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Monday, January 31, 2011

A focus on blue

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If you focus on one thing among the many, a deeper connection ensues. It’s like a research paper. You lug an underarm tower of books from the library to scour the one thing. You become consumed by blue whales, for instance (not literally, one hopes) and along the way you learn about plankton.

And the blue in the ocean.

I visited the cathedral at Chartres, like a ship in a field. Its thousand-year-old windows sang wet and saturated songs of blue. An ancient melody of a clear conscience. Guilt-free. How did they get the blue up there high in the holy arches so close to Heaven? And how did the man-dominated church manage to commission this freedom, clarity and hope from the makers of that glass? What contract with the sun to illumine the labyrinth -- so cold, so hard and mysterious, crawled by hopeful, prayerful knees?

Blue became a thesis. French blue.

And so the research project that was really just a recognition, an attention-paying, a consciousness, tucked itself into the soft heart’s cortex.

Two years later and it’s the Van Gogh gallery at the Orsay. You know how it goes. You are being attentive to the Degas ballet bronze. The train station converted to a creamy dreamy galley-dome. The special exhibit of smoke rising like alive ribbons. The wall-size clock window framing the distant Sacré-Cœur on the Montmartre butte (embraced by a blue sky), a white counter-point to the Orsay’s arc. You are beyond emotion already, in a state of above, of afloat. You walk into the room of Van Goghs, which is just a white cube with two doorways like so many museum rooms. White sand. Or wheat. And there is the water of blue that has lapped itself in your psyche like an unstoppable tide that comes back over and over to your shore.

Paintings on the white walls: the mid-afternoon silky blue sky above siesta sleepers against a haystack; an indigo dome asterisked with stars that declares: I exist; calm sky-blue walls of a bedroom neatly stocked with a blonde wood bed, dresser and chair. Everything else recedes -- all colors, all paints, all frames, even stars -- and only blue steps forward, like waves. Where do you turn when you reunite with blue?

Only around and around.

Tears.

Guilt, or bitterness, runs out to another room where a color like Delacroix red turns it into desire.

How does color tell our hearts what to feel?

If you pay attention to one thing on your way through the many, your heart will connect. (This can be beautifully pleasant, and also painfully difficult, depending on the point of focus.)


Hand-stitched wool crewel blue peacocks on my Indian bag.


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61 comments:

Ginnie said...

If it weren't for blue, Ruth, I'm sure you'd no longer exist. I know you.

Friko said...

It is the depth of colour, colour lit up by light as in the great Cathedral, which reaches inside you. Colour and light go together.

Perhaps that is why today's museums are cubes of white light, all the better to bring paintings to life.

Drowning in colour and light stills my heart; I feel nothing that can be measured or expressed; perhaps it takes someone like you to put it into words and on to the page.

Bonnie said...

Your words sparkle with the beauty only depth can reveal, Ruth. Luminous. Numinous. You draw us into liminal space and we leave blessed.

Susan said...

I wonder if I could recreate that yellow in Van Gogh's painting for my kitchen walls...the perfect background for my blue & white plates.

I have a strong connection to soft greens. My bedroom is painted a soft sagey green. I mentioned how the color calms me to my former DIL who is a psychologist and she informed me that's the very same reason that most mental institutions paint their walls the same color. What does that say about me? ;)

Shari Sunday said...

Beautiful pictures, beautiful words, beautiful blues. Blue is not on the top of my color list. I gravitate toward greens and yellows. So I kind of need for someone to grab my eye and help me see. Thank you for grabbing my eye. I like the peacock handbag.

George said...

Delightful, Ruth, like a quick tour through a labyrinth of love, enveloped by blue, desiring nothing but to lie down on Van Gogh's haystack and stare into the blue infinity.

ellen abbott said...

blue was my favorite color for most of my life. almost every piece of clothing I owned was blue. now I include green and purple.

Woman in a Window said...

i think in the beginning the world was black and white. i think a woman on her bicycle, going to market with residual thoughts of her lover between her legs still wet, wore a handkerchief around her neck. with every flicker of movement and secret love, blue leaked into it. i think her husband was chopping wood in their yard. he saw her round the corner (they had a corner lot) and as he raised his axe with all he had in his shoulder, he noticed her blue scarf, her down turned eyes, and there in the violence of his hands as the axe fell, red was spilled, split into the crown of oak. and so it went like that through their lives, until this, this world we see, their residue. "How does color tell our hearts what to feel?" It doesn't. Our hearts tell colour what to be.

This so excites me, Ruth, how you carry one experience to another, regardless of time, but rather, according to something more deep and visceral.

xo
erin

Maureen said...

How beautiful your description is! I've visited those same places and seen those same paintings and you relight the memories. What a lovely visit this morning.

Woman in a Window said...

(I hope you don't mind me reposting this with a link to you.)

Dianne said...

I found you through Woman in a Window's link.
your writing and photography is stimulating and thoughtful.
Thank you,
you touched on a relationship issue for me this week, focus on one detail can be painful but also beautifully pleasant.
Dianne

Margaret Bednar said...

What an amazing journey today you have created - a mental and physical journey as I think of what all this means and noticing colors around me. I see I like splashes of reds and ... black (sculptural things) And golden colors and green. Ha. -- I just like color. But this blue on red is astounding. - the turquoise just sings as an accent. "Woman in a Window" gets an A+ for her effort here today. WOW - just beautiful.

Now, off to clean those closets - Hope I don't get buried ... like your poetry book pile! :)

Babs-beetle said...

One of Van Gogh's more peaceful paintings.

Colour is so important to us, but I wonder how many people don't realize that.

Deborah said...

http://www.patriciahampl.com/blue.html

Recently discovered, your blog is simply lovely and especially the beauty of this post on blue. It brought immediately to mind Patricia Hampl's book "Blue Arabesque" and the intoxicating effect it had on me, much as yours does today. Thank you.

JeannetteLS said...

I didn't even have to see your pictures to see your entry vividly in my mind's soul. Your descriptions, your thoughts--this one was pure poetry to me. I haven't seen CHartres in years, but I knew exactly what you meant about the blue so close to heaven... that Van Gogh. At any rate, just a wonderful entry.

Dutchbaby said...

Wonderful ode to blue, Ruth! I like that you show blue in all the different contexts, next to the cool turquoises and violets, and then with its vibrant complement yellow. Sometimes I get the feeling that Van Gogh loved yellow so much because it looks so terrific next to blues.

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

Ruth, I recently learned about love dumps - about doing them with such depth that any comment from someone is an intrusion.

I hope you will forgive me for intruding. I had to show thanks.

JeannetteLS said...

Well put Amy@soul Dipper. Especially after this.

Oh said...

You've taken me so many places here - and I love the pictures of the bag, the tpaestry, the threads, the colors of the threads and then of course weaving Chartres in there and mention of musee d'Orsay and set such emotions (all good!) astir that I nearly have to wonder where you are...?
What is it about French blue ( a color I was not to wear growing up, that along with orange. And now, the two are my favorites, especially juxtaposed.)

lovely. So glad I came over. But if I don't start conversing with the people (family) in the room, there could be an issue...it's just that I'm trying to get caught up with everyone!

Cheers!

Ruth said...

Boots, you do. And you were there for the first part, in Chartres.

It's like this for you with windmills, clocks, weathervanes . . .

Ruth said...

Friko, you make me think how much I would enjoy museum display design.

I wish you could see Marc Chagall's "America Windows" in Chicago. Illuminated from behind, the blue, yellow, red and even pink are like living things.

Lorenzo recently wrote about color, and what happens to it at night.

. . . By night
the moon siphons off
the colors of the world. . . .

Ruth said...

Bonnie, thank you very much. Your words really sparkled my day. I had to look up "liminal," and I love that thought. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Susie, that's the color, of the room I was telling you about! Well, mine was a little yellower. The complement would be quite stunning for your plates. Are they "blue willow"?

I love sage green too. Its softness is very soothing. What does it say about you that you picked it? That you know how to balance your busy life. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Shari.

Actually, blue is not a color I choose very often for clothing or home. But it is a color I'm drawn to in art, especially since Chartres.

Ruth said...

Thanks, George. You are often these days staring into your own "blue infinity" there by the ocean.

Ruth said...

Ellen, so you're definitely COOL.

Ruth said...

Erin, that's what I call a flash myth . . . or flash fable . . . or something else that says "timeless" and "archetypal" . . . yes. I like that you reposted it.

Ruth said...

Maureen, thank you for re-walking these sacred spaces here with me.

Ruth said...

Welcome and thank you, Dianne. True what you say. I also find that getting through the pain, the pleasure is fuller.

Bella Rum said...

Beautiful words. Beautiful images. Thank you for the treat.

Peter said...

I believe that the place where you really feel a colour, where you are – positively – invaded by it, is in the Chartres cathedral. There are many colours in these mostly 11th, 12th and 13th century windows, but it’s really the blue that dominates, that you feel and remember! “The Chartres blue”! (Did you walk the labyrinth?) :-)

20th Century Woman said...

You have reminded me of how much I love blue. I look up and can see a cobalt blue clothespin bag hanging on my clothesline, and the cerulean blue sky above. It's well to remember to notice these things.

Terresa said...

Love the India bag, what a treasure!!

And your question (a poem in itself):
"How does color tell our hearts what to feel?"

So much in the color blue, your post brings to mind a quote I read recently:

"Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in… in this world we actually live in, distance ceases to be distance and to be blue when we arrive in it."

— Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, 2005

Oliag said...

An ode to blue....lovely.

Blue seems to me to be winter's color...every photo I take seems to be blue...

ds said...

When I leave work and am struck by the color of the sky, I will think now of this. How lovely, Ruth. How amazing to wonder how color is able to tell our hearts what to feel. "If you pay attention to one thing on your way through the many, your heart will connect."
You do, and it does.
Thank you.

Ruth said...

Margaret, thank you, and I'm glad you enjoyed these colors together, and that you also look and notice colors around. Yes, I loved Erin's imaginative spark. There are just so many connections, if we are open to them.

As you worry about getting buried in closets, I am looking at the snow piling up outside. It will be a nice long day of it. Everything is closed, even the university. Baby, it's cold outside!

Ruth said...

Babs, did you know Van Gogh painted 150 paintings in the mental hospital alone? He astonishes me. Apparently he came alive with color when he traveled south in France. And then he gave it all away, to us.

Ruth said...

Deborah, welcome, and thank you very much. I also thank you for this view of Hampl's gorgeous book! The title alone is splendid. I discovered some time ago that there is a color called arabesque, which is like burnt orange, and that it is my color (from the colorstrology.com site. The subtitle of the book: A Search for the Sublime is equally appealing, and then the write-up about it, and where the Matisse painting takes her, is just remarkable. I would like to read this book.

Ruth said...

JeannetteLS, thank you very much. I find that focusing on color can be a good way to meditate and slow things down. In this case, in Chartres, the color blue just sort of descended upon me, and I was smitten.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, thank you for lending your artist's eye. The little I've read about Van Gogh tells me he became enraptured by color when he went into southern France (Arles). Imagine the countryside -- sunflowers, mimosa, all that yellow and gold, under that Provençal sky.

Ruth said...

Amy, I haven't heard that term love dumps. I'm glad you came, it was not an intrusion. Thank you for such a heartfelt visit.

Ruth said...

Hello, Oh, so good to see you!

Where am I? Where was I when I wrote this? I was back in blue, after reading a foreword by Heinrich Wiegand Petzet in the Letters to Cézanne by Rilke, a passage about blue. It took me back to Chartres. Then the museum, where I had what was almost like an out-of-boy experience, it was so euphoric.

Blue and orange, in their complementariness, are tremendous together.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bella. So glad to see you and your kind comment.

Ruth said...

Peter, that's a perfect word, positively "invaded" by Chartres blue.

Yes, we were fortunate that the chairs were clear from the floor so we could walk the labyrinth both times we've visited. I was interested that I was more moved by the blue of the stained glass than the labyrinth, which I had anticipated walking and being transported. I had probably set my expectations overly high. But the surprise of the windows . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you, 20th Century Woman, isn't it wonderful how a color comes forward when you pay attention to it? So many shades of blue. Ahhhh.

Ruth said...

Terresa, yes I love the bag! I don't recall where I found it, some antiques store. It's a little fragile, and so I haven't even used it. I just gape at it.

The Solnit quote is extraordinary in its vision. Of course -- the sky, the ocean -- these are about distance, and longing.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I agree about blue and winter. I think it's one reason I love both so much.

Ruth said...

ds, thank you, my friend.

cathyswatercolors said...

Hi Ruth, My heart bleeds colors and i am probably not disciplined enough to concentrate on one thing. I am to distrated and impulsive. Blue hmmm, blue blizzard,blue snow. Hope you are safe and warm. Enjoy your day. I'm off to paint,perhaps something blue .xoxocb
p.s.Love that bag and the memories of carrying books home to do a research paper is a fond one but one that i don't miss. I prefer the freedom to research as i wish. Hey do kids still carry books home for research? I doubt it?

Jeanie said...

Color. I simply adore color and blue is probably my favorite "live with" -- all shades. Turquoise and aqua, cobalt and sky. How wonderful seeing this color everywhere and so thoughtfully and thoroughly explained -- and soulfully, too.

Seeing Chartres; hearing the perfect description of the d'Orsay. And yes, that Indian bag is to die for!

freefalling said...

Told you we are connected by an invisible thread - we are both thinking of blue this week on our blogs.
Yours - on a bit of a different level from mine!
but they are both blue, right!?

Whenever I read one of your posts I usually have to go away and digest it.
I don't have the intellectual rigour (or is it vigour?) to immediately process your words.
It's kind of the same with Rauf's posts - I don't have the immediate access to my feelings to see clearly the things he expresses.
Recently I've been looking at some of your older posts and I was amazed how clearly I
remembered the things you wrote about it.
It was like I had just read them yesterday (ones from like 3 years ago).
I dunno what that means, I'm just saying.

freefalling said...

Oh yeah.
And I LOVE that bag!

Arti said...

You have brought me back to Paris, Ruth. d'Orsay is my favorite museum among all that I've visited... I like its simplicity and elegance. It's amazing how a train station can be turned into something so beautiful. Your meditation on blue is mesmerizing... and your prose reads like poetry. Thank you for sharing your quiet reflections. I know I'd learned something about writing every time I visit.

who said...

I think I hear what you are saying, although to be honest, the only reason I can understand it is because of my grandmother, and her attitude towards death. Her total acceptance of it and not afraid to be honest about it. She talks about the day she will continue on with spiritual life outside of her worldly body, as if it is just another day. And she is well aware, that for her, that day is coming very soon.

She is almost 100 years old, and still mentally sharp as a tack. She is the wisest person I know of to this day, in her age, as she naturally exists. If the entrance to heaven really was like passing through a gateway, and every person was told they had to keep it open in order for her family to be with her, yet every time she walks away she hears and sees the gate shut tight and lock.

The reason I know that what we are told is not true, is because of her. Because of her wisdom, because of her sound mind, and buy her recent attitude toward what she knows is coming.

so even though I don't understand it, I thank you Ruth, and I thank my grandmother. I thank you both for letting me know who each of you truly are. Because unless I knew without a doubt I was in fact the last one through that gate. I would not get to pass through. And now I feel like the rest of my life will not be wasted holding the gate open. Because it doesn't bother me if they are being honest or not, or whether heaven is all that and more and being locked out is really all that bad.

Because I know that if either you or her are worthy of my undying faith and trust, and that with just one other person who are the type of person you and my grandmother are, is all that is needed to build a heaven exactly the same for anybody who may have gotten left behind. And with just one other person like my grandmother or you, there is not an existence anywhere that exists, where together we could not build a new heaven, completely from scratch.

Ruth said...

Cathy, you=color. Red tulips, in February! During the biggest snowstorm of the decade . . . maybe half century. Quince! Blue! Yellow! I can rely on you.

I do not know, frankly, if students carry a pile of books home for research papers. I hope so. I'll ask.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, wouldn't it be a fun Paris or France adventure, to study a color? Choose one of van Gogh's, or Cézanne's, and research it (in a fun way), document it with photos . . . one of those reds of Cézanne's apples, or the gold-yellow of van Gogh.

One day I'd like to see the Azure coast of southern France.

Ruth said...

Letty, levels? Oh, you mean you're "down under"? That kind of level. Yes we are on very different levels. You are in the middle of summer for one thing! And we've just had the biggest snowstorm since the 1970s.

Intellectual rigour-vigour? Acckkk! Oh dear. But you went back and read? Ahh, sweetie.

I only write from my heart, Letty. I think rauf has given up on me, the blog I mean. I don't know what it means either. Things evolve I guess. I am certain the posts have changed from years ago, because I've changed. I dunno what that means, I'm just saying.

Love you. And yeah, me love the bag too. I've never carried anything in it. I'm afraid the handles will break.

Ruth said...

Arti, you have visited a lot of museums, so that is saying much. The main concourse of the Orsay is . . . how to describe it . . . soothing. The beauty of it is not intrusive, but is uplifting. The light! The light. I want to be there. And every step is drawn to that clock-window.

This post was a bit freefalling (borrowing Letty's pseudo). That's what blue does to me, this blue.

I hope you can go back to Paris, for a long leisurely stay.

Ruth said...

Dusti, I treasure your heart. I treasure your grandmother. What you wrote is a treatise to the only kind of heaven I'm interested in. I want no other.

deb colarossi said...

Ruth,

I'm in awe.
That is all.
I wish I could write a paragraph that says that.


I like also to think of blue in connection to Mary, that as women, daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, ... we are sacred and connected.

freefalling said...

Ruth - yeah - I see you write from your heart.
But you're lucky you can translate heart stuff into an understandable language - and that needs a clever brain. I think that is what makes a good writer or artist - you're kind of like an interpreter.
We all feel and see things but they get stuck inside coz we don't have the gift to be able to express them through the beauty of words or let them translate onto a canvas.
Something or someone touched you with stardust to make you special.

(And nah, I don't reckon Rauf's given up on your blog)