Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mark Rothko

Long-time readers may recall that I have a poster of a painting by Mark Rothko (which you can see here) that a few years ago I tried to write about here and here. At any rate, via Andrew Sullivan comes this video on Rothko. Possessing something of the sensibilities of the Qatsi trilogy, it manages to persuade me, at least, that Rothko might not have been quite as abstract an artist as one might think.



fearful_syzygy said...

I mean, yeah.

As you know (I think), I'm a big fan of Rothko's, but I'm not sure I buy the figurative aspect of his art as it seems to be portrayed by this piece. I quite enjoyed it, but the landscape/horizon analogy seemed either facile or far-fetched (you choose). Surely it is inherent in our understanding of the world to interpret any horizontal line as... well, it's even in the word (at least in English). As for the mushroom cloud, well, it's not as if there's anything unambiguously mushroom-shaped in the piece with which it's juxtaposed, and although the framing and music seem to establish a connexion, there's no necessary reason why an abstraction in yellow red and black couldn't represent a hot-dog stand rather than death and destruction.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into what ultimately might just have been the free expression of the film-maker's imagination, but if it's positing some sort of 'source' of Rothko's inspiration in lake shores and atomic bombs, it's missing the point it seems to me. Sure, our engagement with abstract art is necessarily hermeneutic in the purest sense; we interpret it as we see fit, its meaning is supplied by the observer (or not, in the case of those who dismiss non-figurative art outright as meaningless squiggles and blobs). As such, it's perfectly valid to see those squares as windows, but to claim they are windows even within the economy of the work of art is absurd, or at least futile, since it doesn't tell us anything that we weren't able to intuit about it already, as human beings.

John B. said...

Those are fair observations, and in reading over my little intro, I think "persuade" is too strong a word. In any event, I didn't take it to be so much a scholarly disquisition as a visual interpretation, something like a music video.

I'll say this: my experience in living with "my" Rothko and with the Rothkos I've seen in person is that they aren't meant to be interpreted so much as pondered. The ones that really hold my attention, I feel like I disappear into them.

John B. said...

Just a quick elaboration on something in my comment above:

[T]hey aren't meant to be interpreted so much as pondered. The ones that really hold my attention, I feel like I disappear into them.

"Disappearance," in this sense, strikes me as being something like the opposite of "interpretation."