Beauty in the Blues

Exploring the landscape of this dark indigo ocean can yield bits and pieces of insight to help build a vocabulary for melancholy and re-dignify the idea of feeling blue.

I’ve seen creative people, myself at certain points included, lean away from exploring the sadness of others, and many times away from exploring the blue wash of their own sadness. ere is understandable ground for this. e wide horizon of exploring sadness can feel so ugly, and so referring to having “ e Blues” as it is known in common parlance, tends to be the way to mention some feelings of sadness while sidestepping the ugliness. When I observe it fully though, I’ve found that sadness can o en intersect with beauty, and I’ve also found that artists tend to be at that intersection of suffering and beauty. is is why I think that the artist is an invaluable tool in helping to re-dignify the idea of having e Blues by developing a vocabulary for melancholy that retains this beauty.

When I slow down enough while hand stitching leather pieces to look at the trees from across my tiny, auto unit-turned-studio, I see them dancing quietly. Sometimes they look like they are underwater. Behind them and always present is the open, azure SoCal sky.

When I was little boy I was left in the Philippines with my mom’s parents for the first year of my life because my parents were here in the States. I was adjusting to first grade in Southern California, and I remember looking out of my dad’s old navy blue Toyota pick up window when my mom asked me a question: “Bakit ka malungkot”? It is the Filipino equivalent of “why are you so blue?” I can’t remember my response. I just remember resting my little chin on my little knuckles. I propped my elbow on the backseat porthole window of the truck. I was looking at the blue sky.

As a person who currently grapples with Dysthymia and periodic Major Depressive spikes I am always moving through the blue gradient. When I think of each experience

the blue sky is present in both pictures, and I notice beauty and the blues pass glances. Maybe the sky gives a hint of melancholy for me because in all its broad, beautiful blue it is still fairly empty. When the sky is grey-blue and rainclouds shuffle in during summertime, it is called “June Gloom”. But I imagine the sky secretly hiding a grin behind the clouds because now a whole part of that empty sky is no longer empty. To perceive the different hues of blue that sadness and beauty produce at the same time maybe why the Blues are referred to in the plural.

Perhaps we can use all the ideas found within the Blues as a tall ladder, each rung a different shade of blue in the marine gradient, to help us dive into fresh ideas on humanness, sadness, and beauty. If we use the ideas that intersect in The Blues to illuminate a way of speaking about beauty and sadness maybe we can help others to discover how to speak in blue themselves. Exploring the landscape of this dark indigo ocean can yield bits and pieces of insight to help build a vocabulary for melancholy and re-dignify the idea of feeling blue.

When I looked up “the blues” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it also mentions a “style of music that was created by African-Americans in the southern U.S. that o en expresses feelings of sadness”. When I think of e Blues in musical terms, I admit I don’t immediately think of the colour blue. When I think of e Blues, I think of brown porches, wooden harmonicas, and chain gang spirituals echoing in a dust tinted old-town. What is interesting to me is that this earthy style of music which comes from the grit of black slaves and horrendous suffering is introduced with a title: The Blues – As if to evoke a kind of sacred reverence for the one who wears robes of scars on his back. I have concern over how the larger SoCal culture – my own backyard – leaves the experience of sadness un-explored because I’ve found that much redeeming beauty can be found in the trek. I can understand that it’s scary, but encompassing all of the hues of sadness with final stand-in phrases like, “I’m just feeling a little blue” – may really be saying little, if anything, about sadness at all. If cultures in a globalized world – specifically the artists and creative people in those cultures – cease to help create ways of speaking about personal and collective human sadness, then we may be doing human flourishing a disservice. It doesn’t sound wise to ignore a foundational component of being human.

I’m not a blues historian, but I’ve heard it said that it is not possible to teach the Blues. It is said that one must learn it for oneself. In the same sense, one cannot teach another – suffering – she must experience her own suffering and therefore learn it for herself.
It’s interesting to think about how The Blues is named after a primary pigment colour: Blue. Appropriately, suffering and melancholy are primary pigments in the painting of human experience. In other words, sadness is a foundational component in the experience of being human. If you are an artist, then you may be able to use your gifts to provide some creative ways to help others find nuggets of beauty despite the cloud of melancholy. You may not be able to teach others the Blues, but you have an opportunity to give people the creative inspiration to explore it for themselves; and perhaps you’ll explore it with them, too.
Written by Walter Cabal