Orange, a secondary shade controlled by the primary shades of red and yellow, took on a primary status in 2010 thanks to Piper Kerman’s memoir of her time in prison – “Orange is the Black” – followed by the 2013 TV series of the same title.

Variations on a theme

The color also takes a lead role in the 2022 book “Safety Orange” by Art in America editor Emily Watlington Fisher, who makes the case that “If the U.S. cultural present were a color, it would be Safety Orange.”

Fisher reminds us that Safety Orange is a regulations color, a governmental guide for traffic signs, among other cautions in America, and in that sense is almost in constant view.

On the dark side

But wait. On reflection, Safety Orange becomes a sick joke when you think of the herbicide Agent Orange, a toxic chemical associated with birth defects and other ills. The U.S. Air Force showered the jungles of Vietnam with the stuff to rout the enemy in the Vietnam War.

The way to think about the color orange seems to turn on what book you read. While Fisher goes on about Safety Orange for 95 pages, Hans Biederman, a former philosophy professor at the University of Graz in Austria, summed up the significance of the color in three words.

In his 1930 tome “Dictionary of Symbols: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them,” Biederman said the color orange speaks of “fleeting personal glory.”

And it’s that very definition that speaks the loudest of American culture today owing to someone in our faces every day – Donald Trump with his carrot juice-colored countenance.

While he never seems to get off the stage, his glory days ended when he lost his bid for a second term.

Adding color to his story

Born white, he colors himself citrus-y, and because he continues to hog the news, his shade of orange is the all-American shade of choice.

Not that the U.S. has exclusive rights to the shade. The old Nile artists used it a lot in their tomb paintings, perhaps for the same reason that Trump uses it, to give life where there isn’t any.

Granted, the color orange isn’t always associated with death. You might even credit the color for the undying popular art movement known as Impressionism.

When Claude Monet painted the sun orange in his painting that he titled “Impression, Sunrise,” an art critic at the time, Louis Leroy, sneered at the hazy, atmospheric effect with what he thought a slur word – Impressionism.

In fact, several French painters made special use of orange for varying effect. Toulouse-Lautrec used it to create the wild and furious pace of the Paris dance halls. You can see orange in the s. skirts of the fiery dancers. For him it was a festive shade. Paul Gauguin used oranges in hi s paintings of the South Seas native to add to their exotic air. You can see it in the clothing and the skin, and sometimes the whole background.

Pardon my French

Even despite all that French art history, orange can’t be called a French thing anymore. Trump’s ongoing presence in the news, complete with his Creamsicle ice cream complexion, makes orange the new red, white and blue.