Exploring Human Potential

“Silence Is So Accurate” In A Hyperkinetic AI World.

Posted on | January 23, 2024 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

“I mean, people keep saying in these troubled moments, in these troubled moments. It seems like we’re always in a troubled moment, perhaps this one even more so than usual…But the artwork is a great conduit to feeling that renewed hope for what the human being is capable of.” 

Those were the words of Christopher Rothko, son of world renowned artist, Mark Rothko. They were spoken last month, at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. before a live audience of 1000, and countless others via live stream video.

Chris was joined that day by his sister, Kate Rothko Prizel, gallerist Arne Glimcher, and NGA curator, Adam Greenhalgh, who moderated the hour long panel discussion celebrating the opening of the exhibition, “Mark Rothko: Paintings on Paper.” My viewership owed to the fact that I believe in the transcendent power of art, and like many of you, am searching for answers, for solutions, during “these troubled moments.”

Mark Rothko’s official bio has, on the surface, a certain currency today – (Russia, Zionist, immigrant, Ivy League, NYC elite, educator of children). The first paragraph reads, “Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia, on September 25, 1903. His parents were Jacob and Anna Goldin Rothkowitz, and Rothko was raised in a well-educated family with Zionist leanings. At the age of ten, Rothko and his mother and sister immigrated to America to join his father and brothers… From 1921 to 1923 Rothko attended Yale University on a full scholarship and then moved to New York City. In 1924 he enrolled in the Art Students League…In 1929 Rothko began teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a position he retained for more than twenty years.”

NGA correctly labels him a ”world-renowned painter” who most admire for his “monumental soft-edged rectangular field” paintings that radiate with color. But experts like Michael Andor Brodeur, classical music critic at the Washington Post, emphasize his deep connection to Mozart, and Rothko’s much quoted statement, “I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.”

Most agree that Mark Rothko was deeply contemplative. Or in Brodeur’s words, created “diffusely defined panels of abutting colors — their most subdued hues ignited into a strange glow, their uncanny depth achieved through layers of paint and pigment, their silence overtaking every room they occupied… though they’re heavy with silence, it’s undeniable that his paintings also contain music.”

Rothko put it more simple: “Silence is so accurate.” Perhaps his most famous quote.

Viewers of Rothko are not passive. Many accounts document visitors “bursting into tears.”  NGA curator and Rothko expert, Adam Greenhalgh, explained the painter’s intent to “smile through tears” this way: “Rothko hoped his paintings conveyed basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom — and that comes from tragedy…”

During his early years, the years Rothko was teaching art to children in New York City, he was working on a manuscript focused on what was the role of the artist in society. In a book about his father, written with his sister, Kate, Chris recounts that his father “sees the artist as someone who is almost like a soothsayer, someone whose responsibility is to some degree our conscience, but certainly to awaken us to all the ideas.” But his father never finished the book, according to his son, because “he realizes that he can actually paint that better than he’s writing it.”

Once his painting was “written,” Rothko worked hard to ensure that the viewer would be able to “read it” correctly. He insisted his monumental paintings be hung only 30 centimeters above the floor, so that you would experience a face-to-face immersion. Galleries were repainted in a light gray with brownish tones which the artist believed best completed his creations. And spot lighting the works was prohibited, as were stanchions that separated the visitors from the works. The works were grouped together in large space galleries, with benches if possible, to encourage long contemplation.

One could easily argue that our hyper-kinetic world, so distracted and anxious and fearful, a world where common ground escapes us, and health – in mind, body, and spirit – is elusive, needs other ways to reach out and touch, other ways to communicate.

On his father’s purpose, son Chris reflects, “he sets up the artist as sort of historically someone who’s not understood or discounted, but in fact, might have some things to say to us in a language that maybe isn’t the one that we speak all the time, but maybe goes a little deeper.”

If you happen to be in Washington in the next two months, and you have a few hours to burn, may I suggest a visit to the National Gallery of Art. The Rothko exhibit runs to March 31st. If not, buy or loan a copy of Chris and Kate’s book about their father (Mark Rothko), and set aside an hour to listen to “Mark Rothko: Insights from Arne Glimcher and the Rothko Family”, a remarkable conversation that highlights America’s complexity, strength, majesty, beauty and promise as we negotiate carefully the year – 2024.


2 Responses to ““Silence Is So Accurate” In A Hyperkinetic AI World.”

  1. Lawrence Williams
    February 5th, 2024 @ 3:37 pm

    Damn, another troubled moment, I can’t get to Washington.

  2. Mike Magee
    February 5th, 2024 @ 5:38 pm

    …if you can’t get to DC, you could make your own version using Home Depot paint chips as HERE.

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