. Mechanical Animals is so fucking good I can't even come up with a good title to describe how truly awesome it's color theory is

    In this series, I won't just be covering color theory. I will also be including other elements of visual design such as composition, contrast and affinity, perspective, etc. And while the album covers are a quick summary of the album to the outside world, the real juicy stuff is actually inside the booklets or Manson's promotional photography in support of each album. So with that disclaimer out of the way, let's get into my favorite Marilyn Manson art design era, Mechanical Animals.



    This album. This fucking album. This album always reminds me of an overcast day. I'll explain why. After researching the gallery of photos from this era and the album artwork, I've concluded that depending on how you look at it, this may be Manson's most depressing album. The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of NIN's The Downward Spiral in sheer hopelessness (not sound). Antichrist Superstar might have been sad and self-abusive, but at least there was activity there. In the world of Mechanical Animals, there is nothing. Emptiness. That's is a very different feeling from being sad and crying. Feeling empty. Numb. And drained of color. The first thing you'll notice about the cover (other than Manson's beautiful fake titties and lack of penis) is that the only color on the entire cover that isn't white or grey is red. I covered what the meaning behind the color red is in the last post, but I'll say it again because it means almost the exact same thing on this album. Red represents love, or at least the desire for love. But as you'll notice, the only area it takes up in the entire cover is Manson's hair, which is a small part of the entire composition. This means that love makes up a small but significant part of the themes in the album.

    Contrast And Affinity
    This is so important in design, I cannot stress this enough.



    Contrast is elements in the picture that oppose each other (like complementary colors for example). Affinity is elements in the picture that are similar to each other (like analogous colors). In Mechanical Animals, Manson uses contrast when he wants to show emotion and affinity when he wants to show lack of emotion or numbness. His use of these two principles is more defined on this album than any other album of his. Let's take a look at the lyric booklet as a whole:



    The color grey bookends the booklet, while the first several pages are mostly white, and the last ones are black. There is also a grey intermission to separate the two sections. If you know anything about the lore of Mechanical Animals, you already know about Alpha and Omega, the characters Manson created during this era as contrasting takes on his state of mind. The Alpha songs are in white, while the Omega songs are in black. Manson is showing that he thinks the Alpha songs, while depressing, are actually the ones full of whiteness, his true feelings coming out. He finds some semblance of emotion in drugs, but those are slow ways of killing yourself and and artificial means to achieve temporary happiness. This is why there is so much white in the Alpha songs. Great big WHITE world, Coma WHITE, and the obvious cocaine references. While the Omega songs are the songs in which he has a narcissistic, shallow, and cynical view of his life and the world around him. Again, contrast in Manson's work goes as far back as the creation of his name. Marilyn/Manson, Black/white, Alpha/Omega. White is usually associated, with truth and purity, while black is typically thought to be represent the unknown and the void (lack of light). In the alpha songs, we hear Manson analyzing himself, feeling detached from the world and numb for the most part. Additionally, Alpha means beginning in Greek, and Omega means end, so it also makes sense that the alpha songs come before the omega ones. Did you notice something about one of the pages in the Alpha section? It's covered almost entirely in red. If we take a closer look at the page, we can see the lyrics for the song Mechanical Animals as well as the words ma3x5. This is obviously the initials of the album and song plus 15, which is a recurring number in Manson's artwork. 15 holds sentimental value to Manson because of his birthday January 5th, or 1/5. Going back to color, the lyrics of this song fit the color scheme perfectly. This song is the closest thing to a love song on this album, but you wouldn't be able to tell at first. Let's look at some of the lyrics:

    "I am never gonna be the one for you."
    "You were my mechanical bride."
    "This isn't me I'm not mechanical. I'm just a boy playing the suicide king."

    Manson is talking to someone (a girl) who he was in a relationship with, but the relationship didn't work because he felt that she was robotic. He isn't a robot, and he isn't going to sacrifice his emotions just to be with her. He can't be the one for her. The suicide king is a reference to The King of Hearts in a deck of cards, so this song is Manson's way of saying that he has love in him, even if it's only barely there. This is why this page, and only this page, is covered in red. The line,

    "They'll never be good or bad to you, they'll never be anything at all."

    is also thematically consistant with the message of numbness in the album. There isn't any conflict or love in the story, there is just nothing. Everywhere he looks around, the protagonist Alpha sees mechanical beings, "drained of their colors". The song Mechanical Animals represents the album as a whole. Which is why the cover art is so damn good. The contrast on the cover is in Manson's red hair, but the affinity is in the grayness surrounding him. Color is the only thing indication of human emotion on the cover. In black and white:



    all the perceived vibrancy of the red is completely sucked out. The message of the album is lost. Color is the one thing that reminds us of human emotion in this vast sea of gray scale. Mechanical robots are usually depicted as grey, so to be human is to not be gray. This motif has connections to other albums too, as The High End of Low also had the top part of Manson's head drenched in vibrant red color. In the Alpha pages in the booklet, we can see every white page has a streak of red in it, which Manson personified in his costumes during this era.







    You can tell which character Manson is playing by the colors of the costume that correspond to the alpha and omega sections in the lyric booklet.

    Last but not least, we've talked about the grayscale in Mechanical Animals, but there are two other colors that show up here and there in this era. And they are
    YELLOW and
    BLUE.

    These colors show up in small doses in the lyrics booklet and in Manson's makeup, but they have meaning.
    Blue obviously still means sad, depressed, and meloncholy. But Yellow is something that is so rare in Manson's artwork. Yellow is typically associated with being happy and sunny. Where do we actually see these colors in Mechanical Animals? Well, here:



    and here




    and here



    and here


    Manson also creates color harmony here by mixing yellow and red to get orange. In the lyric booklet itself, it says that when you mix yellow and blue you get green. Not only is this true, but when you do so you unlock secret messages in the booklet. So if we look at the two colors according to the theme of Mechinical Animals, if blue represents Manson's sadness, and yellow represent his happiness, where does green come in? Well, never, unless you go looking for it yourself. Green is associated with nature and growth, so when the two sides of Marilyn Manson combine, they form change. And I believe that is the small positive message of this album. Even though they feelings you have right now might suck, keep moving forward. Keep growing. It's the only thing that separates us from the machines. And to back that point up, one of the green decoded messages in the booklet turns the line "Speed of pain" into "Freed of pain".

    Next is Born Villain.
    Last edited by thatrussianman; 03-09-2017 at 04:45 AM.
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    This is all incredibly well thought out and detailed - cool stuff. I find your take on THEoL's color scheme especially interesting because I interpreted the usage of bright red against cool blue to represent violence. hatred, and anger (rather than love) against the icy numbness of depression. I think it's an incredibly angry and bitter album presented in an unusual and vulnerable way.

    Love your interpretation of Mechanical Animals-era art. The sparse usage of yellow and gold in promotional pics was something that stood out to me, but I wasn't sure if that just so happened to tie in with the glam, Bowie-esque image of the time or if there was something more deliberate behind MM's choice. After reading your post I'm inclined to believe it's the latter. He seems like an intelligent person so there's no doubt he put a lot of care into the art itself. You're probably dead-on.

    From what I've seen of GAoG-era art, it is stark white, red, and black. Not unlike Mechanical Animals in terms of minimalism but far darker. Black replacing grey. The demented Mickey Mouse pictures are some of my favorites of Manson so I'm curious to see your thoughts on those too.

    As a new fan I am really enjoying digging through all the symbolism and hidden meanings in his work.

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    mind.blown.


    ...Stand down dick fighters...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Twiggz View Post
    mind.blown.
    I think so! If anybody is interested in the visual arts and MM, then I hope this thread is at least somewhat intriguing.
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    #3. Born Villain and the Embodiment of Change

    Born Villain marked a new era for Manson. Lots of things were changing in his life as well as the rest of the world. The High End of Low, while a great record, made it clear for all to see that Manson was at the height of his depression. That time in his life was his lowest point, which was what the album was about. He left in mistakes and left the album sounding rough because that's how he felt: in shambles. Not to mention his infamously poor performances during the tour of the album. So, as they say, when you're at the bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. The excitement tentatively built for his next album. With his separation from Interscope, Manson was now free to do whatever he wanted with his music and would not be constricted by a label wanting him to make "radio hits". So the next album was shaping up to be Manson's comeback.

    And then the album was released.

    On the one hand, not having a record label breathing down your shoulder is a good thing. But when you're a guy as ADD as Manson, maybe having a little discipline in your work is a good thing, because to say the album is wonky is an understatement. Now, don't get me wrong, I think Born Villain musically is a tight, excellent work of art, and the color theory I am about to get into will reflect that. There are interesting ideas for a concept here, but besides the nods to the iching and the double cross there is not that much. But I had to preface this analysis with a little history concerning the album, because it's important to know the context of the artwork I'm about to show you. If you want to listen to Manson's REAL comeback album, I suggest listening to The Pale Emperor. Even Manson sort of admits this on the last track to Born Villain, Breaking The Same Old Ground, where he laments that even though he's moved on (or wants to move on), there is something keeping him repeating the same shit. It's obvious Born Villain was supposed to be Manson's comeback, but instead ended up sounding like a guy saying he's making a comeback than actually making a comeback.

    CMYK and RGB



    When the album cover for Born Villain came out, opinions were mixed (much like the album itself). Manson looked very beautiful and gothy, but at the same time, the cover doesn't show about anything about the content of the songs (besides the fact they are about Manson). It is very obviously photoshopped along the side of Manson's cheek. But the cover really does represent the nature of Born Villain: you can still see the mistakes, but the man is trying to look the part. Regarding composition, Manson actually turning himself into logos in this era was an interesting concept, but again, had mixed results. For example, Manson did an incredible photoshoot with Perou where the photos were altered to each represent part of the printing color scheme CMYK.


    If you've ever used a printer before, you've seen these colors.


    Cyan


    Magenta


    Yellow


    Black

    This was an interesting artistic decision for Manson, because not only was he using high contrast Black and White (which is everywhere on Born Villain), he was using brighter colors than he usually has in his work. Compared to The High End of Low, which even in all it's neon glory had extremely muted tones, these pictures looked like Manson wouldn't be so dark and depressing this time around. But then there's the matter of the album artwork and Manson literally taking on the shapes of icons and logos. As you can see in the picture above, the picture is edited to look similar to the famous Yin and Yang symbol, where there is white in the darkness and darkness in the light. Whoever edited the photo used the principle of counterchange to show Manson's head going from black to white as one object.


    The yin yang symbol, as if you didn't already know. I'm actually surprised Manson hadn't used this symbol up until 2012.

    I like the cover art for Born Villain, but it's not the best execution. For example, the diagonal cut across the album cover, while clever, is still kind of shitty looking. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at the shape of Manson's head on the cover. It is shaped like a V, right? And the black negative space to the left of his face forms an Λ. Put them side by side, they form ΛV. Which of course, is the classic image of the one hand pointing to heaven and the other pointing to hell. Black and white, dark and light, Marilyn and Manson, Heaven and Hell, the double cross, you get the idea. It's predictable but he's made it his calling card. You can guarantee his next album will be littered with shit like that.


    Turn me into a logo, he said.

    So where do we find ΛV on the album? In the album title, born VillΛin.


    They even stick out among the rest of the letters.

    His name, as well as the album title, also form the bars of one of the eight I-ching Trigrams. This being Manson's 8th album, he incorporates the eight trigrams into his name as well as the title's arrangement.


    The eight trigrams.

    On the cover, MARILYN forms one bar, MANSON the 2nd, and BORN VILLAIN, the last. Just like that one trigram with the three lines.


    If I went into the meanings of the trigrams, this post would be 50 pages long.

    We can also see Manson personifying the I ching in the only other photo of him that comes with the album.


    The white in Manson's face is cut up into three sections, just like in the I-Ching.

    So clearly Born Villain is Manson's most logo centered album to date. The rest of the album is covered in black, and the only logo inside that isn't on the front or back cover is the double cross on the CD. An apt logo, but no mention of the awesome Nick Kusher-designer M swastika that appeared on his website during the first part of the Born Villain era. Speaking of which, his website was perhaps the best example of the Born Villain era and theme. The first part was released in May 2011, which the CMYK theme and ICHING present. But perhaps the most striking thing about the website's color was the stark white background used throughout it.


    Part 1 of the Born Villain era website.

    Part 2 was released almost exactly a year later, on album's release, and featured a theme closer to the album artwork.


    What was white is back now, and vice versa. Instead of CMYK, now things are looking more greenish/blue.

    Each website was accompanied with a splash page. For part 1, it showed the CYMK swastika in black, then dissolved into color when your mouse cursor rolled over it.



    The splash page for part 2 was used on (either bornvillain.com or marilynmanson.com), and showed the same double cross on the CD for Born Villain, but when rolled over, changed from white to red.

    So, we've identified a color scheme for the Born Villain era. For part 1, it's: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and White. And for Part 2, it's: Black...?

    That's right, I didn't discuss what the part 2 color scheme yet. Well, you'll notice by taking one glance at the album artwork for Born Villain, that there really isn't that much there. But what is there does have meaning. When you print things on white paper, you use CMYK because those color show up better. But when you're using your computer, you want to use RGB (short for Red, Green, Blue) to get the truest blacks in your photos. So Manson used CMYK for part 1 of the Born Villain era, and RGB for part 2. We can see green on the cover, and blue in the font of the back cover, so where the fuck is red?


    The blue Matrix-like descending font on the back cover. The words are formed in such a way as to look like two M's, with the logo separating them both.

    Well, I've only seen TWO instances of red showing up in the Born Villain era. And they only showed up once the website was updated into part 2, so it fits nicely into the RGB theme. The first instance was on the splash page to the website, which I really wanted to show you but unfortunately can't find. The second was on the single to SLO-MO-TION, released after the album dropped. Just like in Mechanical Animals, red is present, but used sparingly.


    The logo looks really cool in red.

    I believe that since the album's packaging directs you to look at the website, this counts as being part of the album... sort of. Again, I believe that the ideas behind Born Villain were rock solid, but the decisions made in the final stage were questionable. bornvillain.com is no longer a functioning website, so anybody that buys that album and goes to that website will have to go somewhere else to get lyrics. And the white CMYK part of Born Villain was completely abandoned in the actual packaging. It's odd for a Manson album to JUST feature black. Maybe he felt he was retreading what he had already done in the Mechanical Animals booklet. Usually there's some color in there (even in the golden age of grotesque). But besides black, we just get dashes of green and blue, with a black and white picture and double cross logo mixed in. People that became fans of Marilyn Manson won't even know about part 1 of the born villain era unless they are dedicated and do some digging. I understand that this may be Manson looking toward the future; CD is dead and digital would (and probably will) eventually become the only form of distribution for music. But I don't think that the album artwork had suffer, just for that. That's not a good enough reason. I, like many others, garner more insight into the artist's work by listening to the album and flipping through the artwork, looking into things. It's obvious that Manson HAD artwork for Born Villain, it was just mostly digital. The Pale Emperor's booklet was an excellent return to the classic (and best) way of physically presenting a CD, (but was still missing lyrics for some stupid reason).

    Overall, I think Born Villain and it's color theory falter here and there, but for a comeback album, they at least play the part.

    or they fa fa fa fake it.
    Last edited by thatrussianman; 02-27-2017 at 10:12 PM.
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