Around the world, when people are asked what their favorite color is, one answer tends to leap out far and above the rest: the color blue. From the sky to the sea, blue is one of the colors we see the most in our day to day lives. Despite this universality, however, there’s no end of variety to the color blue – in shades or in meanings.

Like red, blue is one of the three primary colors, meaning it has no true constituents. A perfect blue stands entirely on its own. While it has an endless number of shades, a “true blue” in RGB is comprised of 0% red, 0% green, and 100% blue.

As one of the primary colors, blue’s history is as long as it is rich. While there is some debate regarding the origin of its name, most agree that the Old French and Middle English bleu or blwe are strong connecting points. While both of these did ultimately describe the color, their technical definition is often cited as “of the color of the clear sky.” These are also related to the Old High German blao, meaning shimmering and lustrous.

Notably, blue has one of the most resounding presences in art of any color, regardless of time or region. Though it’s impossible to know the first time blue was used for artistic purposes, its first documented use was in Ancient Egypt, where blue azurite was widely used in jewelry and décor. Fine porcelain in China and ultramarine pigment in Renaissance paintings further made use of blue’s thoughtful and bright shades, ensuring its place as one of the most poignantly used colors in art history.

In contrast to its sister primary color, red, blue is associated with a calm serenity over intensity or passion. When asked to visualize the a tranquil scene, chances are people will immediately imagine a great deal of blue – usually in the form of a still body of water. Thoughtful and still, blue represents a sense of inner reflection. A great deal of research has indicated that this impact on the body is indeed inverse to red’s, resulting in lower heart rates and even slower metabolisms.

In some cases, this serenity can be taken into the territory of emotional “coolness.” While refreshing, starker or abundant use of blue can become haunting and cold. This is particularly true of lighter tints, which can feel especially aloof. Depending on the context, this can come across as emotionally blunt or even dangerous.

Given the general binary of emotion and logic, it follows suit that blue is commonly associated with intellect and competence. In contrast to its relaxing effect on the body, blue stimulates the mind just as much. The presence of blue can aid in concentration and mental clarity – something that students often find useful when studying. Similarly, blue is often linked to confidence without aggression. In contrast to warmer colors, which closely marry feelings of power with feelings of anger and hostility, blue gives off a feeling of calm and authoritative competence.

On a less detached note, blue is also closely associated with feelings of trust and stability. To this end, bring to mind all the important jobs which employ blue as the main color in their uniforms. By using a color so strongly and commonly liked to dependability, they can ensure that people can rest easy relying on them to do their jobs effectively.

Blue is often cited as a color of sincerity, as well. However, it is notably often in a context of sadness. Perhaps due to its cold nature, blue can give off feelings of loneliness and isolation. Darker and richer shades can be particularly evocative of forlorn feelings. Though its gentleness and sincerity can be poignant, it can also call to mind feelings of grief.

Perhaps because there are so few blue foods in nature, blue is considered to be a highly unappetizing color. One might note, for example,  the lack of blue in most fast food logos! In contrast, blue does promote higher levels of productivity. Offices and schools employ it at length to bolster output and activity, often to great effect.

With its strong ties to both intellect and sadness, blue can be one of the most – or least! – emotionally charged colors to work with. Regardless of its context, it remains evocative and thoughtful, and its impact only grows depending on the colors that surround it.

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