One Rothko Per Hour
October 18, 2019 7:53 AM   Subscribe

 
I don't know what I expected.
posted by General Malaise at 7:59 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


I'm told it's the equivalent of a chest X-ray. Not great, not terrible.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:02 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


Indeed, it changed! If I had to have some public screen on at all times, this would be a fine site to direct it to.
posted by St. Oops at 8:04 AM on October 18 [5 favorites]


This is kind of offensive? Like, Rothko is great but he's hard for a lot of people to appreciate, part of which is many have only ever seen his works through their computers and phones. This low quality image is shockingly bad, especially if the sole point of this site is to display his works. A couple inches of a badly compressed image... this isn't really Rothko, this is something else. Hard to appreciate colour fields when they are all broken up into blurry low-res jpeg artifacts.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:06 AM on October 18 [22 favorites]


I kind of want them to slowly transform from one Rothko color field painting to another, fading like a lithol red mural.
posted by zamboni at 8:10 AM on October 18 [6 favorites]


I'm kind of with GoblinHoney on this one. At the very least, if the site author wanted to do this right, they should have higher res pictures and also have a background that at least VAGUELY tries to replicate the intended viewing context of the paintings.

I thought Rothko was lame until I saw his work in person, at the Tate Modern in London. Now I realize that nobody seems to give a rat's ass about presenting his work in a way that does it justice.
posted by tclark at 8:15 AM on October 18 [13 favorites]


Huh. I really, really see your point, GoblinHoney. But I think I love this because of what it evokes for me; of standing in galleries and letting a Rothko fill my field of vision. Of the first time I saw the Seagram Murals, and it was like getting punched in the face by God. I know what to look for, so I can see the subtle colours and the layering and remember how quiet and calm and unsettled the real things make me feel.
This isn't how I would introduce another person to Rothko, but it makes me happy.
posted by kalimac at 8:16 AM on October 18 [12 favorites]


Yeah, this is definitely a website for someone who is already a Rothko fan. Seeing his work on a screen is nothing like seeing it in a gallery.

That said, I'm 100% with St. Oops in wanting a big screen somewhere that would just display a rotating selection of Rothkos.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:45 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


a big screen somewhere that would just display a rotating selection of Rothkos

Or repurpose one of those obnoxious trucks that drives around flashing ads on giant screens as a Rothkomobile.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:04 AM on October 18 [5 favorites]


One per hour? That's nothing. The After Dark screensaver would generate a new Rothko every few seconds.
posted by adamrice at 9:04 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure a Rothkomobile could make the populace insane if glimpsed unexpectedly.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:05 AM on October 18


No titles, dates or other context?

Also, the credit in the lower right goes to a site which is NOT the official Rothko site, but at least purports to have some scholarly merit.

On onerothkoperhour, on the other hand, posting these images is a copyright violation (it does not qualify for under "fair use" because it doesn't fulfill the statutory requirement of being for "purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research"), and does not give proper credit.
posted by beagle at 9:08 AM on October 18 [4 favorites]


It's an interesting question, because what presentation on screen is ever gonna capture the scope of standing in front of a painting that extends to your peripheral vision? Even a pristine photo on a high-res desktop display can't recreate the scale sense; it's always just a picture of a picture. And lots of folks are going to be getting most of what they see on mobile devices, where even the best source image will be beaten down by the strict confines of a small screen.

That's not to say don't try and get high-res images for something like this, because, yeah, try and get high-res images for something like this.

But at a certain level either you are or you aren't recreating the intended viewing experience, and for work where recreating the intended viewing experience is unworkable, where does that lead someone trying to get to know a body of work? There's a nasty emergent cultural paradox in saying that work that is profound and worth experiencing also can't for the vast majority of people be experienced, and finding some kind of compromise there is the only route out that feels right. Less than a hundred years ago that compromise was "put some black and white photos in a book and maybe someone can buy or borrow that", these days it's "organize some good high res color photos or video and make that accessible to anyone with access to the internet"; it's a huge leap forward, but still a compromise; it's a compromise, but still a huge leap forward.

Almost everybody is relating to almost everything they know about art history through second-hand reproductions. It's the lucky, and more probably wealthy, art fan who ever sees a significant body of the work by an artist they admire in person.

So on the one hand I think folks are right in saying this particular presentation is more for Rothko fans, who can see a low-res image of a Rothko and think, ah, I know that painting; but for most of them even that is going to be "I know that painting, I saw a higher-res image of it before", mixed in maybe with some "I know what that painting might feel like to stand in front of, because I got to stand in front of a different Rothko at one point".

On the other hand, almost all current or future Rothko fans are going to be primarily relating to his work through reproductions of his work even under ideal conditions. So the knife is already out for any idea of immediacy and authenticity and presence as being fundamental to the experience; dodgier source images are just a question of how dull the blade is.
posted by cortex at 9:14 AM on October 18 [17 favorites]


I found this about the currently displayed painting, at the time of this comment:

Orange and Yellow was considered quite large in the 1950s, and Rothko asked viewers to stand close in order to be visually surrounded by the colors. His goal was for color to, in his words,

express... basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom. ...The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.
posted by thelonius at 9:25 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


Like, Rothko is great but he's hard for a lot of people to appreciate, part of which is many have only ever seen his works through their computers and phones.
I've seen a few dozen. I really hope Rothko is a prankster who is having us all on. Otherwise, I find it impossible to appreciate. I'm not opposed to the ideas, and there are very similar things I find engaging. But, not even then finest crafted text on the wall can salvage a Rothko. They're less interesting than the door frames in most museums. But, I realize reasonable and brilliant people that I like can disagree about this. (Including my spouse.)

(I also think Moby Dick was intended as absurdist humor. Nobody agrees with me. I'm okay with that.)
posted by eotvos at 9:31 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


disappointingly basilisk free.
posted by GuyZero at 9:37 AM on October 18 [8 favorites]


On onerothkoperhour, on the other hand, posting these images is a copyright violation (it does not qualify for under "fair use" because it doesn't fulfill the statutory requirement of being for "purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research"), and does not give proper credit.

Yeah, there's no way this is legal with regards to copyright law.

And this explains why all the images are low resolution. Obtaining high resolution images would be difficult without clearance and permission, which is one of the reasons why museums forbid photography in general, flash or no. It is not uncommon for art to be loaned, rented or donated to museums which come with heavy restrictions like "no photography, period."

With permission you'd run into some really extreme licensing agreements and fees and the Rothko estate would likely want a lot of creative control in the presentation and curation of those images the same way they would if it was a gallery book of Rothko paintings.

I suspect this website will live just about as long as it takes for the Rothko estate's lawyers to start writing C&D letters.
posted by loquacious at 9:42 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


Three kinds of people seeing this:

1. (Most people): Rothko who now?;
2. (A lot of people): Ah, Rothko! Probably doesn’t do the work justice, but there he is!;
3. (Just me): Rothko the painter or Rothko the dog?
posted by Grangousier at 9:46 AM on October 18 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure a Rothkomobile could make the populace insane if glimpsed unexpectedly.

Experiment 3013-8
posted by Etrigan at 9:52 AM on October 18 [3 favorites]


(Just me): Rothko the painter or Rothko the dog?
Are there really at least two Blue Jam fans here, or is this a reference to something else that I've never heard of?
posted by eotvos at 9:56 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, there is Rothko & Me at the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam. An exhibition of a single Rothko painting in a room, where "you are welcome to enjoy one of his top pieces, the painting Grey, Orange on Maroon, No 8 of 1960, all on your own and without your mobile phone."
posted by fregoli at 10:09 AM on October 18 [6 favorites]


I was never a Rothko fan (my Ab-Ex artist of choice was always Barnett Newman), but that was because I had only seen smaller pieces or small-scale reproductions of the larger ones.
But when a few large pieces came to the AGO on loan from MoMA I went to see them and I guess I had one of those emotional religious experiences people talk about. The colors changed...then they kind of vibrated...then the whole piece became a kinetic movement of flashing and shimmering and shifting color fields. I couldn't look away.
Now whenever I go to a gallery that has a Rothko I make sure I spend a good deal of time with it, up close, while my wife goes off to see the rest of the gallery.
posted by rocket88 at 10:43 AM on October 18 [8 favorites]


On onerothkoperhour, on the other hand, posting these images is a copyright violation (it does not qualify for under "fair use" because it doesn't fulfill the statutory requirement of being for "purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research"), and does not give proper credit.

Iunno, it looks like it's getting plenty of criticism here.
posted by slogger at 11:22 AM on October 18 [5 favorites]


I thought Rothko was lame until I saw his work in person

You've never seen any painting until you see it in person. There are so many essential elements that do not survive photo-reproduction.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:34 AM on October 18 [6 favorites]


posting these images is a copyright violation
Any of Rothko's works published before 1964 had a US copyright that expired after 28 years, unless a renewal was filed with the US Copyright Office in the 28th year. Any such paintings whose copyrights were not renewed have been in the public domain since 1991 or earlier. Unfortunately the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database only includes books, not paintings, so I don't know of any convenient way to determine which paintings are still under copyright.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:45 AM on October 18 [6 favorites]


He's no Barnett Newman but he's fine.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]


oh geez, jinx with rocket88.
posted by GuyZero at 12:04 PM on October 18


You've never seen any painting until you see it in person. There are so many essential elements that do not survive photo-reproduction.

This can't be understated.

I did a little bit of digital art photography back when digital cameras and artists having web pages or presences were still quite new ideas, and was in a dumb sweet spot where I knew something, anything about art, web pages and both film and digital photography and people wanted instant gratification. I was very well versed in film photography before this digital camera as well, and even had a hand in some industrial/commercial studio photography.

I quickly learned I did not have enough gear and lighting to do this well beyond "here's a nice snapshot of a painting on a gallery wall or easel" levels. It was actually a nightmare and doing good photography especially of large format paintings is incredibly difficult. The lighting has to be perfectly uniform and at the right angles. If there is a heavy hand to an oil painting you need to balance the glossy highlights just enough to capture some of that depth and texture. Your white balance has to be spot on.

If anything it's even worse than industrial, commercial or product photography where it's easier to fix and tune color balances in post without direly effecting the end results or impact of a given work of art.

I didn't really get either Rothko or Klein until I saw some in person. I wasn't naive to modern or abstract art, but Rothko in particular does not print or digitize well because the colors are really deep and subtle, as is the brush and hand work in the canvas. 32 bit raster images still wouldn't be enough.

The first time I saw a Rothko it was like getting stunned by some kind of science fiction-y field or ray. There's a palpable intensity and presence and with some kind of tangible density as you approach the painting and are enveloped and bathed in this field.

And it doesn't make a lick of sense that it his paintings can do this with what amounts to pure tone and color fields. It doesn't make any damn sense even to someone like me who loves art and is ostensibly also an artist.

I get none of this presence or effect from prints or reproductions of Rothko paintings, whether paper or digital. It's just "oh, here's some mostly monotone color" really.

I'm not even sure if you could reproduce the impact of a Rothko with a high resolution full color architectural 3D printer that captured the paint and canvas texture down to a thousands of an inch or so.

It sure would be interesting to try.

Imagine being able to own full size or scale replicas of art down to brush strokes and deep, full colors? How cool would it be to have your own Rothko at an affordable price that still had some of the same impact and presence?
posted by loquacious at 1:00 PM on October 18 [11 favorites]


You've never seen any painting until you see it in person.

Indeed, my luck of having a job that took me to Madrid and Oslo (and thereby easily hopping to London and Amsterdam while in the region) gave me a chance to completely change my perspective.

But the complication is that many works don't need to be seen in a museum to appreciate them. Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights is impressive in person but also very cool in high res online. The only unique part of seeing it in person was seeing it in person. The experience of seeing it at the Prado was not fundamentally different from me seeing it on this site. Goya's Fourteen Black Paintings are impressive to see in person, but also very moving in good quality prints or in high resolution.

Klein's blue sculptures I knew in the abstract were cool, but seeing one in person was very, very different. And Rothko I didn't get at all until I visited the Tate Modern.

One can hardly blame folks for not realizing or fully understanding that certain works are a fundamentally different experience in person than elsewhere. Is it also too much to ask that if you're going to make a whole website devoted to a single artist's work that you put a bit more effort into getting it just a *little bit* like being there?
posted by tclark at 1:01 PM on October 18 [3 favorites]


I've seen a few dozen. I really hope Rothko is a prankster who is having us all on.

If only. I, too, have seen dozens of Rothko paintings, and am left with the sense that he was deadly serious, unfortunately. His work diminishes the world, and the only silver lining to the fact that Rothko paintings exist is that Rothko paintings existence lets one make a strong case that the accidental Rothkos created by graffiti abatement programs are also graffiti. (If I were less law abiding, I would tag buildings with graffiti that consisted solely of accidental Rothko paintings. I once considered volunteering with the local graffiti abatement program to learn exactly how they do it, but then I realized that I would never actually tag a building...)

As an alternative to Rothko's dour hackery, I would suggest looking at the works of Yves Klein, particularly the monochromes. He was most definitely having us on, and his work is sublime because of it. (Like most artists, his work is best appreciated in person, but at the very least please look at a lot of it before you read anything about The Void.)
posted by surlyben at 1:05 PM on October 18 [4 favorites]


Looking further into copyright status… Works published from 1950–1963 had their US copyrights expire in 1978–1991. Renewals registered during this period are searchable at the Copyright Office's online catalog. There are no renewal registrations for any Mark Rothko works in this catalog.

So unless I am missing something (which I could be), at least all of Rothko's art from 1950 through 1963 is in the public domain. I think based on some other searching that his earlier works are also in the public domain, but it's not as easy to prove it.

Moral of the story: Not all culture is owned by somebody!
posted by mbrubeck at 1:24 PM on October 18 [6 favorites]


I'm not even sure if you could reproduce the impact of a Rothko with a high resolution full color architectural 3D printer that captured the paint and canvas texture down to a thousands of an inch or so.

It sure would be interesting to try.

Imagine being able to own full size or scale replicas of art down to brush strokes and deep, full colors? How cool would it be to have your own Rothko at an affordable price that still had some of the same impact and presence?
There's already companies out there doing this. The one I remember hearing about a few years back was Verus, which appears to have become Arius Tech. No Rothkos for sale, but perhaps a nice Van Gogh?
I haven't seen one in person myself to compare, but the concept is fascinating.

(there's of course also buying a human-replicated version from China, but that's not *quite* the same)
posted by CrystalDave at 1:24 PM on October 18 [3 favorites]


Misread the title. Was expecting one Ronco per hour. Was disappointed.
posted by SPrintF at 4:49 PM on October 18


As an alternative to Rothko's dour hackery, I would suggest looking at the works of Yves Klein,

Is it ok to like both Rothko's "dour hackery" and Klein's playfullness? Because I like both.
posted by loquacious at 4:54 PM on October 18 [4 favorites]


Feeling slightly guilty over my drive-by Chris Morris derail, I wanted to mention that meeting the Rothko room at the Tate - and this was at the original Tate (now Tate Britain) almost dear god forty years ago - was a very important turning point in my life. I'd had that adolescent sniffiness about paintings that weren't of things. You know, proper painting. Like Constable, or Rossetti, or Frank Frazetta. Anyway, on a school trip to the Tate I wandered into the Rothko room.

Originally commissioned for the restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York, but Rothko decided the paintings didn't quite fit with fine dining - mural-sized, sombre black and maroon canvasses - (or rather that fine dining didn't fit with his paintings) and it's quite difficult to argue with him. When a selection of these paintings were later exhibited at the Tate, Rothko provided a maquette of the how they should be hung and the colour of the walls (slightly warmer than the usual gallery white).

My own personal epiphany was that these weren't paintings of anything, even "abstracts" (whatever that was supposed to mean) - not subservient to representation or ideas. They simply were.

I took to hanging out there for longer periods of time whenever I visited the Tate. The room seemed to encourage a mood that I later came to understand to be contemplative. I noticed that people's demeanour and mood changed when they entered the room. At the very least they were aware of the work in a way that they didn't seem to be when entering the other rooms in the gallery. The initial encounter could be intimidating - and I'm sure that a lot of people only experienced the intimidation - but with prolonged exposure I found myself experiencing calm, comfort, and heightened emotion. And I've no idea why.

I don't know if there's a Rothko room at the current Tate Modern. It would be a shame if not, but perfectly understandable, as there's a lot of stuff in the world that needs to have a space, too. At least I've been reminded to look, next time I'm there.
posted by Grangousier at 7:00 PM on October 18 [4 favorites]


I don't know if there's a Rothko room at the current Tate Modern.

There is, and it made me, a 40-something year old dude who has a pretty steep skepticism curve when it comes to art, a Rothko convert.

Of course another room wholly dedicated to an artist whose name I no longer remember, but basically was a person who still gets all the credit for a veritable army of anonymous acolytes' work reinflated my brain's art-skeptic lobe.
posted by tclark at 7:08 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]


I didn't really get either Rothko or Klein until I saw some in person.

I didn’t really get fucking Rembrandt until I saw one in person.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:26 PM on October 18 [5 favorites]


Imagine being able to own full size or scale replicas of art down to brush strokes and deep, full colors? How cool would it be to have your own Rothko at an affordable price that still had some of the same impact and presence? 
There's already companies out there doing this. The one I remember hearing about a few years back was Verus, which appears to have become Arius Tech. No Rothkos for sale, but perhaps a nice Van Gogh?

It's a tempting idea, a perfect replica, but the thing that gives me pause for thought is realising that the type of person most likely to buy that kind or art would be Donanld Trump.
I can just imagine the conversation:

D: Do you like my Rembrandt?
Is that real?
D: Of course, its the best Rembrandt, the very best Rembrandt.
D: it's even better that the ones he painted when he was alive.
D: Because it's NEW!
posted by Lanark at 2:06 AM on October 19 [2 favorites]


Okay, this, of all things, finally made me plonk down five bucks after literally decades of lurking.

I paint a bit, just well enough to imagine if I worked at it it could be a retirement gig one day, just well enough that when I post something I’ve done, reliably two or three of my friends or family will ask me to do them something really specific I have to either turn down or slog through because it’s somebody so close I can’t say no. I turn out a few pieces a year, generally in spurts because the slog projects dull my enthusiasm for a while. I do landscapes, still lifes, the occasional pet portrait, but not human portraits because I’m quite sure they’d go all “uncanny valley” and highlight just how bad I actually am in a way that would translate to everything else I do.

That preface is just context for my main point: I hate Rothko. Like, uniquely in the entire world of art, I despise Rothko. Yes, I’ve seen his work in person, hanging in national art galleries on both sides of the pond. It makes it worse. I'm the first to admit there is an element of jealousy, but not that he’s so untouchably awesome. It’s the fact that I spend, sometimes, literally months fighting with a canvas until I’m almost satisfied, and then more months until I can look at it without every flaw mocking me. And here this guy Rothko, celebrated around the world for things that couldn’t have taken him more than a half-hour, where there’s no standard for getting it right or wrong, and then people absolutely gush over his sage understanding that, what, color exists? I’ve seen the same skill on display in an especially well-chosen accent wall.

So yeah, mark me down for not just “I don’t get it,” but “every time I see a Rothko I feel like I’m being trolled.”

For comparison, my art fanboy crush is Luis Meléndez. That was my “holy crap” experience where I don’t think I really got still life until I saw his work in person.
posted by gelfin at 7:49 AM on October 19 [2 favorites]


For fans (or haters, I guess) of Rothko who didn't know about his connection with the 1986 romantic comedy Legal Eagles, here is a lovely longform personal essay about that--and, more seriously, about the Rothko Case and art markets and NYC in the 70s. (By David Levine, in Triple Canopy; weird interface that might not work on mobile).
posted by miles per flower at 8:36 AM on October 19


Heh, welcome aboard, gelfin.

I keep thinking off and on about the fact that I have a real arm's length feeling about abstract art in general, despite trying to crack open my brain the last few years as I've taken up painting to try and be receptive to new views of art stuff about which I've carried around a lot of handwavey cultural baggage. Like I have more appreciation than I used to for the context in which abstract art came into prominence, and for some of the process-oriented aspects of how various artists made their work, but it's still not something that I've ever really felt an engagement with, artistically or emotionally, or a desire to make myself.

Like, there's more going on in a Pollock all-over piece than I used to think; I get now how involved and deliberate the process of making them was and appreciate the way the scope of the pieces would affect an up-close viewing. But I still don't really find myself interested. I don't get lost in the image, I don't feel a connection, I don't feel inspiration or have an emotional experience.

And yet lots of people do, and I don't doubt the realness of that even if I don't relate. And I have basically come to the conclusion that this may be like cilantro: it tastes like soap or it doesn't, and two people can fundamentally disagree on the point and both be right. Which isn't to say liking abstract art or color field paintings is a genetic thing, but it feels like it might be something like a brain chemistry thing, or something at a level or two removed from that.

I think I don't engage with a lot of abstract art because it doesn't keep my brain's hands busy.

I don't dislike the stuff, I just don't...like it either? I haven't found a way to relate to most of it that makes me want to keep relating to it. Whereas a lot of geometric and minimalist and conceptual stuff has absolutely drawn me in despite, from a 10,000 foot view, being formally not all that different in many cases. Lines and corners instead of washes and gestural strokes but still often not really a painting of anything, in a traditional sense. I love a lot of stuff that falls squarely into "my kid could do that, tho" territory (or these days "my python script could do that"), so I end up being on the other side of the coin there.

All of which, I dunno. I don't think Rothko was trolling, and I also don't really get Rothko, and also I don't think the huge following Rothko has is from a bunch of people pretending to like it, and also I don't think Rothko's success is really separable from a lot of luck and right place right time and the star-making machinations of the art market, and turtles on down. Who gets to be revered isn't entirely random but it certainly is a lottery and in a lot of ways a rigged one, and in any case there's no way today to win fifty years ago's lottery, so Rothko will always be Rothko and Pollock will always be Pollock and that's where we are.

I do absolutely feel the kind of tactical jealousy of processes that are (or at least seem) simple vs. enormously time-consuming and fiddly, though. Half the reason I don't find myself doing realist representational painting is it seems like a slog build up a facility for it and I don't handle skill-building slogs all that well; my geometric work puts the effort elsewhere, relies on the kind of work my brain does like to do. It's still work but work that I feel a desire to do and feel like I can do with some confidence and efficiency instead of throwing too much time at too little output.

At the same time, the infuriating thing about Rothko from that perspective isn't that the compositions seem relatively quick and simple to execute, it's that that led to fame and reverence, yeah? A random local artist doing great big works in color fields that were then just great big works in color fields being shown locally by a random artist wouldn't carry the same kind of charge. But when that leaps from art for art's sake to massive public and cultural impact, it's easy to sort of feel the gut punch of someone getting such seeming bang for their process buck.
posted by cortex at 10:02 AM on October 19 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I’m not bagging on all abstract art in general, even though my brain just does not work that way. I’ve tried and I can’t stop what I’m doing from turning representational in some way. And I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse everybody who sees something in Rothko of appreciating the Emperor’s new clothes. It’s definitely me, but very strongly and irritatingly me.

For that matter, some of Pollack’s work, I can see it, that there is more thought and effort going on there than just, say, “hey guys, guess what, olive green can live next to rust red. Bet you didn’t know that.” Others, I admit, just make me think of Kryten saying “I feel another Pollack coming on.”

The vagaries of popularity in art are a big part of what bugs me. On the representational side I also find Kinkade garish and unappealing, right up there with black velvet last suppers, but I actually kind of like Parrish. No accounting for taste. I just especially can’t help picturing Rothko’s work, in any other time and place, sitting unsold under a tent in the park on farmer’s market weekend.
posted by gelfin at 10:32 AM on October 19


And here this guy Rothko, celebrated around the world for things that couldn’t have taken him more than a half-hour, where there’s no standard for getting it right or wrong, and then people absolutely gush over his sage understanding that, what, color exists?

Except those paintings weren't just a half hour of work, he wasn't just going down to Home Depot and buying one can of computer-mixed color and washing the whole canvas with it, there's just as much obsession and intent going on on as well as attention to details as in a figurative painting.

There's layers and layers of color going on and depth that I see, and I also sense and feel the ritualistic intent to convey an emotional state.

Also consider that in that era it wasn't uncommon for an Abstract Expressionist or any other serious painter to be mixing and blending their own pigments and paints, and getting even tones and textures is itself a daunting challenge when working with brush and blade and hand made natural pigments and paints.

This can be challenging even with pre-made paints and pigments where variations between production lots can really throw a monkeywrench into the process. I have known many artists that will dedicate a set of tubes of paints to one canvas because they don't want to have to deal with the hassles of matching that specific color again if they run out before the painting is finished.

I have some friends that are modern artists and painters and while they do plenty of figure studies and still life paintings, they also do color fields and abstracts.

The color fields are often the ones they actually spend the most time on. They may strip parts of the existing canvas or repaint it entirely. They obsess over them for months and years. They're throwing themselves into deep emotional states and near-fugues of processing while engaged in this process.

These are also incidentally the paintings they're least likely to put up on offer at a show, or at the highest asked prices because of how much process and personal history and work is involved.

There are layers and layers of hand work and paint going on which deeply effects the hue and changes with the lighting and viewing angle. There's textures and feelings in some of these paintings, emotions for which there aren't accurate words to name them or convey them.

And they're beautiful paintings that I experience with a lot of emotion and depth being washed in those particular colors.

To me, this ability to express and communicate intangible, unnamed emotions and feelings is one of the most important functions of art. It often communicates things that poetry and music cannot, and it often does so without symbols or words.

This, to me, is the very real magic of art.

There is a lot more going on besides "here is one monochromatic color" or "here's some colors you don't normally see together", and it definitely is not as simple or reductionist as an artist being lazy and having one over on us.

People often forget that new art like this that breaks new ground or tears down old barriers is most often punished financially or socially. It's not like Rothko was immediately hailed as a genius and enshrined in museums the first time he painted a color field. People didn't really know what to make of it and were critical of it, like people were originally critical of Pollack and other now revered modern artists.

That's still true today.

If you see a Rothko and you get mad and think "Fuck, I can do that. Hand me a paint roller and a can of aquamarine paint, we'll knock this out in 30 minutes!" I don't know if you're really seeing a Rothko. Your own experiences and expectations are likely getting in the way of actually seeing it and experiencing it.
posted by loquacious at 11:22 AM on October 19 [7 favorites]


That spark of joy a person get when a painting really connects is why I look at art. I feel kinda bad trashing stuff that gives people that joy. It is, of course, fine to like Rothko, and he's definitely someone who can withstand a closer look. When I look at his paintings, I get a feeling that is sort of anti-joy. I'm sure I've spent more time thinking about how much I don't like his art than any other artist, more time looking at more of his work than any artist I despise, and more time reading about him. I almost love his work. But I don't.

When I look at Rothko's work, I see a guy who made a bunch of middling surrealist work in his 20s and 30s, and then, in his 40s he lucked out on his friends, radically changed his style to match the zeitgeist, and found immediate... hmm..."success" isn't the word... an immediate reaction that was the right kind of bad review, followed enough success that he kept painting in that style until his suicide. The cynic in me, the person who has had conversations with artists about producing work for their particular market, wonders if it wasn't all just a bunch of cynical choices aimed at a particular market. He suffered from depression, so it wouldn't surprise me if there weren't times when he thought that's what he was doing. On the other hand he never let on, his paintings weren't made with a wink and a nod, but that just makes it worse. When I accuse him of "dour hackery," that's what I mean. (It's weird that I never get that sense from any of his contemporaries, but well, there it is.)

A couple of points of order: Rothko paintings are not new. The newest Rothko painting is a few months shy 50 years old. This is not new work, not saying anything new, and even if a person has personally never seen it, they will certainly have seen work (art, graphic design, Mad Men episodes) that it influenced.

The time and effort it takes to produce a work of art doesn't have a lot to do with how good it is. On the one hand we have Renoir, who would spend years on paintings that are today widely hated, and on the other, Matisse, whose wonderful paper cut outs can't have taken more than a few minutes (plus a lifetime of practice). I've read that towards the end Rothko found it physically very difficult to paint. It certainly adds a bit to the heroic mythology of art if the work was difficult to make, but personally I think it might be a bit of a trap to focus on that.
posted by surlyben at 2:06 PM on October 19 [1 favorite]


Regarding the copyright thread within thread above, it would not be safe to assume that any Rothko image is in the public domain. Here, for example, is an image of a Rothko at the Tate, painted 1950-52, labeled as being © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2019.
posted by beagle at 3:34 PM on October 19 [1 favorite]


I know who the dour hacks are in this thread and it sure ain't Mark Rothko.

Jesus fuck this is so very Art on Metafilter. The response to a cute little website doling out contemplative art once an hour as a tiny little joy Skinner box is to complain about the resolution, go down a weird copyright derail, or to rehash the same bad faith arguments Philistines have been making since cuneiform was invented. Like, feel free not to like Rothko — I personally think Picasso can get fucked and Monet puts me to sleep; there is a lot of conceptualism that I know to be a not-very-funny shock-joke — but the arguments here are one step above my kid can do that.

Hate all you want, but hate better.
posted by dame at 5:04 PM on October 19 [3 favorites]


I can’t say I’ll ever not have a visceral negative reaction to Rothko, but his work does seem to do a great job of dividing his audience into distinct contrasting groups that are probably more complex on deeper inspection than they appear at first glance, so maybe there’s something to it after all.
posted by gelfin at 5:15 PM on October 19


Here, for example, is an image of a Rothko at the Tate, painted 1950-52, labeled as being © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2019.

People, especially museums, frequently try to assert copyright over photographs of public domain artwork. But claiming something doesn't make it true. US courts have generally held that a photo or other exact reproduction of a painting is not an original work and does not receive copyright protection in itself. For example, see The Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd., Plaintiff v. Corel Corporation.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:53 PM on October 19 [1 favorite]


While it's unquestionably true that people aren't going to all react the same way to any artwork or experience, so much of this thread has drifted towards a "not even wrong" take on Rothko that it's seriously depressing.

The very suggestion that he committed suicide because he wasn't appealing to the right markets or that he was essentially trolling the art world is so off-base and offensively misunderstanding his history that it boggles the mind. The man turned down the equivalent of a 2 million dollar commission, in today's values, to put his paintings in the restaurant of the Seagram Building because of his views on wealth and the wealthy, then turned around and offered to provide works for free to an art exhibit in Germany if they would provide a "temple", which could even be just a tent, for commemoration of the Holocaust, where his paintings would be displayed. Rothko had deep investment in the moral and active values of his time, which is what he hoped to capture in his paintings and why he ended up feeling that those paintings would be wasted put in front of the rich.

The notion that his paintings were just churned out is equally absurd and false as is any notion that anyone could have painted them or that they are "just" color like that of a housepainter painting a wall. His paintings were revolutionary and eschewed use of figures to rid them of association beyond the painting itself. To look at them as lacking for that is to miss the whole point and to not only fail to see the context in which the works were made, but to not really see them at all in anything like the terms they are offering. To some of us, these paintings aren't just "beautiful" or whatever even milder term one might choose, but profound, the equal to the greatest works of art in that or any form.

For me, and for many others, the response to seeing Rothko's paintings is almost overwhelming, even in crappy, compressed images, they still are powerful, while in person they present an almost unbearably fraught mix of emotions that cannot be resolved into any single "meaning" as they carry physical suggestion of a complexity of feeling that is ultimately ineffable, but absolutely true to the feeling of life in this world absent the signifiers that so often intrude as signposts to direct one's thoughts towards some specific end. I see a Rothko and I am deeply moved, more than almost with any other painter. It has been that way since the first, back when I barely knew who he was or could give voice to what I felt.

His work first confused me for that as I wanted to write it off for being "simple", but it wouldn't allow that. It's easy to say he makes colored rectangles and act as if that's all there is, some pretty colors arranged in straight lines, but they are not that, their edges, their borders surge with energy, they do not provide line up straight, but blur or fuzz making the boundaries from one color or shape to the next difficult to decipher, making the paintings and the brushwork that created then feel almost alive or perhaps something even more primal than "life" as an understanding of animals or plants might define it. They feel alive as a force, something without a concrete name or function and exist through those colors and fuzzy edges, which is what makes it even more amazing as, of course, one is aware that colors and brushstrokes are all that is really there in an immediate physical sense. It's the lingering presence of Rothko's presence in the way the works are painted that keeps them from settling into "just paint", not unlike Pollock in that sense, but in a much different form with the energy more concentrated into its attempts to provide form.

There is a sense perhaps that Rothko's work does reflect his suicide and speak to the feeling that no work can summarize life, that no artwork will ever be "enough" or be able to encompass all the artist is trying to say. In that sense perhaps Kurt Cobain, Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath or a good number of others, whose work also tread the boundaries of the joys and pains of life, also weren't enough to provide them adequately respite from their inner difficulties leading them to take their own lives, but that speaks more to their intensity of effort in trying to make sense of the ineffable to find comfort in this world than it does to any "fakery" in their efforts. We all find comfort of meaning in different aspects of life and come to our ways of engagement through senses both innate and learned.

Some prefer art to reveal hidden order in seeming chaos, like fractal art perhaps does, while others find meaning in the chaos that seeming order hides. Art reveals itself, in its most profound forms, through the irreconcilable tensions it exhibits between what one sees in the world and the world as revealed through the art. Rothko may not speak to "your" understanding of the world, but to those of us who he does speak to there are few that are better able to articulate the irreducible presence of that experience.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:30 PM on October 19 [3 favorites]


Jesus fuck this is so very Art on Metafilter.

Yeah I was grateful to the poster of this link for making me read about Rothko who I didn't know anything about, for a few minutes, instead of Rudy Giuliani, and it felt enriching and seemed to make the Web a better place but was then surprised to read in the thread that people were angry about it.
posted by johngoren at 2:12 AM on October 20 [2 favorites]


I don't feel a lot of anger in this thread but I'm also pretty well inoculated against the unique stresses of discussing and critiquing art and sharing and experiencing strong opinions related to art.

I certainly have not felt nor intended to express any anger. Strong opinions, yes, but I'm not mad about it.

I haven't had a good critique and teardown of anything serious I've made in a while but this point in my life I think I would find it less terrifying and emotionally stressful and a lot more satisfying and a relief like tearing off a bandaid or picking a scab.

Very much "Oh yes, tell me how bad I suck and how derivative I am. Make me defend my bullshit. Hurt me real good." because that's kind of the point of serious critique, to dissect ones own artistic motivations and learn things about it and one's own processes.

I almost always learn something valuable from these threads, too.
posted by loquacious at 5:27 AM on October 20


Also, welcome gelfin! You're going to fit in just fine around here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective.
posted by loquacious at 5:29 AM on October 20 [1 favorite]


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