What makes extreme abstract art significant?
June 28, 2005 7:11 AM   Subscribe

I don't understand the painter Mark Rothko's abstract works. What is it that makes the art have any significance?

I was reading the National Gallery of Art's Rothko section and I just didn't "get it". The "Myths & Symbols" section contains some good art, but the other sections just feature paintings that are basically messy colored squares. I'm into a little abstract art and generally don't have the problem of not "getting" art, but this stuff makes no sense to me at all. Is Rothko's abstract work considered to be significant because he spent so much time on it? Is it considered significant because he was a good artist in earlier life? What makes a few painted squares significant? Is it solely because of the verbal explanation the artist gives? I've seen children paint similar works.. yet their art is not considered significant. Enlighten me.
posted by wackybrit to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really know anything about art history or theory so I can't answer that part of your question, but I do know that I really like his square paintings. They are more than just boxes and lines. He uses color and line in really interesting ways. His yellows are not just yellow, they are 12 different yellows and oranges blended, and if you look at the edges where the lines and squares meet it's really interesting. It's simple, but I think there is real skill there. I don't think just anyone could do it.
posted by ohio at 7:16 AM on June 28, 2005

Have you seen his paintings in person? That is the first step- looking at replicas on paper or screen is no substitute, especially in his case. Most of his paintings are fairly large and tend to fill up a large portion of your field of view when you stand in front of them.

He was a fairly proficient artist before he "went abstract", some of his work was fairly surreal. It's fascinating to see how he made the jump- sort of like Mondrian and Pollack.

It's different for every person but what makes it significant for me is his use of color. It's not just random. And it's not lacking craft. In fact it's quite the opposite- I see his color as as finely tuned pitch on a certain wavelength. One of the most overwhelming "art" moments I've ever had was walking into a room of his last paintings and being overwhelmed by sadness and despair. Significant when you realize he slit his wrists and ended his life.
posted by jeremias at 7:26 AM on June 28, 2005

I also feel like he makes you actually look at the physical canvas. For all the reasons ohio mentioned, you get the sense of the physical paint on the physical canvas -- and for me, that's the point. Unlike Van Gogh (who I also like) where the physical brushstrokes are still a representation of something else -- trees, stars, flowers -- in Rothko, they're the whole painting.

And I doubly triply whatever-ly agree that you need to see them in person.
posted by occhiblu at 7:39 AM on June 28, 2005

For me it's pretty simple. When I'm staring at that enormous, fierce, seething, intensely coloured canvas, I feel something.
posted by Marquis at 7:45 AM on June 28, 2005

I'm into a little abstract art and generally don't have the problem of not "getting" art, but this stuff makes no sense to me at all. Is Rothko's ...

are you saying you have more trouble understanding Rothko, than, for instance, Pollack? I understand not "getting" abstract expressionism in general, although personally I do find it interesting, but I'm having a harder time seeing why Rothko in particular would be a stumbling block. To me, he's one of the more interesting abstract painters: strong, powerful juxtapositions of colors and dimensions.
posted by mdn at 7:53 AM on June 28, 2005

Basically it's one of those 'take it or leave it' kind of things. A lot of people don't care for his work, but I personally love it. He strikes me as the most affecting of the abstract expressionists.

His subjects weren't a landscape or some such. Instead he looked inward and tried to capture the essence of colors, their interplay, and their relationship with human emotion. As such, his paintings are themselves the subject. The experience of viewing his work is meant to be more visceral than analytical. But that means that you're perfectly entitled to stand in front of his work, not be moved, and say it doesn't do a thing for you. Without having to try to dissect the 'meaning' of it. If you ask me it's not about craft, it's about emotion and concept.

But that said, there is still plenty of craftsmanship in his work. Next time you say a Rothko, try to look for the brushstrokes, and try to get up close and really look at the variations in a single tone of color. It's not the same sort of challenge as reproducing a Rembrandt, but there's definitely more to Rothko than meets the eye.
posted by drpynchon at 7:58 AM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

This post may contain information that you might have to do just a little research to understand. I didn't have the time to Google and link everything I reference.

A few things to keep in mind:

Abandon the notion that if anyone could do it, it's not good.
Quality is not a function of skill since a "good" painting has less to do with technical proficiency than it has to do with communication. There are plenty of technically skilled painters who make hollow paintings. A painting is not simply about accuracy of image. Also, try to statements of "This art is just________." To reduce it to merely anything is a sign that you're not doing your job as an art viewer. Quite often, you've got to dig a little bit. The artist, hopefully, dug quite a bit to get to that painting. So be fair and meet them halfway.

I happen to love Rothko, so let me boil this down for you.

The role of art is to communicate. It can be literal, narrative, and allegorical. It can imply, allude, and hit. It can also communicate more than a just a simple story. It can create an experience. That is, the experience of absorbing the painting can be the message itself.

At the time that Rothko was painting, there was a growing art theory movement called Formalism. An art critic and theorist named Clement Greenberg wrote extensively about it, if you care to find out more. Among other things, Formalism asserts that the form and surface appearance of a work not only has the power to, but ought to be able to tell the viewer everything they need to know about the painting. Especially when it comes to abstraction.
For instance, in order to really appreciate a painting that depicts an allegory, or a historical painting, you've got to be familiar with the story. You need prior experience or prior knowledge. The role of Formalism is to make the painting the primary experience. There's no image or story to familiarize yourself with in order to have a complete experience with the artwork.

Mark Rothko's paintings, specifically the large squares of color, assert Formalist notions. That is to say, there's no unfamiliar image, no story, no characters, and no prior knowledge to be familiar with. When experiencing a Rothko painting, you should really take your time. What I do is find a comfortable place to stand or sit and let the painting wash over me and envelope me. The large blurry fields of color vibrate, interact and swell out of the painting and, if your open to it, create an emotional and intellectual experience as the result of the enveloping color experience.

Don't rely on reproductions to inform you about Rothko's paintings. All they can do is give you a hint at how amazing his use of color was. You really HAVE TO SEE THEM IN PERSON and spend the time with them. They don't disappoint.

(I was thinking of writing more but metafilter's a little buggy today so I'm trying to beat the Jrun error)
posted by Jon-o at 7:59 AM on June 28, 2005 [5 favorites]


Also, try not to statements of...

It can imply, allude, and hint

posted by Jon-o at 9:25 AM on June 28, 2005

the tate (london) generally has a rothko or two on display (used to be there was a room, far right, in the old building, full of them - don't know if it's still like that). so if you want to "get" them in a "feeling" sense, try that.

but in general, for abstract art, a lot of it has to be context. you could, with a little effort, make a painting not unlike a rothko yourself. the reason why rothko gets the credit is due to historical context - the story behind it. which is going to be a complex combination of everything from "it's good" to "he was the first to do it" to "he happened to be in the right place at the right moment" to "influential investors bought him".
posted by andrew cooke at 9:26 AM on June 28, 2005


try not to make statements....

posted by Jon-o at 9:26 AM on June 28, 2005

Jon-o and Marquis said it better than me, but I'd also like to testify to the power of Rothko's art. A few years ago, I was at the Tate, and I remember they had an entire room dedicated to Rothko. The light was somewhat dimmed, and looking at the paintings was mind-altering. It was an intense experience--I can't easily verbalize it beyond that.
posted by muckster at 9:37 AM on June 28, 2005

you could, with a little effort, make a painting not unlike a rothko yourself

A little effort? It's much harder than it looks. Anyone can paint squares of color but nobody can paint them with the subtlety, conviction, sensitivity, austere, and monumentality of Rothko.
It's not solid color fields like Ellsworth Kelly. There's deliberate modulation and layering that creates an atmosphere that's nearly impossible to mimic.

I can't easily verbalize it beyond that.
Suffocatingly beautiful.
posted by Jon-o at 9:45 AM on June 28, 2005

I don't know that there is anything to get about Rothko, or about most art that's termed abstract. You stand in front of it, look at it, and it either affects you somehow or it does not.

Plus he killed himself, and people who kill themselves are just cool.
posted by xmutex at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2005

When is the last time you heard an intensely moving piece of music and asked what it is that gives it significance? And if you construct an answer, can it compare to the listening experience?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2005

I always thought of his paintings as the ambient music of modern art. Later, I believe I read that he even considered some of his paintings to be atmospheric in a gallery setting. Or perhaps it was that he would rather his art be in a museum rather than a visual background in some fancy person's dining room. I could be mistaken, though, since I can't find the quote or interview.

Regardless, that's how I see them, as visual chill-out in galleries. I agree with everyone else who says that you have to see them in person. They're pretty huge and they're usually given their own room to look at them in.

Also, don't worry about taking them really seriously or anything if you do go out to see them and still don't get it. I don't see much to them, actually. I look at this big, humongous canvas in front of me with really nice fields of color and go "aaaaaaah".
posted by redteam at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2005

I saw one a few months ago at LA MOCA - it's like the Grand Canyon: there's no way you can understand the power unless you're standing in front of it.

I guess it's a bit like William Burroughs' Naked Lunch - many readers don't "get it" simply because it does not follow the traditional plot structure and characterization that we inherently expect from a novel. But just because we have socialized expectations of what a novel, a painting etc should be, any artwork that does not comply to those expectations is no less valid. It's just different. It is what it is. And trying to evalute artwork from books, websites etc is a bit like trying to tell a wine from it's label - what you see and what it is do not relate. You want to think you can make an educated judgement from the information you have, but the keystone - the piece itself - is missing.

Or more succinctly, ditch the computer and get yourself to a gallery where you can see one.
posted by forallmankind at 9:59 AM on June 28, 2005

When I accidentally stumbled into the Tate Modern in London last year, and came across the Rothko room there, something about it just.... clicked inside me. The paintings actually made me weep. And I've read about others doing the same thing. Seeing a Rothko in person and seeing a Rothko in a book is not even close to being the same experience.

The colors have depth, lots of depth, and there is some worlds of emotion behind it. It is abstract, and it isn't art that you can look at like any other art.

The Rothko Chapel in Houston is another amazing, breathtaking experience. The paintings are dark, and foreboding, but somehow give a feeling of ascension. It is very very personal, and it isn't art you can verbally share with someone while looking. You experience, and then talk about the experience after wards.

On preview: yes, what forallmankind said.
posted by Espoo2 at 10:06 AM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I am definitely in the "he was first to do it" category. He perfected his own form of visual expression and it was new, exciting, and it worked (at least for some.) He isn't my cup of tea.

Too many people say things about abstract painting like "anyone can't paint a square," or "I could do that." Guess what? You didnt do it, Mark Rothko did. That's why he is Mark Rothko the significant and well loved painter, and you aren't. Painting a square looks pretty easy when someone else has already done it.
posted by fire&wings at 10:13 AM on June 28, 2005

I'd just like to point that Rothko is uniquely unsuited to being *explained* rather than simply viscerally *felt*. His paintings were intended more as raw paths of feeling than statements like much contemporary and modern art is.

Or, as Rothko put it: "The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them."

And, for what it is worth, I do.
posted by willbaude at 10:15 AM on June 28, 2005

Like many others in this thread, my response to Rothko's painting is at a visceral level. When you say "I've seen children paint similar works.. " I can reply that there is no children's work I've seen that has the perfect balance of depth, texture and power that Rothko so perfectly achieved. Arguably, there are a lot of artists now who paint Rothko-like paintings and manage to approach what he did, but that only enhances the stature of the originals rather than diminish them.

My guess is, as weapons grade pandemonium points out, that Rothko maybe doesn't "do it" for you. There's plenty of universally acknowledged artists and composers whose work I just don't like. Thats true for everybody and there's nothing wrong with that. But also, no amount of technical explanation will then get you to like it, if you don't.
posted by vacapinta at 10:17 AM on June 28, 2005

Keep in mind that Rothko's goal is a painting that expresses something on a universal level, meaning that regardless of your cultural and/or personal background, it's possible for you to "get" his work. In order to do something like that, you have to reduce painting to it's essentials, and what are the essentials of painting? Color, tone, and shape. He's exposing the power of a very limiting rule set to create a mood recognizable on a universal level, something that is both primal and sublime.
posted by lilboo at 10:19 AM on June 28, 2005

They have a nice one at the SF MOMA, and then there's the Rothko Chapel at the Houston Museum of Art. Basically, I second what a number of others have said. It's not about understanding a story or symbols, but being washed over by an enormous field of color. I dislike pure abstraction, and hate minimalism, but I will stand in front of a Rothko staring into it like a zombie. They're really quite overwhelming in person.
posted by slimslowslider at 10:22 AM on June 28, 2005

Rothko is my primary inspiration for becoming a painter. While I've never seen one in person (I'd love to, though!), they're powerful enough for me in print or on a computer screen. I also naively thought they'd be easy to reproduce. Until I tried it -- I have no talent for abstract.

So maybe it does come down to either just liking it or not. For me, it was profound and immediate.
posted by Bear at 10:32 AM on June 28, 2005

When you say "I've seen children paint similar works..

When I hear people say this, I think, "Yes, isn't that amazing?"
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:35 AM on June 28, 2005

There is an intimate connection between Rothko's works and the ideas of Zen Bhuddism. Imagine that the painting is a portal, a focus point for meditation. The object isn't necessarily to appreciate the painting for what it represents, but to experience the painting for the state of mind it creates.

There are a lot of features in Rothko's paintings that are intended to induce this mental state. The colors are deep and luminous, and the more that your eye examines one "color" the more nuance and depth that is revealed within it. Many of the two- or three-block paintings will incorporate the golden ratio, which can create an imaginary horizon line between the blocks. With that horizon line comes the illusion of distance, meaning that your eye is drawn "into the painting" as it searches for the vanishing point. Many of these features are apparent even going into Rothko's black period.
posted by Scooter at 10:39 AM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Seeing a Rothko in person and seeing a Rothko in a book is not even close to being the same experience.

Amen. The very first time I walked into a room with a Rothko, I actually staggered back a little -- the visual power and emotional resonance of the color was that intense. You have to see Rothko to believe him.
posted by scody at 10:48 AM on June 28, 2005

Echoing scody et al. The Tate Modern room of his literally overwhelmed me; I had to sit on the floor for a while and was on the verge of tears, as Espoo2 describes. The weight of the pictures, (they're huge), in such a small space is extraordinarily intense.
posted by punilux at 11:03 AM on June 28, 2005

The Rothko Chapel is not part of the Houston Museum of Art. It's associated with the excellent Menil Collection. It's pretty cool (I especially like the broken obelisk outside), but unfortunately the paintings there have faded due to light exposure, and I'd recommend seeing them somewhere else.
posted by grouse at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2005

"I’m not afraid you won’t think this Mark Rothko beautiful, but what I am afraid, a little, somebody might think it’s just beautiful. Lovely colors. No meaning. But meaning is what he was all about, and he would have been furiously angry if anyone thought that, and told you so in suitably salty language. It was subject matter that mattered most to him. And the subject matter was the emotions. Not small, personal emotions – up today, down tomorrow – but the great timeless emotions. How we feel about death, and courage, and ecstacy. He was convinced that if you would just encounter his paintings, that emotion would be communicated to you with absolute clarity. So to achieve this he painted very large. Because in a small painting – big you, little painting – you can control it. But with a large painting, it controls you. You’re taken into it. Unless of course you look at it from a distance, that killing, assessing look. So to combat that, he insisted that always the light be very dim, so you couldn’t actually see the thing until you were right up against it. And then something does begin to happen. He painted with very thin mists of paint, feathering it on, breathing it on. And you are taken up, out of yourself, into something greater, something transcendent and majestic. If you can think of a religious painting without religion, this is what you experience here. It’s so timeless, that when I’ve had this encounter, I feel to return to the world of time, I have to shake my head and bring myself down to earth again.

I never started getting Rothko until I heard Sister Wendy talk about him.

I will note, that ever since I started working with children I've nearly driven myself mad trying to achieve some sort of loosely held balence like I see in their paintings. how anyone can do art...without thinking about it out of existence and into oblivion...Arrgh. Stupid kids and their innocence.
posted by redsparkler at 11:21 AM on June 28, 2005

That link that scooter gave to Rothko's black period painting in the Tate is the perfect example of why you need to go and see his paintings in person. The image of the painting is absolutely dead on the computer screen, but in person it is actually glowing with life.

Rothko's work is indeed a profound portal...
posted by sic at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2005

Have you seen his paintings in person? That is the first step- looking at replicas on paper or screen is no substitute, especially in his case.

This is absolutely true, as many have said. I didn't really appreciate Rothko until I saw the Whitney exhibition in '98. I went because my brother is a huge Rothko fan (he's very mystical/philosophical in general, unlike me) and I wanted to experience what was so important to him. Rothko will never mean as much to me as he does to my brother, but he's an incredible painter, and you wouldn't believe how much detail and variety there is in those superficially similar canvases. (And can we retire the "a kid could do that" line? It just makes the user of it sound like a portly old man in a yellowing New Yorker cartoon.)

What is it that makes the art have any significance?

Nothing "has" significance in and of itself. Things are given significance by people. The black stone in the Kaaba at Mecca is "just a rock" if you're not a Muslim; if you are, it has tremendous significance. Neither view is "right"; it all depends on who you are. If you don't get Rothko, that's fine, but it doesn't mean his art isn't significant.
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

you could, with a little effort, make a painting not unlike a rothko yourself. the reason why rothko gets the credit is due to historical context - the story behind it. which is going to be a complex combination of everything from "it's good" to "he was the first to do it" to "he happened to be in the right place at the right moment" to "influential investors bought him".

Too many people say things about abstract painting like "anyone can't paint a square," or "I could do that." Guess what? You didnt do it, Mark Rothko did. That's why he is Mark Rothko the significant and well loved painter, and you aren't. Painting a square looks pretty easy when someone else has already done it.

Plus he killed himself, and people who kill themselves are just cool.

All of which borders on reducing the work to an artifact, alas. Take off the name and see how many people leave the room.

Mind you, I sympathize with our questioner. Sometimes I go through art galleries and ask myself if I would recognize any of the work as being first rate (or, harder, even good second rate) if I were to see it dusty and ignored at an estate sale. It can be a humbling experience, I tell you what.

Or enlightening, depending.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2005

IANAAH, so yet another amateur's vote for the room at the old Tate. My response was not so much emotional as physical - it actually took me a while to work out why I suddenly felt completely faint and light headed. Once I'd sat down for a few minutes and the blood returned to my head a little I realised it might be the paintings. It didn't clear properly until I left the room.
posted by penguin pie at 12:44 PM on June 28, 2005

Rothko's color field work does NOT reproduce. Go look at some originals in person. The subtleties of color, line and scale just don't come across, even on my Colorsync monitor.

I didn't know anything about Rothko until I read this thread. All I know is there's one of his giant two rectangle pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's modern collection, and every time I walk by it it seems to project a weird thrumming noise straight into my head. There is no noise - I am not psychotic - but the painting has a bizarre effect on me that I can't describe any other way.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:10 PM on June 28, 2005

I should point out that before I had that experience, I was a derisive non-believer, dismissing Rothko as a rectangle-painting hack. 0.3 seconds in front of the actual painting washed that idea clean out of my head forever.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:14 PM on June 28, 2005

ikkyu2, that's exactly how I would describe it -- his paintings thrum when I see them too! It's as much a physical sensation as it is an aural one.
posted by scody at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2005

Something no one has mentioned, and I'm rather surprised about, is what happens when you stare at the paintings.
They're huge things; they fill your field of vision. And most of them have not-quite-complimentary color pairings. As you stare at them, a couple things will happen. First off, you're likely to feel overwhelmed. Second off, your eyes will try to white balance to one or the other (usually the larger color field is the dominant one, but not always), and this will affect the way you perceive the other colors in the painting. The painting will appear to come forward and to recede at different points, and the colors will shift as your eyes adjust.
There has been a movement coming up called "Consciousness Art," or art that tries to make us examine how we perceive what we perceive. Rothko can be a bit of a Godfather to them through his paintings. But do sit with them, and try to take the whole thing in. Wait around, and hopefully people will get out of your way.
posted by klangklangston at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2005

There's little point me adding to what's already been said here, but I will anyway. I'm a huge Rothko fan, and find it frustrating that he's so widely marketed as poster and greetings card fodder, because it's then so easy for the layperson to write him off as a painter of squares. The major Rothko retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris back in, oh I dunno, 1999 or so was one of the most moving experiences I've had. I think his early works are terrible, but the colour fields are gut-wrenchingly beautiful and viscerally powerful. Standing in front of them is a genuinely transcendental experience. I floated. Especially, as has been mentioned, the excruciating claustrophobia and sadness that come from his black period. Even more affecting for me though were the ones that came after that - as though he was trying desperately to claw his way back to life with queasy off-whites and pinks, but was still overwhelmed by sadness, hopelessness and futility.

I really really urge fans of his to seek out the album that Morton Feldman was commissioned to write for the chapel: Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns? It's one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music ever written.
posted by nylon at 4:53 PM on June 28, 2005

I've seen his works in person and they do nothing for me. So it's not that simple...
posted by smackfu at 5:18 PM on June 28, 2005

...but I will be taking a closer look next time I see one, after seeing such passionate responses.
posted by smackfu at 5:21 PM on June 28, 2005

Server errors prevented me from posting this morning, but I'm delighted to come back after work and see so many wonderful responses. I like the guy, even if he didn't hit me as quickly and sharply as some of the other abstract expressionists. There's motion, energy and violence in his work, arranged in ways that really tug at the eye and engage the mind and heart. For me, they thrum even without seeing them in person. But Rothko himself sometimes made it difficult to understand his work; he usually rejected too-convenient interpretations, including those by rather pompous theoreticians like Clement Greenberg. There's lots of good info in the review languagehat linked above; I particularly liked the gentle criticism here:

What is surprising is that he did not experiment more. There are several other painters of the same generation that did: Theodore Stamos, William Baziotes, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and, perhaps most importantly, Adolph Gottlieb. Their works have the same intensity but much more drama, more explosiveness and, often, more sinuosity. They have more artistry, if not poetry. One hesitates to demean Rothko’s determined preoccupation with his simple themes even if they are merely two- or three-note sambas to the rich orchestral works of someone like Richard Diebenkorn whose works are sharper and more complex, but just as poetic. Rothko's oeuvre is impressive, but stops short of greatness. It is lush, but not rich.

There are some great quotes from Rothko further down, too.

Slate's review of the show might also be helpful, at least in understanding what he thought about his breakaway from Miro-like surrealism:

He realized that the weird birds and body parts and eyes added nothing to his paintings. The boldly simplified work of friends such as Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still (the California abstractionist he'd met on a trip west in 1944) may have encouraged him to banish imagery from his work. Rothko made the background of paintings such as Hierarchical Birds--the richly painted stacked rectangles of contrasting colors--the foreground, and he never looked back.

As for his darker and more grim "Late Works" (which I enjoy much less than paintings like this), at least some of them arose because Rothko was disgusted by the fact that his work was popular among "the richest bastards in New York." In that sense, some of them are kind of punk, I suppose.

And, of course, Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word is still a must-read for anyone interested in clarifying their own thoughts about abstract expressionism.
posted by mediareport at 6:19 PM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

You might want to read this thread.
posted by daksya at 1:19 AM on June 29, 2005

Wow, thanks for linking to that thread, which I'd somehow missed. Aside from the fact that it smoked out some idiots, it linked to this humbling test, which I failed miserably -- though I improved as I got familiar with the style of the four-year-olds.

*rubs his hands in anticipation of his grandson turning four, at which point he will give him oil paints and start raking in the big bucks*
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on June 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Y'know, the "you have to see it in person" effect isn't just a phenomenon of modern/abstract art. Take Vermeer, for instance. I'd seen reproductions online and in books and never quite got what the big deal was - why Vermeer is spoken of in such near-religious tones. He made pretty pictures, I thought. So what? Then last March I went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and saw three Vermeers in person for the first time. And I totally get what the big deal is now. I actually gasped in amazment when I walked up to them. I mean - "mere paint is not supposed to be able to do that" I thought. The light in them, and the colors and textures...the real things are so much richer and more complex than any book or photo reproduction can show.
posted by dnash at 8:19 AM on June 29, 2005

You really thought that test was humbling, languagehat? Seemed kind of stupid to me.
posted by mediareport at 3:24 PM on June 29, 2005

That test was dumb, and Bingo's comments in that thread were dumb. But hey, I nailed their test, so what do I know? My Maleviches, I suppose...
posted by klangklangston at 9:32 AM on June 30, 2005

i don't think the test was dumb. but then i only got one wrong. :oP

(and that was only because some fabric designer decided to take the piss out of warhol - how was i to know he'd not used pugs? the test is easy once you stop trying to assess the pictures by "how they make you feel", or "how well they are made", but rather to compare them to the "modern canon". because, as i said, it's all about context.)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 PM on June 30, 2005

I wish, I wish, I wish.

I wish the test was actually a vote. I just clicked Art on all off them. Who the hell are they to tell me that what 4-year-old Sarah did wasn't art?

And just because you bought it at the Salvation Army? Not a difference.

Flashback to high school, where I was the only one on the trip interested in seeing the East wing of the National Gallery of Art.

When did I become so damn accepting?
posted by redsparkler at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2005

Scooter wrote "There is an intimate connection between Rothko's works and the ideas of Zen Bhuddism. Imagine that the painting is a portal, a focus point for meditation. The object isn't necessarily to appreciate the painting for what it represents, but to experience the painting for the state of mind it creates.

Thanks so much for bringing up the Zen aspect, Scooter. I was previously unaware that there was a formal connection made -- my best explanation of the experience of his work in person has been that it is like the moment of enlightenment resulting from the contemplation of a koan.
posted by VulcanMike at 9:04 PM on January 9, 2006

Felt like I left off a bit abuptly... Here's the Wikip definition of koan, and the first graf of the entry...

A koan (pronounced /ko.an/) is a story, dialog, question, or statement in the history and lore of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, generally containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational understanding, yet that may be accessible to Intuition. A famous koan is, "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?" (oral tradition, attributed to Hakuin Ekaku, 1686-1769, considered a reviver of the koan tradition in Japan).
posted by VulcanMike at 9:08 PM on January 9, 2006

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