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Mark Rothko as a Spiritual Artist

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About twelve years ago, I was employed by a local modern art museum as a gallery guard. Security was my job. I was to ensure that children did not climb on, grab, yank, pull down, or lick any of the pieces. Adults were not allowed to do any of that either! I learned a great deal about modern art during my two-year stint. I even had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with artists Nancy Graves and Melissa Miller, which was awesome!

One thing I heard from one docent after another was that modern artist Mark Rothko wanted his viewers to look into his paintings and have a spiritual experience with him. I knew exactly what those docents were saying, but I am hard pressed to find anything about it on the Internet.

When I put the words "Mark, Rothko, spiritual" into search engines, my research came up snake eyes. In fact, I found a quote at PBS about Rothko that summed up my research: “Seeking to represent a spiritual experience, Mark Rothko invoked the power of color in his work.” While I like the colors used in Rothko’s work, I was not talking about them. I was not talking about the colors or the geometry, the abstract, the depth, the feeling, wash, dry and rinse. None of that. No.

I was talking about a spiritual experience with the artist, the kind of experience that could only be had by placing yourself squarely in front of a painting (sit or stand, as is your preference) and looking past a square of color, for example, and be with the artist. Exist with Rothko, just for a short period of time. I actually did this with a few paintings and was able to ascertain time periods, dispositions, and mental states.

It was real. It was reality. It was what he wanted.

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About Ginae B. McDonald

  • I have always loved Rothko, simplicity at it’s best. I have had that spiritual experience with his art, and many other good abstract artists. That should be what good abstract is all about. It grabs your eye than grabs your soul.

  • Well said! 🙂

  • Trevor Yokochi

    Beautifully said.