Sunday, April 10, 2011

blue Monday

"How blue can you get, baby?
The answer is right here in my heart.

I gave you a brand new Ford;
you said, "I want a Cadillac."
I bought you a ten dollar dinner;
you said "thanks for the snack."
I let you live in my penthouse;
you said it was just a shack.
I gave you seven children,
and now you wanna give 'em back!

Yes, I've been downhearted baby
ever since the day we met;
our love is nothing but the blues baby;
baby, how blue can you get?"

And so I wonder, as does B.B.... how blue can you get?

Inside the body, oxygenated blood is dark red. Yet, veins appear blue to the eye as they travel near the semi-opaque surface of our skin. Perhaps this is, in part, a reflection of the duality of life. Of life as it seems and appears and feels versus what it is objectively. The human heart itself is a divided organ of circulation in which the right and left sides do not directly connect and thereby function independently of each other. In our very hearts, we exist divided. Perhaps, the appearance versus the reality of veinal flow also reflects what we perceive versus what is otherwise perceived. Life full of air and breathe and health can seem to us to be blue. And I wonder about this melancholy aspect of blue... this pensive weight that brought the name to the blues itself... or did it just derive from the blue notes that dominate the genre -- those flattened thirds and fifths, the note sung at a slightly lower pitch than the "pure" note? This would make our melancholic associations with the blues merely an overlay of "blue," like an icy skin, the blue-ness of our isolation and separation.

The blues obviously carry a weight... and this sort of blue feels heavy. The kind of blue that weights down the heart... deadens the senses... saddles the body and makes your feet feel of lead. Picasso's Blue Period is considered to express the somberness of this sort, a weighty, sullen time in his life whose onset may have been the suicide of his close friend, Casagemas.

Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy (1903), Chester Dale Collection
Bruises proclaim and memorialize the initial injury in shades of blue. Tears falling from our eyes feel blue -- dark, navy blue implying oceanic depths... fathoms beneath, swimming in blue, blue that will ultimately alter to pitch black beneath the aphotic zone.

Yet, these 'blue lips, blue veins' can become a different vision... one as in Regina Spektor's "Blue Lips" where we continually distance ourselves from the knowledge tree:
Blue lips, blue veins
Blue, the color of our planet from far, far away...
Blue, the most human color
 And thus we move "into the blue" and things appear "out of the blue" and blue gains a mystical quality that seems transparent and otherworldly. Laura in The Glass Menagerie is nicknamed "Blue Roses," a nonexistent ideal, there being no genes for blue roses in reality despite centuries-long searches for them. Or perhaps she is like a rose whose real color is eclipsed by the dewy blue of morning... of quiet, watery moments evaporated by the sun... as in the Depression-era song "Dear Ones, The World is Waiting for the Sunshine":
Dear One, the world is waiting for the sunrise.
Ev'ry rose is covered with dew...
And if blue moves from a weight to a distance, from a misperception to something conspicuously uncanny, then perhaps we will vanish "into the blue" or long for the time 'before the wind' when we could
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic (Van Morrison)
And the calm of blue arrives... the ocean diving almost into black, but always hovering within the blue... and near the shore where we dip our toes in tentatively, the blue washes over us as turquoise and azure, gentle and filled with light. The sea, the sky, the distance unconquerable, the mountains that sink into and rise in a blue mist that fumbles heavenward, the "color of our planet from far, far away"... the "most human color" that pulses within our veins when we peer at our own physicality and calls to us from the twilight sky filled with stars that echo back our voices and past and time itself as a reminder of collective blue tint, tinged, as we are, with each other's atmosphere.

And language becomes everything... blue evading semantics and naming as in the Thai language, the color blue was once สีน้ำเงิน which actually means silver (perhaps referring to the silvery blue effulgence of the ocean) and has morphed into สีฟ้า which means the color of the sky. See-gaan -- สีกาล -- is the color, dark blue... where gaan means time.

And to return to painting where color is not at all straight-forward and nothing is as it seems. Blue is considered a recessive color, echoing that sense of distance, the earth from space, perhaps the way we sense but have trouble grasping our shared humanity.

The decentralized and loosely connected German Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) derived its name from one of Wassily Kandinsky's paintings of the same title.

Wassily Kandinsky, The Blue Rider (1903)

Kandinsky theorized at length about color, connecting it with music and harmony: "Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."

And so our blue quest has returned us to music. In his manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote about the scent and feel and taste of colors, but also expressed his belief that colors had particular physic affects and corresponding "spiritual vibrations." Precisely because of blue's recessive tendencies, its movement AWAY from the spectator, it possessed (according to Kandinsky) deeper spiritual properties... a closer approximation of the spiritual itself.

Yellow and blue have another movement which affects the first antithesis -- an ex- and concentric movement. If two circles are drawn and painted respectively yellow and blue, brief concentration will reveal in the yellow a spreading movement out from the centre, and a noticeable approach to the spectator. The blue, on the other hand, moves in upon itself like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator...
The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements (1) of retreat from the spectator, (2) of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper.
Blue is the typical heavenly colour.
The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest.
[Footnote: Supernatural rest, not the earthly contentment of green. The way to the supernatural lies through the natural. And we mortals passing from the earthly yellow to the heavenly blue must pass through green.]
When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human...
When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant. In music a light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a thunderous double bass; and the darkest blue of all -- an organ.
... the human organ too? And so to end with D. H. Lawrence and "The Mystic Blue"

The Mystic Blue

Out of the darkness, fretted sometimes in its sleeping,
Jets of sparks in fountains of blue come leaping
To sight, revealing a secret, numberless secrets keeping.

Sometimes the darkness trapped within a wheel
Runs into speed like a dream, the blue of the steel
Showing the rocking darkness now a-reel.

And out of the invisible, streams of bright blue drops
Rain from the showery heavens, and bright blue crops
Surge from the under-dark to their ladder-tops.

And all the manifold blue and joyous eyes,
The rainbow arching over in the skies
New sparks of wonder opening in surprise.

All these pure things come foam and spray of the sea
Of Darkness abundant, which shaken mysteriously,
Breaks into dazzle of living, as dolphins that leap from the sea
Of midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.

Have a blue Monday. Ponder the blue, bleed blue, seep into and fall out of the blue, and find your mystic. 

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