As of our age, blue is the last colour to be invented by mankind. Blue is the colour of the future, blue comprises 70% of our planet’s surface, and according to Wikipedia, it is the most popular colour in US and European opinion polls. Blueshift is the shortening of wavelengths as celestial bodies hurtle towards us.
Blue is the colour we gave to the sky, yet it hardly ever appears in nature.
Above is an image that I used recently, but I could choose nothing else for this post – blue, blue and white, replete with artificial structures. It reminds me of all the new meanings that I have discovered for my favourite colour. But to what degree is blue a distinct colour?
It seems that for much of pre-history our ancestors did not distinguish blue from green. As I discovered in this podcast, Homer’s Iliad does not once use the colour blue, nor does it appear in the original Hebrew version of the Bible. People from primitive cultures that survive today are still stymied when asked to tell blue from green. A child who was not told that the sky is blue debated for some time between white, grey, and blue, before eventually settling upon blue.
Blue is the most recent colour defined by humans, and there are some theories as to why. One is that blue dye was a late discovery (the Egyptians preceded the rest of the world by a longshot), and some anthropologists think that while we could not manufacture it we did not name it. Until we made blue from lapis lazuli and azurite maybe we had no such colour.
Or, in a broader theory, maybe when we were without any artificial blues and had no glaring examples of blue plants or animals, it was natural for our ancestors to see the bits of blue-ish stuff here and there as just another shade of green.
And yet blue is now a widespread favourite, associated with sea and sky, with water and ice, with harmony and sadness. The latest and most dazzling (in my opinion) of Disney’s heroines is resplendent in the blue gown and ice palace of her own making.
The youngest of colours has taken us by storm and is even painting our visions of the future. Since 1968 the holograms, screens, and vast interfaces depicted in science fiction have almost all been blue.
The article which presents the above finding goes on to suggest that “because blue is so rare in nature (if you discount the sky and the ocean, which are arguably not blue) there’s something fundamentally mystical, unnatural, and inhuman about it.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that blue is unnatural (my eyes are blue, thank you!), or inhuman (we did pick it out, after all). But mystical I can see, mystical and yet modern, as if magic and science are caught up together.
Coupled with white, and perhaps silver or grey, blue anchors a clean and crisp palate that connotes a more sophisticated future. A glass coffee table cradling a gently rotating blue hologram, white settees in soft undulations or perfectly straight lines, and a pale floor stretching outward, convincing the eye of openness even as it comes to an end at curving, transparent walls. And a garden beyond the nigh-invisible walls, bursting with green and white, lush under a blue sky.
Blue seems to be the colour of whole worlds and wonders, whether they exist now or have yet to be. If one imagines great expanses, great heights, or soaring flights, one is almost always imagining in blue.