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Why make so much of fragmentary blue?

The color blue holds a mystical allure. Since ancient times, humans have been captivated by shades of blue that permeate our natural world. From brilliant lapis lazuli gems to deep ocean waters, blue hues have inspired art, culture, and imagination across civilizations. Yet our experience of blue in nature is often fleeting and ephemeral. Why then, does fragmentary blue captivate us so?

The Rarity of Blue in Nature

Blue pigments are rare in the natural world. Unlike shades of red, yellow, and green, which are abundant in plants, animals, and earth, true blue is harder to produce biologically. There are only a handful of blue minerals and organic compounds that provide bold blue color in living things.

Rare blues found in nature include:

  • Lapis lazuli – an intense deep blue stone prized since antiquity
  • Azurite – a bright blue copper mineral
  • Indigo – a blue dye extracted from certain plant leaves
  • Egyptian blue – an early synthetic blue pigment
  • Spirulina – a blue-green algae containing blue pigment

While blue can also be structural, from the scattering of light through the atmosphere, most bold blues in organisms require specialized biological processes to produce the pigments. This inherent rarity adds to blue’s allure as a color.

The Fleeting Nature of Blue

Many of the bolder blues we observe in nature are fleeting. They may only emerge under certain conditions, for limited periods of time. Some examples include:

  • Hydrangea flowers that shift from pink to blue based on soil pH
  • Morning glories that open with vibrant blue blooms that only last a day
  • Sea glass tumbled into an ephemeral pale blue over decades in the ocean
  • Blue ice formations that develop through precise natural processes

The ephemeral blue we observe amplifies its mystery and beauty. It adds appreciation for being able to observe the color while it lasts.

Blue as Symbolism

Blue has taken on rich symbolic meaning in human culture precisely because of its rarity and fleeting nature in the physical world. Some symbolic associations include:

  • Water – seas, lakes, rivers, rain evoke feelings of calm and tranquility
  • Sky – blue skies represent possibility, hope, lightness
  • Distance – blue horizons hint at the unknown, imagination
  • Spirituality – blue light filters through stained glass in religious spaces
  • Coolness – blue gives sensations of cooling, relaxation

Blue is often used deliberately in cultural contexts to evoke these symbolic meanings.

The Science and Physics of Blue

Our experience of color is intimately linked to the physics of light and perception. Blue has distinct properties that contribute to its appeal.

Wavelengths and Rayleigh Scattering

Blue light has short wavelengths ranging from about 450-500 nanometers. Shorter wavelengths diffuse and scatter more than longer red/orange wavelengths as sunlight passes through our atmosphere. This rayleigh scattering gives the sky its blue appearance.

Perception of Blue

Blue cones in our retinas allow us to perceive light in the blue wavelength. But blue also has interesting quirks in human vision. While we can distinguish subtle shades of blue well, we are also more sensitive to differences in brightness of blue compared to other colors.

Aesthetic Appeal

Blue is considered one of the most aesthetically pleasing colors. It rates highly on visual appeal compared to both warm and cool colors. The balance of vibrancy and calm makes blue universally liked across cultures.

Examples of Blues in Nature

Despite its rarity in nature, we can find gorgeous examples of blues that showcase the appeal of fragmentary blue.

Blue Subject Description
Blue whales The largest animals on Earth, blue whales are a rare glimpse of deep indigo blue contrasted with ocean waters.
Blue jays From their brilliant azure feathers to sapphire blue wing markings, these songbirds showcase striking blues.
Blue butterfly Butterfly wings can feature microscopic blue scales that produce shimmering sky blue iridescence.

Even common blues remain uniquely vibrant and special against the landscape of nature. Each fleeting instance captures our imagination.

Blue in Art and Culture

The use of blue pigments and dyes in art also embodies the appeal of fragmentary blue. From precious lapis in Egyptian artifacts to the ubiquitous ultramarine in medieval illumination, blue has enduring cultural meaning.

Early Art and Dyes

Natural sources of blue were highly prized in ancient and classical art. From Egypt to China, rare minerals like lapis lazuli and azurite provided jewel-toned blue.

Indigo dye from the leaves of a variety of Indigofera plants created rich blue shades in fabrics and artworks in many cultures. Mayan artisans crafted bright blue pigments from indigo and clay.

Ultramarine Blue

In medieval European art, ultramarine blue became the most expensive and desirable pigment. Made from finely ground lapis lazuli, the deep blue color was reserved for only the most luxurious commissions.

The high cost of ultramarine led artists to develop cheaper blue pigments, helping make blue more widely accessible.

Blue in Decor

Blue continues to dominate interior design and architecture. From accent walls to aquatic themes, blue creates serene and soothing spaces.

Lighter blues can make rooms feel more expansive, while bolder blues add drama and luxury.


The fragmentary flecks of blue we catch in nature, art, and culture leave a lasting impression. The visual and symbolic power of blue belies its rarity. We are drawn to each instance of blue as a temporary lens to beauty, imagination, and meaning.

Our attraction to the ephemeral nature of blue speaks to deep human yearnings. Blue offers us a glimpse into the vastness of sky and sea that contrasts our small place in the cosmos. It provides hope that there is more beyond what we can grasp. Fragmentary blue leaves us wanting more.