IS VIOLET BLUE?

Posted on: 01/10/2022

Is violet blue? Or is it more accurately described as purple? Violet could be described as a bluish purple. Purple as a color is bluish red. But does that then, by deduction, make violet blue? ...is this just a matter of semantics? Does it matter that we consider red and blue primary colors, and purple a secondary color? Is violet then simply a tertiary color, a further delineation of hue? Well, yes. But then why are roses red, and violets blue?

Language is like a brick tower. Words, like bricks, are added to the structure, eroded elements are patched up or replaced, but each brick has four corners neatly defining its contents. A brick cannot be anything; it would not be a brick. A brick cannot be everything - that would not be a brick. A brick must be one thing: the idea of a brick or some physical representation of it.

When bricks combine to form a tower, the tower is then made up of walls. Walls serve a dual purpose: to keep some in, and to keep others out. The reality of the participant is determined by their proximity to the wall: you are living within the confines of the tower, or you are not. A language functions much the same, no matter the size or shape or color of your tower.

The continuous presence of a tower - whether it be of words or stone - serve its aire of legitimacy, but at the end of the day all towers are borne from brick that was, at some point, lain by another man. And all brick has its limitations: it can only be so large, or so small, before it loses its practicality. Brick can be dressed up in a facade, or laid bare, but its origins must originate somewhere on Earth (going off of our word metaphor - even abstract concepts must be somewhere within or relative to our limitations of perception). One borne into a brick tower then can only concieve of a world springing from within its walls: its permanence is a testament to its utility, it matters less who laid the brick and more each brick's perserverance throughout time.

But, a tower is only good for as long as it can stand. In order for it to stand, it must, at the very least, be somewhat sturdy, mostly agreeable to its inhabitants, and on the whole, navigable. The only exception is if the tower, or language, is symbolically important or of historic consideration. The structures of language are maintained as long as they serve their purpose, as it is much easier to renovate and repair than it is to construct from ground up - even if the style is outdated or has lost relevance.

Similarly, the longevity of a structure is not strictly correlated to its perfectness or of its sheer utility; it often has more to do with its location and popularity. Much like buildings, the nature of linguistic standards are often coincidental, and only become standard through exposure and evolution over time. In a more immediate way, languages and structures both draw definitive boundaries around (often) qualitative areas of life. Belief or conviction is often shaped by proclamation; the structures we build around ourselves are made from bits of borrowed brick that serve our ends, by their means. Our proclamations are only understood by the outside interpretation of their meaning, not as pure meaning itself.

If buildings and language are inherently neutral and serve as tools - both to protect and to divide - then in what regard should we choose to hold them? How do we lend our capabilities to construction, instead of the opposite? Of course, the opposite of structure is chaos, with unity acting as a careful balance of the two. Rigid structure allows no individuality and chaos allows no alliance. By understanding the nature of our tools and material reality there is hope to create a structure better suited to human needs.

So what about color? Color is a fascinating example of how the human utility of language has evolved to grapple with one of the most subjective pheonomena we are capable of experiencing (outside of ourselves). In a technologically advanced society, we have the means to chart every imaginable hue and name each one in turn. In the hex code color system, there are 16,777,216 seperately defined colors, all reproduable with modern LCD screens. And as for color-words, there are as many as there are Pantone swatches or paint chips in the hardware store. By all means there is a utility to differenate between the millions of perceptible shades of color - but only because of the standard of screen and print technology.

This sort of specificity evolved from the science of optics and chemistry of pigments; each taking root in the Age of Enlightenment. This was the first time light rays were observed and cataloged in a scientific manner. This led to the invention of the color wheel - possibly the most arbitrary manner of understanding color (despite its prominence). To understand why the nature of the traditional color wheel, we must analyze the origins of this system at its time of conception.

During the Enlightenment, scientific endeavors were justified as being a human pursuit of understanding God's endeavors. In this pursuit of honoring His divine order of creation, human practitioners were motivated by the idea of there being a perfect, discoverable system of systems. Isacc Newton, who recorded the wavelengths of light after observing light refract from a prism, designed a color wheel attempting to replicate light with pigment. He designated the ROYGBIV system: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The differences between blue, indigo and violet may be contested, but one thing is not: this system specifies seven seperate colors of light, in perfect harmony with the seven notes of the musical scale and the holy number seven. This is still the system taught today, whether its origins pertaining to God are known or not.

Words only exist because it is useful to differentiate two phenomena. There are languages with only three color-words: one approximately meaning "light" (which includes white and yellow), "red" (which includes some shades of yellow), and dark (which includes blue). From a practical angle, this makes sense in a society where "light" represents the color of daytime and the sun, "red" represents the colors of the earth, and "dark" represents the nighttime and bodies of water - and no further differentiation is useful. From a conceptual angle, this can be explained as a different understanding of the color spectrum. If we imagine all colors as varying intensities of yellow and blue, we can begin to understand this fuzzy barrier between words. If light emerges from the visible spectrum as the color red, which decreases in intensity to the color yellow (like food coloring). In-between yellow and blue resides green - and blue increases in intensity until it is violet, and then fades from the visible color spectrum. There exists a spectrum of color-words between either extreme - but each member of each society chooses how many best serve them.

So, to answer the opening question - violet can be blue, but it can also be purple, or it can be violet. The more pressing question is: should violet be blue?