June 21, 2006
Rothko the Writer

Rothko the writer - an article discussing Rothko's writings, The Artist's Reality, and Writings on Art.

Although it had enjoyed a long life in the mythology surrounding Rothko, the actual manuscript for ``The Artist's Reality" had spent almost 50 years hidden in a manilla folder, labeled ``miscellaneous papers," before being accidentally discovered by the estate's bookkeeper in 1988. Not wanting to spoil the ``sensuous adventure" of his father's art with second-rate writing, Christopher Rothko then held on to the many scraps and drafts for 15 years before deciding to edit them into an intelligible (and intelligent) book.

In 1941, poised between his surrealist experiments of the 1930s and the unforgettably simplified luminosity that would emerge eight years later, Rothko took a year off to write. All the anecdotal evidence suggests that he approached the task very seriously, and these publications show he did it very well. While most of the ideas in the book are not original to him, it is still exciting to follow along as one of our best painters addresses the big problems of the era, with chapters on Primitive Art, Modern Art, Beauty, and Decadence. If he sometimes loses himself in a pile of abstractions, Rothko usually finds his way back to basic concepts, and the journey goes more smoothly if one keeps his future paintings in mind while reading. His detailed inquiries into the role of light in painting are a bit technical, but less so if one remembers how nice it is to bask in the light that his iconic works effortlessly emit.

If ``The Artist's Reality" gives us Rothko the theorist, ``Writings on Art" aims at a fuller picture. The 90 or so chronological entries start in 1934 with his enthusiastic conviction that ``painting is just as natural a language as singing or speaking" and end, in 1969, with a very short speech marking the ``difficult" acceptance of an honorary doctorate from his abandoned alma mater,Yale. (Having finally achieved fame, Rothko tells his audience,with overtones of his impending suicide, that he longs, instead,for ``pockets of silence.")


Posted by Bill Stilwell at June 21, 2006 02:36 PM

terrific website (& well named, that); really happy to find the Rothko article. regarding one of your earlier posts. 'and yet, and yet' is a construction I'm partial to as well, though I've always associated it with Borges -- the final paragraph of 'A New Refutation of Time' -- being shamefully unfamiliar with both Marquez & your musical source.

"And yet, and yet . . . Denying temporal succession, denying the self, denying the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations
and secret consolations. Our destiny is not frightful by being unreal; it is frightful because it is irreversible and iron-clad. Time is
the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am
the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges."

Posted by: js on June 24, 2006 7:53 PM
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