Question about Rothko

Joe Underwood, asked me the following question about a Mark Rothko painting.

“Hi Tom. Can you explain to me how to appreciate these colored rectangles. I have some difficulty with some abstract art, but simple pieces like these give me the most trouble.

Joe, I’ll give it a try, and I thought I’d share what I say to others on my blog, because you are not the only one that feels this way.

First, you don’t have to like it, and that is very important. There are two parts to great art, one is the well seasoned opinions and commentary of many in the art field as to which artists stand out, and the other is whether you the viewer like them or not.

I appreciate great artists, but don’t LIKE most of them for one reason or another. And the ones I do love, often have paintings that I don’t care for, while other paintings of theirs, I just adore. I also often like bad paintings for one reason or another, and that’s fine too.

So not liking any artist or any painting is your personal choice. But I think it is also important to understand why many think a painter is worthy of appreciation whether you and I like or don’t like them And many do think Rothko is a very great painter.

So now we come to the other part. Whether you like him or not, the question is; why do others appreciate this artist and his work. What do they see in it that is worthy.

First I wrote this short essay for all people who have questions about any abstract art. https://musea.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/short-essay-on-abstract-art/

This will show you how painters can put a great amount of emotion and feeling into an abstract painting.

BTW, I paint both abstracts and realism, and abstracts are just as difficult or sometimes harder. For example, with great abstract works, every inch of the painting has to work together. You don’t have to do that with realism. I think abstract works are very difficult, and I think most so called abstract artists are not very good!

Now back to Mark Rothko. He is one of my favorites, and I think I can tell you why. I’ve even painted in that manner and will add an example later.

Google Mark Rothko. Now press the Images button up near the top. What you will see is a lot of his works. Take a look at the page and maybe the next and the next after.

There is a lot of color there. With some paintings the color works together to make a harmonious painting. Some the colors clash and make a more upsetting painting.
If I asked you to find the most cheerful painting on the page could you? What about the most dreary? I bet you could, because color and shape can do that.

Rothko didn’t start out with these blocks of color. That developed. His early work is not my favorite. It doesn’t really stand out from any of the other painters in that style. But I love much of this later work, like the piece that started this conversation.

First of all his paintings are big. And like many meditative things, they are simple, and for me and many others, profound, zen like, spiritual. The blocks and the field of color they seem to float in, could symbolize ying and yang, male and female, light and dark, yes and no, etc., but whatever you see, there is something more than just color to his best paintings .

Finally imagine this. You go to a chapel to meditate. Behind the altar is a large painting. It is big enough to envelope your eyes so that that is most all you see. You kneel and look up.

Which would lend itself to a more reflective experience, one of Rothko’s paintings with these huge nebulous blocks of floating color, or say a realistic portrait of a religious figure?

Take your favorite from these 3 pages of his works, and imagine that in your mind, full sized, behind the altar of the chapel. What do you think?

Hope this helps,
Tom

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