To vanish. To let yourself go into the unknown. To dive into the blue means to leave without a trace. But why blue and not any other color? And does it have to be as negative as it sounds?
The Collins dictionary is simple in its explanation:
“into the unknown or the far distance”. And trying to get an answer more elaborate than this from its peers is a tough job. The response is as short as the phrase, because its meaning is, as well, specific. Into the blue stands for disappearing, leaving, never being heard of again, vanish, leave. The part of why this color and not any other hue, though, is not as consensual or explored in the realm of the internet, nor in the most upheld digital encyclopedias. There are theories and thoughts, as trying to figure out why the pantone was associated with this idea of far away and disappearing is possible with a bit of help from logic, To vanish into the blue, one wonders, is to assume a vast area of the color, like, for instance, a blue sky. To confirm the idea, maybe it’s helpful to get another expression that seems to have been simplified afterwards to what we know now as “into the blue”: in 1939, Robert Crawford writes the lyrics for the song Army Air Corps, about the US Air Force, with “Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing into the sun”, suggesting this idea that the sky is an infinite blue. And everyone knows you can get lost and disappear in infinity - it’s not a coincidence that Buzz Lightyear’s (Toy Story, 1995) catch phrase is “to infinity and beyond”. But back to “into the wild blue yonder”, which in fact could be a predecessor of Buzz’s mantra, the phrase ended up becoming “into the wide blue yonder”, instead of wild, meaning a concept of vastness. So, blue, not only as the sky, but as a hue, is also a symbol of infinity - and of void. For the same logic, vanishing into a vastness of blue means not only looking up, but looking down as well. Looking deep.
Into the sea, the ocean, water, the deep blue something. Here, the concept of “into the blue”, or better yet, its deeper meaning, has a rationing even more logical, even perhaps cemented on science, and that has to do, as well, with the phenomenon of light refraction, happening when light goes from one transparent environment to another, but with different densities. When light goes through the skies and penetrates in a denser environment, like the sea, for instance, its propagation speed diminishes and it ends up deviating more (same happens when the situation is the opposite - if it goes from a higher density to a lower one, the speed is swifter). AS a form of electromagnet radiation, light behaves in water in a different way than other environments and, in the ocean in particular, the luminous intensity decreases exponentially when it gets deeper and deeper, something that’s called “attenuation” and that derives from two factors: absorption (transformation of electromagnetic radiation into other energy formats through light absorbing elements, like phytoplankton or dissolved organic matter) and light dispersion (the change in the direction of electromagnetic energy thanks to the several reflections in the water molecules and dissolved and suspending particles - the higher density and quantity of these translates into a bigger dispersion of light in the water when comparing to its behavior in the air). Thus, looking into the ocean in its deepest areas is to not being able to see its bottom and imagine that any body that dives in there will vanish into its darkness, thus, underlining this idea of vanishing “into the blue”.
But vanishing into the blue - even though widely and commonly connected with this negative idea of someone who’s left without notice, evaporated - doesn’t have to have that defeated approach, mainly in a world where visibility is currency and scrutiny - vigilance - is as natural as you morning coffee with a pastry on the side. Maybe the expression doesn’t necessarily have to be damning. “Into the blue” may, after all, not mean to lose oneself, but rather getting lost. It may not mean vanishing, but rather disconnect. It may not mean evaporate, but become invisible (even if just for a period of time): to leave, but not going away; to become absent, but not fading away. When you fly through a blue sky destined to an exotic place or faraway country, into the blue gains a whole other dimension of peace and serenity - it’s not strange at all, then, that blue, no matter what depressive meaning it may get from the expression “feeling blue”, is also a synonym for nouns that call for contemplation. The American musician Moby released, in 1995, a song appropriately called Into The Blue with the following lyrics: “Let in some air I dare lie down / To stare at the sky/I am wide open / Reaching forever / I fly into the blue”, corresponding the phrase to this idea of freedom and not of fate. He wasn’t the only one doing so. “Tonight, I’m running free / Into the blue”, sang Kylie Minogue, in 2014, in the theme with the same title - turns out, naming a song Into the Blue is a popular move. And the Australian that sang so many truths in songs like Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, I Should Be So Lucky and, of course, Loco-Motion, could never be wrong in matters as important as these. Indeed, if you’ve already done outdoor sports that involve the sky or the sea - gliding, sky-diving, bodyboarding or, in my case, surfing - you’ll know exactly what it feels like this feeling of freedom in shades of blue. Any of these sports means disconnecting from your mundane and daily issues to exist only in that moment, aware that any distraction can imply a situation of danger. The focus shifts from the “outside world” to remain in this deep blue something, be it the sea or the sky; the brain gives way to instinct and calms any kind of overthinking; the body goes into energy mode to let adrenaline and endorfinesg - happiness hormones - take charge. In practical terms, the analogy of shutting down gets almost literal if you think that in any of these situations there’s much point in being accompanied by any electronic device: you can’t check you Instagram notifications mid-air, and, even if your smartphone is watereroof, there’s no way there’s room for it in your wetsuit. There, amidst nowhere blue, you can fully exist and disappear all at once.
It’s not by chance that the blue hue is the star of the phrase “into the blue” - and that the expression can both be interpreted as something good or bad. Besides the examples above, that correlate the tone with the ocean and the stratosphere, blue is also a contradictory color, because it’s a symbol as diverse as good and evil: it represents spirituality, eternity, transparency, pureness, peace and even letting go of mundane life (after all, in catholicism, it’s the color of Virgin Mary’s robe), but blue is also the color of sadness, it’s a cold hue, often used to describe feelings linked with depression (baby blues for postpartum depression or simply feeling blue as a way of saying you’re feeling down). Curiously, the german poet, artist and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 –1832), had something to say about the color spectrum in his book The Theory Of Colors, from 1810, an essay on nature, function and color psychology. Even though his assumptions may have generated some sort of controversy in the scientific community, his thoughts are nevertheless interesting, namely when refuting one of Newton’s ideas on that same spectrum: whilst Newton believed that the darker hue of the color had something to do with a passive absence of light, Goethe believed that darkness was an active component of the color spectrum. In his view, “light and his absence are necessary for the production of color… coloring itself is a degree of darkness”. About blue, he wondered - the essay is a figment of his own ideas, many of them with no scientific support, and yet, fascinating nonetheless - that “this color has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful — but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose”, adding that “as the upper sky and distant mountains appear blue, so a blue surface seems to retire from us. But as we readily follow an agreeable object that flies from us, so we love to contemplate blue — not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it”.
His definition has no scientific grounds, but intrigued and inspired generations of philosophers and scientists. And adds a new layer to this exploration of a phrase that is as simple in its translations as it is complex in the elaboration and perception of its origin, making way to this analogy: we disappear completely into the blue because it also appeals to us. In fact, philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau (1817 –1862) also wrote, in different entries of his journal, that “we love to see any part of the earth tinged with blue, cerulean, the color of the sky, the celestial color. (…) The blue of my eye sympathizes with this blue in the snow. (…) Blue is light seen through a veil”, manifesting shamelessly his love for blue and elaborating on this idea of wide blue yonder: “we will remember within what walls we lie, and understand that this level life too has its summit, and why from the mountain-top the deepest valleys have a tinge of blue; that there is elevation in every hour, as no part of the earth is so low that the heavens may not be seen from, and we have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon”. He wasn’t the only one approaching blue and got to similar ideas as Goethe: Wassily Kandinsky (1866 –1944), Russian painter, speaks of blue as transcendent, confirming this though of a blue that captivates you, but also engulfs you. In his Concerning The Spiritual In Art, the art theorist states that “The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements (1) of retreat from the spectator, (2) of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper. Blue is the typical heavenly color… The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest… [Footnote:] Supernatural rest, not the earthly contentment of green. The way to the supernatural lies through the natural. (…) When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human… When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant. In music a light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a thunderous double bass; and the darkest blue of all — an organ”.
To vanish. To let yourself go into the unknown. To dive into the blue means to leave without a trace. To go “into the unknown or the far distance”, says the Collins Dictionary, simply put ting it. It can also be used en passant or hide countless meanings of the human emotional experience. To let yourself be seduced by blue may mean absence, disappearing, but not necessarily in a bad way. It can be a purposely absence, premeditated, chosen. As blue has a light and dark side, as any color spectrum, this expression that gives it a dimension of fate can also be a synonym of escape. In fact, the verb “blueing” (azular, in Portuguese), existe and Priberam describes it as an intransitive verb that, informally, means “to flee, escape, runaway”. Maybe we should have start from here…
*Translated from the original version from Vogue Portugal's Into the Blue issue, published october 2020.