Monday, July 30, 2007


"Silence is so Accurate"
-Mark Rothko

(no. 14; 1960)

This past weekend in Minneapolis, Tim, Erik, and I had a chance to sit and talk about art over a couple beers. We started talking about the habit of revisiting the "heavy hitters" of art history when each of us are in that occasional artist's block - going back and looking at the people whose work punches you in the gut, for inspiration when you're having a dry spell in the studio.

I had forgotten about how nice that conversation was until tonight, as I happened upon Simon Schama's Power of Art on PBS:
Power of Art

Tonight's episode was on Rothko, one of my personal gut-punchers. Sandwiched between the time when the facets of Modernism had solid legs to stand on and when pop exploded via Lichtenstein or Warhol, Rothko's work always seemed to stand proudly on its own as an artist's life-long searching, asking, meditation. Even today, as some of his work hangs on the walls of the Tate Modern, where the wildest, hippest, newest contemporary work of today's world-at-your-fingertips info age rule, Rothko's paintings stand strong, as the host of the show put it, "not concerned with the 'here and now,' but with 'forever'."

(Rothko room at the Tate Gallery, London)

I've always thought Rothko's work was extremely important for another reason... it's one of the somewhat universal "gateways" for lay persons to become interested in what might be dubbed "high art." Think of how many times you have heard non-artists make comments like the good ol' "but *I* could paint that." Think about where statements like that come from - an underlying frustration those people hold against works they see on museum walls, because the piece in front of them doesn't have whatever sense of an 'honed craft' that they think works of high caliber must have. For example, take a Basquiat piece and imagine someone's frustrations. "My kid could do that. Why is it priced at 4 million dollars?" Well, in my experiences, Rothko's well-known work is more of an easier path for these folks. It's soft-edge color field abstraction at its best - to cheat all the beauty and power away and simplify things, it's usually 2 or 3 colors painted next to (and into) each other with a large clumsy brush opn a large canvas.

But... the beauty of it. The universal beauty, as you stand in front of it.

(Untitled, 1968)

If marajuana is the gateway drug to nastier pharmaceuticals, Rothko is the gateway artist to understanding and enjoying modern art.

...more coming on this, as soon as i have time to write more. Thoughts are kind of disjointed now.


Chao said...

I went to the Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX. Talk about heavy hitting. As much as I rib the guy's work as "anybody could do that" (but only to non-artists), I think his work is THE BEST example of how moving a TITLE to a piece of artwork is important to its absorption.

I've known you for 300 years and I never knew you were in bed with Rothko. I'm downs with that...

Matt said...

i'd love to see the chapel. i'd even consider going far out of my way, on a trip to AZ or UT, just to see it.

dark, intense stuff; and not much time after completing it, he sliced his arms wide open with a razor, killing himself.

on a side note, evidently there's also a Cy Twombly building on those grounds. excellent.