Brainy Certified: Mind Blowing Art – Mark Rothko

Image Courtesy: National Gallery of Art
Image Courtesy: National Gallery of Art
Image Courtesy: National Gallery of Art

Rothko’s art is genius.

Mark Rothko went through an artistic journey before settling into his signature multiform style. It’s this multiform painting technique that earns him a place on our Brainy Certified collection of mind blowing artists.

Rothko was not trying to make himself famous, he wasn’t trying to make money, and he most certainly was not just trying to make something ‘pretty.’

Before you understand his actual work, it helps to understand his intention.  

Rothko wanted to transcend regular art. He was aiming to create an image that provoked something grand within yourself.

When you look at a Rothko painting, you’re not supposed to be looking for something. When you look at a Rothko painting, you find a certain silence within yourself.

Originally Rothko was painting abstract images of streets, people, and things. He wanted to create images similar to myths which were known to provoke greater feelings from within the observer.

Eventually he learned he had to abandon all known forms. If he painted an image of something, unfortunately, the viewer would then associate the painting with those images.  

Rothko did not want you to think of anything in particular when you saw his work. He wanted you to think of nothing or everything. If he painted with form, then the viewer would be stuck thinking of whatever the subject of the painting with.

That’s why when you see Rothko’s work, you may think that it’s a painting of nothing. In reality, it’s a painting of everything. When you stare at his work, it is intended to be an experience similar to a religious trance. It feels meditative.

It feels so religious that there was a non denominational chapel in Houston created called the Rothko Chapel that features his murals.  

The Chapel mimics the feeling of being in church or temple, yet there are no religious strings attached. The walls are covered in his murals, and all you do is sit in front of them.

The feeling of silence of is provoked. In fact, Rothko once said, “Silence is so accurate.”

What did he mean by that?

If you are focused on something or thinking about something in particular, you forgo your ability to bask in silence. Only in this true silence do you get a religious like experience. Only in this true silence can you find your true self.

It’s the same silence that Zen Buddhists talk about. It’s the same silence that several theosophists and philosophers talk about. There is meditation in true silence, and this meditation gives you an overwhelming sense of joy in life.

So how does Rothko achieve this holy silence with his art?

He has over time broken his work down. His multiform style is the culmination of years of searching for the perfect form for his goal.

Essentially, most of his work is just layers of colors on layers of color. He doesn’t let the color take form, and instead keeps them in loose rectangles or squares.

He uses colors as his medium. Rothko’s work shows you just how powerful certain hues can be on your inner cognition.

When you look at his work, what stands out most is the lines between two colors. They aren’t sharply defined, but instead they are soft. It really feels like the edges are vibrating.

It is so easy to get lost in a Rothko painting like this, and it’s not a coincidence that viewers often feel this way. Rothko will convey an emotion without words. He will have your brain link to as few concepts as possible.

When your brain is left in this silent state, the layers of colors are all that is left. These colors will then take you to a feeling. This feeling will help the rest of your brain soothe.

Rothko was trying to answer the ‘big questions’ with his work. And instead of doing this with complex symbolism and metaphors (like many artists like to), Rothko aims to use simplicity and color.

What’s mind blowing is that it works. He is critically acclaimed and anyone who stares at a Rothko painting will tell you about its truth. It’s not just a page of color, it’s really an insight into your own mind.  If you are skeptical, I challenge you to really stare into some of his work. 

Not many people have spent so much time and effort thinking about how a picture or a painting will be received by your brain. Rothko devoted the entire of his later career to answering this.

Not only did Rothko try to paint directly for your mind, he had larger aspirations of what to say to it. He wanted to communicate his silence. He wanted to communicate a truly religious experience.

And what’s really amazing, what’s truly mind blowing, is that he did all of this with only color.

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