New Study Shows Blue Is Art World’s Most Popular Color

But technology could be thwarting the trend.

Andy Hope 1930 X-Medley 1, 2012.
Image: courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Blue has become the go-to color for tech companies—just take a look at the apps on your smartphone (see The Cindy Sherman App: Not Worth 99 Cents). The trend is explained by the color’s evocative power in branding, as these fool-proof web-design infographics explain. But, as a recent study shows, the art world, too, might be afflicted with “Blue fever.”

Martin Bellander, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, has noticed that certain colors feature more prominently than others in fields related to art and entertainment. He found out that, while film trailers tend to be hot orange, artworks were increasingly rendered in cool blue tones.

The Blue Centuries

Bellander downloaded over 130,000 pictures of fine-art paintings from the Internet, to compare dominant colors over two centuries, the Smithsonian Magazine reports.

His sources for paintings made between 1800 and 2000 were websites like BBC, Google Art Project, Wikiart, and Wikimedia  Commons.

Zooming in on a random range of 100 pixels from each image, he plotted the fragments on a graph to give an overview of how color preferences transformed over time.


Blue has been on the rise in oil paintings since 1800Image: via

Blue has been on the rise in oil paintings since 1800
Image: via

Bellander shared his findings on his blog, and concluded that a discernible shift from orange to blue took place in the 20th century.

“The changes in color might be the result of a combination of factors,” he cautioned. “For example the marked increase of blue at the time of the First World War, might actually reflect a true trend in color use,” he said.

Other factors could also explain the shift, like a drop in the price of indigo, or the growing awareness to the toxicity of cadmium (mainly used for red, orange, and yellow: see Ban on Cadmium Pigments Could Change Art Forever).

However, as the Smithsonian Magazine‘s Erin Blakemore points out, the technology itself could be flawed, making darker shades appear blue in digital reproductions of paintings.

Could the Blue Trend Be Over Already?

Whatever is behind this trend, it could also be already dated. Analysing our social media habits, a recent study showed that red, pink and purple images are the most shared online (see Colors Dictate Online Image Sharing, Study Claims).

What’s more, 2015 is all about the earthy red-wine hue called “Marsala” (see Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year Is Marsala).

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