In my journey as an artist, one element of painting has escaped me, and that is color temperature. It struck me early on that this aspect of my hobby is utterly important, and so I've looked for painters who seem to understand it and who use it well and I've read quite a bit about it.
As a musician, I understand tension. There's a slight predictability in music that you can anticipate where the music is going by attending to the sense for tension. The progression of the music goes along and there is a pull inside us awaiting the relief of a certain note that becomes more obvious and more necessary as times goes on. When that note finally sounds, we experience a wash of satisfaction, of release. Deep inside me, my intuition is that color temperature is related to this same sense of tension in music.
Most things that you read will tell you that blue, green, and violet are cool in temperature and orange, red, and yellow are warm. That's pretty simplistic - and also wrong, in my opinion. That's like saying that all minor chords are depressing and all major chords are happy. Depends on their context and how they're formed.
Take permanent light green, for example. Cool color? Not at all.
Compare that to Phthalo Green (Yellow Shade).
The warmth of permanent light green is obvious.
But compare it now to Cadmium Orange.
Permanent light green is cooler than orange. It's a matter of comparison. Of context.
In short, there is no formula. And yet, it matters greatly, I think, to the success of a painting - how the artist handles the placement and arrangement of temperature. It affects the mood of the painting and how our eyes move around the work.
We have a natural attraction to warmth. Warmth is exciting and gets us moving. Cool colors provide the relief, just as we yearn for the shade when it is too warm for us. That's about as well as I can explain the musical tension of color temperature at this point. I'm certainly no master with it - I'm barely beginning to understand it - but it will occupy my decisions as I paint in the future.
While shadows are cooler in their temperature, there is such a thing as a warm shadow. And there is such a thing as a cool highlight. This isn't really about shadows, nor is it about receding or advancing. It's about tension, I think. It's about rhythm. Do paintings have beat? They just might.