The Color Blue: How It Defines Us

Lifestyle

We do a lot of things that are beautiful, ugly, and blue. Cry tears. Decipher loneliness (oh, I feel so blue today). Drown in water. Swim in water. Travel through the sky. Our blood is blue. The hottest flames are blue. We consider heaven as blue. We freeze and our lips turn blue. We sing about blue moons and blue Mondays and blue autumns and blue midnights and blue angels.

Maggie Nelson wrote an entire book about the color blue. Bluets, published in 2009, explored every edge of the color with prose and poetry, “The part I do remember,” Nelson writes. “That the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal puts it, ‘The color of any planetary atmosphere viewed against the black of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue.’ In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire.” 

In America and Europe, blue is polled to be the most popular favorite color. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Whenever someone asks me my favorite color, I’ve always said, “You know, I have always loved the color blue.” It’s simply this matter-of-a-fact thing. I wonder, also, if it’s because blue is the newest color. 4,500 years ago, most cultures didn’t even have a word for blue, which is part of the reason humans couldn’t perceive the color at all. Eventually, it was discovered that Egyptians were the only ancient culture to have a word for the color. They had produced blue dye from stone lapis lazuli, used for jewelry, and later created the pigment ultramarine. Viola, the definition of blue was born.

But, why? Why do we love the color blue? The color works almost as a calm gesture—an energy unlike any other color. We paint rooms blue to enhance productivity; to calm a baby. We hand out blue ribbons to those that are the best. However, the color enhances loneliness too. Picasso exercised his most forlorn period, the “blue period,” by painting in only blue. Blueness represents a loss of love. Glenn Miller expressed this in “Blue Moon” as did Elvis in “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” The color blue is expansive.

We should be grateful for the two things blue gifts us: incredible pain and incredible beauty. Blue confirms what we already know about ourselves, we can stand on the line that is both hurt and healing.

As Wit & Delight focuses on gratitude in the month of November, I wanted to explore how we define ourselves through the color blue. The color is equally as energetic as it is aloof. The color makes us realize how empowering it is to stand alone. I see myself so strongly within its hue; its deep wavelength of sorrow and serenity.

We should be grateful for the two things blue gifts us: incredible pain and incredible beauty. Blue confirms what we already know about ourselves, that we can stand on the line that is both hurt and healing.

Pain

Blue is intense. Sure, the sights of aquamarine waters and autumn, sunny skies are calming. But blue also signifies chaos—in deep, dark oceans and emotional energy. While it makes us feel calm at times, blue also can ignite deep sadness. 

Whenever I visit the ocean, I watch its vastness, massive blue—so much I could never imagine gathering it with my own two hands. The idea of so infinite blue is unfathomable. I can barely paint its entirety with my own two eyes. For this, blue makes me cry. The invisibleness of its wavelength paired with its capacity to make me feel things, is nearly too much to bare.

In film, blue often signifies spirituality, innocence, emotion, loyalty, purity, and (realistic spoiler alert!!) depression. According to Premium Beat, faithfulness and childlike wonder shine through Jeff Nichols’ sci-fi chase movie Midnight Special (2016). The character is covered head to toe in blue water figuratively and literally throughout the entire film. In my own research, Blade Runner (2017), neon blue packs a cinematic punch and a dreamy sense of emotion. The Neon Demon (2016) is a pool of cool blues and psychological horror. E.T. (1982) is captured in the mystery of the blue night and childhood mystery and enamor. Even the grit of Fight Club (1999) is dressed in hues of deep blue. Blue is futuristic. Blue is primal. Blue is wistful. Blue is the depths of us. Most important, as seen through film, blue sparks a sense of rip-roaring uncertainty within all of us. We must be awakened to these things—both our own pain and others pain. Because if it weren’t for pain, what would we see in beauty?

Beauty

Blue has a proven energy. Since blue is loved by so many, it’s the most nonthreatening color. Blue, according to Very Very Well Mind, calls to mind feelings of calmness, stability, and serenity. It is often described as peaceful, tranquil, secure, and orderly. Blue can reduce stress, create a sense of calmness and reorder; it even slows metabolism. It’s the safe, benign color. 

There’s evidence that, until in modern times, people couldn’t even see blue. Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from Goldsmiths University of London, worked with a Himba tribe from Namibia, and discovered that until they had a word for blue they were unable to identify it. Blue feels new, even if its not, making the hue feel as if its an astonishing discovery. “The half-circle of blinding turquoise ocean is this love’s primal scene.” Nelson writes in Bluets, “That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it. To have seen such beautiful things. To find oneself placed in their midst. Choiceless. I returned there yesterday and stood again upon the mountain.” 

In art, this hue was born the exclusive color. For painters during the Renaissance period, true blue, also called ultramarine blue, was five times more expensive than gold. Lapis lazuli, the rare, blue gemstone mined from exclusively from Afghanistan during the 6th century, had to be imported through Europe to Venice. This was of course, until synthetic blues started to be made , offering a wide range of blues. 

These are the many reasons I love the color blue. I’m part of it. The color helps define who I am.

Blue is the color of twilight. It’s the color of sleep and the ocean. The color makes me feel everything at once. I imagine heaven and the atmosphere and floating. I feel sincerity, inspiration, and spirituality—three things I couldn’t live without. Blue makes me feel like I am good enough.

Blue is the color of twilight. It’s the color of sleep and the ocean. The color makes me feel everything at once. I imagine heaven and the atmosphere and floating. I feel sincerity, inspiration, and spirituality—three things I couldn’t live without. Blue makes me feel like I am good enough.

Maggie Nelson writes it best: “It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.” 

Lasting Note: All of these feelings blue gives us aren’t universal. We can feel different things and colors for different reasons and experiences. However, I think it’s important we pay attention to those feelings. So, how does blue (or any other colors) define you?

BY Brittany Chaffee - November 9, 2019

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5 Comments  +

add a comment

  1. Gray

    November 12th, 2019 at 9:55 am

    I love this interesting post. My favorite colors have always been blues and greens and is currently aqua. You have to wonder if generations from now, humans will perceive a new color that we cannot now see.
    Interesting!
    (ps – it’s voila – viola is a flower 😉

  2. Gray

    November 12th, 2019 at 10:01 am

    PS – I note that since my son died, I use a blue heart in my messaging instead of a red one, and my spirit animal is the great blue heron. Your post is inspiring.

  3. Brittany Chaffee

    November 12th, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you, Gray! I love that the color blue speaks so clearly and spiritually to you as well! <3

    ~Brittany

  4. kaitertott

    November 19th, 2019 at 7:00 am

    What a beautiful article. This year the Brooklyn Museum had an exhibition dedicated to the color blue. It involved pieces of art from all throughout history and the world and it was amazing to see all the ways individuals and cultures used blue to describes their feelings.

  5. Brittany Chaffee

    November 19th, 2019 at 8:36 am

    kaitertott –

    OH MY GOSH, I would love love love to see the Brooklyn Museum exhibition on blue! Do you know how long it’s going to be featured? Agh, my heart. Blue can do many things for us. <3

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