Yale Offering Freshman Seminar on a Single Color: Blue

Susan Jones | April 17, 2014 | 11:55am EDT
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( - "Honestly, what better subject could there be for a freshman seminar?" asks Jessica Helfand, the Yale College lecturer who is teaching a freshman seminar on the color blue. Just -- blue. But perhaps so much more.

Listed as an art class, the seminar "Blue" explores “the cultural and iconic history of blue as both a method and a motive for making work in the studio,” according to a report on the Yale website.

"I just love the idea that blue can be so many things to so many different people," said Helfand in an interview with YaleNews.

"It’s the color of the sky, the sea, the Earth from space; true blue to blue collar, blue blood to blue laws. It’s America’s favorite color, ubiquitous in gesture but ambiguous in nature, largely absent as a natural color in horticulture and mostly poisonous as a color in food," she said.

"I love the epic ambiguity, the persistent paradoxes, the mysterious tensions implicit in something so dull yet huge, so seemingly harmless yet rich and complex and to me, endlessly fascinating. Honestly, what better subject could there be for a freshman seminar?"

The report says the seminar touches on "cultural history, literature, film, language, and music."

Students in the class reportedly read poetry and literature featuring the color blue; visit art galleries to view blue works; they have met with a Yale scientist to learn about blue hues in nature; learned how to produce blue-themed artworks; "and discussed the many references to the color in language, among other explorations."

Nowhere in the article is the word politics mentioned, but in the modern lexicon, "blue states" are those that vote Democrat -- a label that apparently comes from the color-coded election maps used by the media during the contested 2000 presidential election.

Asked what she hopes students learn from her seminar, Helfand responded:

"To take chances and to be brave. To open up their minds and question their perceptions, to challenge their biases, to take risks with their ideas and with the execution of those ideas. I want them to view writing and visual work as complementary acts that collectively help you make sense out of the world, and your place in the world. They may not understand this until they are much older, but I think the seeds have indeed been sewn (sic)."

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