Landscapes of Blue, the Iconic Color — Even for Synesthetic Experience
View from Mont-St-Michel by P.L. Duffy
View from Mont St-Michel, twilight by P.L. Duffy
A number of artists such as contemporary poet Claudine Helft have identified blue with heaven and the absolute as in her work, “L’infinitif du bleu”:
La souffrance n’est qu’une pluie
Goutée sur l’infinitif des mers:
L’annonce est un éveil
où la blancheur moléculaire
renverse l’ordre d’un temps trop bleu
où la pesanteur se fait vitesse
et la défaite de l’absolu,
le revers du ciel. (p. 51)
Blue can represent a fusion of outer and inner landscapes, as does the experience of synesthesia.
Blue connoting singularity, solitude and shelter
Blue may be the most appropriate color to represent the singular nature of the experience of synesthesia. As synesthetic experience cannot be fully shared, synesthetes can feel alone with their perceptions. Blue can represent a sense of isolation, as Gass writes: “To be in the blue is to be isolate and alone. To be sent to the blue room is to be sent to solitary, a chamber of confinement.” (p. 18)
Yet sharing solitary experience through art allows the synesthete-artist to feel heartened and connected. All art is an attempt to bring the inner world to the outer, but perhaps this may be particularly striking in the case of synesthete-artists.—whose color perceptions of music, word, or sound go beyond the metaphoric to the literal.
In the novel, The Sound of Blue, the main character, Milan is a synesthete- composer who experiences a color dimension to music: the color blue particularly moves and inspires him with the depth it suggests. As Milan says, “Blue is the opening and closing door to all that matters and gives my life meaning” (p. 91). The composer also experiences ‘Blue’ as an environment that is a private refuge: “He felt secure in the music and sheltered… within the shades and shadows of blue.” (p. 91) In the novel, the composer shares the beauties of blue with others through the music he composes.
Blue connoting imagination and putting the human stamp on nature
With its range of possible evocations, blue has inspired a number of artists. Modern artists, particularly, have used the color to give form to the invisible inner worlds of their subjects.
Consider the ‘Blue Period’ of Picasso with paintings such as the 1903 work, The Old Guitarist. The blue color has little to do with the literal colors of the guitarist’s face, hair, and hands, but everything to do with his feeling of depth, sadness, and devotion to the music he plays.
Picasso’s “Old Guitarist” in turn inspired the American poet, Wallace Stevens’ 1937 poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar”. As Stevens wrote,
“Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.” (p. 165)
Here the blue of the blue guitar represents the vast power of imagination to transform nature or “things as they are”.
The poet Stevens believed that imagination was god-like as it was what gave human beings the potential to put their own human stamp on the world. In Stevens’ post World War I era when many questioned the conventional tenets of traditional religious belief, Stevens saw the works of the imagination as providing an alternative system of values. As Stevens wrote, “After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption… (Opus Posthumous, p.185). In his poem, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”, Stevens writes: ”We say God and the imagination are one.” (Collected Poems, p.526). The imagination became synonymous with Heaven; both were identified with blue.
Similarly, during the early twentieth century Blue Rider movement in art, artists sought to bring inner human experience to the outer landscape. Blue held a central place in the movement as artists applied the color where Nature never had, as in this 1911 painting, The Blue Horse by Franz Marc.
The color ‘blue’ evokes the primacy of the human imagination in putting its stamp on the natural world. To color a horse blue can be seen as capricious, but it is the right of the imagination to be so and to assert personal or collective symbology, here through color. In the case of Marc’s Blue Horse the color blue brings out the inner nobility, even spirituality of the painting’s subject.