This is the story of a blue most common, and most beloved. A blue that Thoreau thought needed to be Americanized, like Freedom fries. It’s the color of waves and stamps and too many paintings to count. It’s an accidental pigment, a happenstance color, and an antidote for heavy metal poisoning. Meet my sweetheart, Prussian blue.
I’m so sorry you can’t see her properly, because she is beautiful. Unfortunately, like many high-chroma (i.e., high-intensity) pigments, Prussian blue can’t be accurately displayed on a computer. Screens emit too much light to properly showcase the texture and depth of Prussian blue, a hue that is both a color and a material. Darker than cobalt and moodier even than indigo (and with enough green that it sometimes reads as a dark teal), Prussian blue is often called the first modern pigment. (A quick note: pigments and dyes are not the same. According to Color Studies by Edith Anderson Feisner, a pigment is a “powder that are in a binder such as acrylic or oil which covers and adheres to a surface. Dyes are pigments that are dissolved and absorbed in a fluid.”) The microcrystalline blue powder has been around since 1705. Its invention was, like penicillin and saccharin, the product of happenstance.
Instagram food has almost nothing to do with consumption as a gastronomic endeavor; instead, consuming Instagram food means acquiring it, and sharing proof of your acquisition. This flattens it out from a sensory experience into an aesthetic one; for the hungry audiences of the thin, conventionally attractive women whose hundreds of thousands of followers net them hefty checks, whatever’s being photographed is rendered calorie-neutral. It’s a visual-only binge.
Then Facebook and Twitter disrupted, in the traditional “made things worse” sense, the biz. Now when a user shares an article on their sites, a thumbnail image provides a preview of the article. If an article doesn’t have an image, social media will still pull in whatever it can—usually this is just a blown-up version of the website’s logo, though sometimes it’s another unrelated image from the same page, e.g. a thumbnail from another article. If the social media site can’t find any image at all, only the headline will be displayed. Websites fear that this makes them look unprofessional—or worse, boring—and drives away potential clicks. Even the fucking Economist now has a photo on every article on its website.
But what has increased in the age of distraction is our concern for the necessary conditions in which art could flourish. No longer can the world be kept at bay with the closing of a door; Woolf’s room of her own is now wired for internet. To look at my shelves of favorite novels written in feverish solitude and think that they might never have come to pass is also to know there must be many more today that are simply not being written. And so the greater truths found in solitude — in nature, like the Romantics’ “thoughts of more deep seclusion,” or in a country in which you don’t speak the language, in which no one knows your name — have never felt more rare and hard-won. The hermit sits alone no longer; he has a Facebook page to update.
The ride home from the airport isn’t particularly eventful. The communication of any actual news has been left to the siblings or my mother — my father and I rarely talk about anything meaningful. Instead, he likes to point out things we’re passing, or relay some mild fact gleaned from the Yahoo home page.
He brings a bag of sunflower seeds, the plastic cup into which he periodically spits his tobacco juice. Sometimes there’s an apple rolling around for me on the bench seat of his truck, or one of the packs of the gum he buys in bricks from Costco. My father, a famously opaque man, is made visible to me in these small ways. These small offerings.