Rothko – Low Barrier to Entry


This morning, while looking through submissions  from Illustration Friday’s participants, I found this intriguing post from Lisa Mertins.

She talks about her visceral reaction with  a Rothko painting at Moma in San Francisco, and asks the question:

“Have you ever had this happen to you with art? I’d love to hear about it  if so.”

I want to share a story about Rothko. When I was an under grad student, I took a 20th century art class with a visiting professor. Thankfully, our regularly scheduled fusty-old-moth-ball-smelling-tenured art historian was on sabbatical.  Professor Visitor was from Philadelphia (maybe Chas or someone will remember her name). She began our term with the following story.

She said that while she was working on her master’s degree, she was late for a lecture in a museum. She was hurrying through a gallery to find her group when she came face-to-face with a Rothko. It stopped in her tracks, cold. Her hair stood on end, and she had an experience where she “got” it. She described understanding color from the level of color – not intellectually, but more on a non-spoken level. And she said it was then that she began to understand (aspects) of 20th century art thinking.

That introduction made all the difference in the world for me, and I LOVED that class. I was completely engaged with each chapter – each artist – each idea. I was completely awake.

Last summer, I met the Rothko that Lisa talks about in her post. Every time I see one of his paintings, I silently acknowledge the fact I owe a lot to Rothko and his works. He knocked our visiting professor’s socks off, and she  opened the doors to “modern art” for me.  It was the perfect introduction to the subject and, well, to making art.