Feeling blue is not all bad

When I was a little girl, my dad and I would duet – he on guitar, me on voice. One of his favorite albums was Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” I liked the song “River” best. It sounded like Christmas, and Christmas was my favorite holiday.

As I grew older, I began to appreciate all of the songs on her fourth album: “A Case of You,” “California,” and especially, “Blue.” Perhaps it’s because I was beginning to understand the various facets of relationships – from infatuation to insecurity – Joni was commenting on.

“Blue” was a critical and commercial success, reaching 15 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 in the UK Albums Chart. In January 2000, the New York Times chose “Blue” as one of the 25 albums that represented “turning points and pinnacles in 20th century popular music.”

When my father was first diagnosed with cancer my junior year of high school, I turned to another album.

I told a mentoring teaching assistant about my situation. The next day he gave me a CD he’d burned: Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” I must have listened to the album about 100 times during dad’s chemo. Still to this day, the song “Green in Blue” tenders me great melancholic reflection.

On Oct. 7, 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album quadruple platinum in sales. Many critics regard it as the greatest jazz album of all time, and Davis’ personal masterpiece.

Of course musicians are not the only artists who’ve been inspired by blue.

The vivid blue pigment that is extracted from the stone lapis lazuli (Lapis Lazuli ultramarine pigment) was first noted in sixth and seventh century AD cave paintings in Afghanistan temples where the stone was most predominantly mined. It has also been found in some Chinese paintings dating from the 10th and 11th centuries AD, and in a few Indian murals dating from the 11th, 12th and 17th centuries AD.

Italian painters of the 14th through the 15th centuries AD used the brilliant color to complement their vermilion and gold illuminated manuscripts and panel paintings. Painters of the Renaissance had a strong affinity for the color due to its vivid rich consistency. Because of the costly manner by which the pigment is extracted, natural ultramarine blue has been one of the most costly and precious of the artist materials equaling and sometimes exceeding the price of gold.

More specifically, the Blue Period of Pablo Picasso (1900-1904) is used to define the works that he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green.

Henri Matisse’s Blue Nudes refer to a series of gouaches decoupes (1952), among his final works in any medium.

And Yves Klein’s Monochrome works, The Blue Epoch, is his trademark ultramarine pigment. He patented the color as International “Klein Blue” in 1961.

Many critics and lovers of art regard each of these blue phases (from Joni to Klein) as some of the greatest work in history. I’ve begun to notice this tendency in lieu of my own draw to the color.

Perhaps it was my recent trip to the Mediterranean that has encouraged my newfound recognition of blue: in the clothes I wear, the first color to take note in my mind when looking at a vista.

But I think that maybe another reason is because I’m at a great “turning point” in my life: I have officially moved in with Brian and have begun to write fiction/plays full time. Also, I was accepted into the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee. For the next two weeks I will be working with renowned artists of various mediums: Richard Bausch, Diane Johnson, Jill McCorkle, Alice McDermott, Tim O’Brien, Robert Hass, Daisy Foote

A few people have commented on my blue nail polish.

Some people wear blue to appear more approachable, others think blue when they are melancholy, and then there are those who look to blue to find peace. I think that artists who are inspired by any tint or shade of the hue draw from each of these feelings all at once. I know I am.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to


or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com