Bookends: Red and blue in Cusco

Photo by Wells Baum (Cusco, Peru)

Red used to be the world's “first color,” writes historian Michel Pastoureau in his new book Red: The History of a Color. It was all people knew before blue emerged as a symbolic color in the 12th century.

The red color

It is the basic color of all ancient peoples (and still the color preferred by children the world over). It appears in the earliest artistic representations, the cave paintings of hunter-gatherers 30,000–plus years ago. Blood and fire (the domestication of the latter constituting an important human achievement) were always and everywhere represented by the color red.

Photos by Wells Baum

The blue color

Blue has become associated with peace and tolerance (as in the flag of the U.N. and its peacekeeping forces). In Pastoureau’s telling, blue is the color of consensus, of moderation and centrism. It does not shock, offend, disgust, or make waves; even stating a preference for black, red, or green is a declaration of some sort. Blue invites reverie, but it anaesthetizes thinking. Even white has more symbolic potential.

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Photo by Wells Baum

Read Red versus Blue

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Published by Wells Baum

A daily blogger who connects the dots between arts and life.

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