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Hue Blue

“Ask people their favorite color, and in most parts of the world roughly half will say blue,” reports Natalie Angier in The New York Times (10/23/12). “Blue pigments played an outstanding role in human development,” says Heinz Berke of the University of Zurich. Indeed the hue blue has shaped “our notions of virtue, authority, divinity and social class.” In “some cultures” blue pigments “were as valuable as gold,” according to Heinz. This may be because the color “is not what you call an earth color,” he adds. “You don’t find it in the soil.” It wasn’t until the “advent of mining” that blue pigments surfaced.

“The first stable blue colorant” was lapis lazuli, “a semiprecious stone mined in Afghanistan beginning about 6,000 years ago.” Egyptians used it in tombs and powdered it “into eye shadow for Cleopatra.” Blue-mania endures today among “young patients” at the Cleveland Clinic, who prefer “nurses wearing blue uniforms to those in white or yellow,” and in American culture, in the ever-popular blue jeans. Studies also show that working alongside the color blue (versus red or yellow) reduces heart rates and promotes creativity (red promotes accuracy).

However, blue also connotes sadness, as in Picasso’s blue period, and “the blues.” L. Elizabeth Crawford of University of Richmond believes this relates to “the look of the body when it is in a low energy, low oxygen state.” Blue has also come to connote authority, which apparently began in 431 when the Catholic church gave Mary “a dark, wonderful and expensive blue befitting the queen of heaven,” according to Steven Bleicher of Coastal Carolina College. In fact, dark blue’s association with authority is so strong that the United Nations “avoided the color in designing the uniforms of its peacekeeping troops,” using “a softer robin’s-egg blue” instead (image).