My blind date with Mark Rothko

11:16 AM

Untitled by Mark Rothko, 1960

The other day I went out with Mark Rothko. And by that I mean that I saw his painting in real life for the first time.

I had already heard a lot about him before and because of that I was very anxious. Jackson Pollock told me: “Come on Paula, you like Abstract expressionism, right? So…You’ll love my boy Mark.”

Simon Schama told me all about him. How it was difficult growing up as a Jew in Russia. How his real name is Rothkowitz but he changed it to Rothko because of the rising anti-semitism. His struggles to paint the Seagram murals and to free color from form. How tortured he was and how he was inspired by Greek tragedies and Nietzsche.

It was with great expectations that I saw the above painting.

I had everything to like it. Willem de Kooning stood behind us smiling and whispering: “I think they’ll get along”.

But something wasn’t right. Do you know that Seinfeld episode where a girl breaks up with Jerry because she didn’t like his comedy act? It’s what happened between me and Rothko.

It seems that his personality and who he was (or at least who we think he was) are more interesting than his art. I stared at the painting asking: “What do you mean?” Rothko stared back angrily asking: “What do you mean?”

I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

What do you think of Rothko’s paintings? Have you ever liked an artist’s personality more than his art?

You can watch Simon Schama's documentary on Rothko here and the Seinfeld episode here (This Monday just keeps getting better and better huh?)

I've just read this is I. A. Richard's Practical Criticism and believe it applies perfectly here: "There cannot be much doubt that when we know we are reading Milton or Shelley, a great deal of our approval and admiration is being accorded not to the poetry but to an idol. (...) Far more than we like to admit, we take a hint for our response from the poet's reputation". p. 297

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  1. I really like this post! I think I might have similar feelings about Rothko. (Modern art isn't really my thing. Generally, I'm all about Turner, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Rembrandt...)

    I don't know if it's exactly that I like the personality better than the art (whatever form of art it is), but sometimes I am disappointed because I know I SHOULD enjoy someone's work more, but just don't seem to. One example is the poet W H Auden. Many people feel he's the greatest poet of the twentieth century. It's not that I dislike him, but when I read him I keep thinking "Auden, I should love you, I want to love you...but I just don't. Sorry." It's odd, because I love some of his contemporaries very much, even some who have a somewhat similar style. (MacNeice is cited in that category!)

    1. Thanks, Clarissa! It's interesting that you mentioned Auden. I never really understood why Auden is more popular than MacNeice. Actually I do understand it, I just think it's unfair!

      It's funny because in college everybody loved Auden, specially Funeral Blues, and I was like: "Yeah, he's so-so".

      All this makes me think that we might be judging artists for the wrong standards. It's just the case with Rothko, the artist has a very interesting life and personality, but his work? Not that impressive... xx


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