Mark Rothko in His Own Words
“I hate and distrust all art historians, experts, and critics,” Mark Rothko fulminated in 1959. “They are a bunch of parasites, feeding on the body of art. Their work not only is useless, it is misleading. They can say nothing worth listening to about art or the artist, aside from personal gossip, which I grant you can sometimes be interesting.”
Fortunately for us, this opinion did not deter Rothko from writing about his own work. But whereas the collected writings of many major 20th-century artists have long since been published, Rothko’s written works have only recently come to light, beginning with the much-heralded publication of his theoretical treatise The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art (Yale University Press, 2004). Now, with the publication of Writings on Art, the remainder of Rothko’s illuminating literary corpus is available in a single volume. These comprise some 90 documents, including short essays, letters, statements, and lectures written by Rothko during his career, fully annotated and supplemented by a chronology of the artist’s life and work.
“‘Writings on Art‘ becomes frustrating if only because one cannot discuss the ideas with its author,” says David Cotner in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. “This relatively slim volume is equally invaluable because of the way these previously uncollected and in many cases unpublished words reveal a depth and development of character unique to the 20th century. Here is an artist embracing intangibles like myth in an era when the loftiest deities are revealed as the Joneses; here is an artist who demands his work command concentration and focus in a rapidly splintering world of noise and stimulation.”
“If any painter aimed to transcend words, it was Mark Rothko, whose luminous fields of color revolutionized American art,” runs the review in the Boston Globe. “All the more suprising, then, that his newly published writings tell us so much.”