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What Does Blue Mean?

A Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” Event
Moderated by Reed Johnson, Managing Editor, Zócalo Public Square

Blue is, perhaps, the most poignant color. From Picasso’s Blue Period to Tennessee Williams’ “blue roses” to the Mississippi Delta Blues, the fifth hue on Newton’s centuries-old color wheel has come to convey depth, sadness, and yearning. Blue describes emotional states, musical and literary genres, and moral codes. And yet, historically, humans have found the color itself notably difficult to pin down—although blue was the first man-made pigment, it was also the last one to be given a distinct name in many parts of the world. How did blue come to occupy its singular scientific and cultural significance? What relationships exist between the history of blue pigments—ancient and precious lapis lazuli, biblical tekhelet, and rare indigo—and the wealth of meanings the term conveys today? Author of Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World Catherine E. McKinley, senior scientist at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts Marc Walton, art historian and author of Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour Carol Mavor, and Saturday Night Live original cast member and blues and comedy club owner Garrett Morris visit Zócalo to explore the science and sentiment of the color blue.