Contemplation Upon Viewing a Painting by Mark Rothko | Teen Ink

Contemplation Upon Viewing a Painting by Mark Rothko

June 3, 2010
By fallingupriver BRONZE, Sarasota, Florida
fallingupriver BRONZE, Sarasota, Florida
3 articles 19 photos 3 comments

I had heard of him before, even prior to studying art history, heard his name whispered through the lips of nervous concierges, terrified by the monumentality of his impact. In truth, he was no more than a collection of rectangles drowned in vivacious colour: dark, earthy tones blending with the blood red of a sunrise. Yet this repetition of seemingly harmless geometric forms carried with it a definitive breach in the conception of modern art, and with this shattering of boundaries came an evocation of the human condition, an epiphany individually realized and collectively felt that holds a perpetual influence on my own existence.

I first saw him on July nineteenth. I remember the atmosphere of the city, loud and ferocious, a hazy mist shrouding the crowded, drab pavement and screeching yellow taxi cabs. It blazed with lights that never matched in intensity, pedestrians whose footsteps never quite synchronized, and the irrevocable conviction of a peculiar sort of energy that never moved backwards, never questioned the legitimacy of its actions, and never paused for so much as a moment’s respite. Sharp, determined strides and even sharper tongues permeated the sidewalks and streets of the city. A symphony of blaring horns and swearing passerby juxtaposing with the softness of my mother’s voice led me onwards, like a mindless creature: a moth to a light, yet thousands of lights existed around me in this city of glass, as scintillating and as hard as diamonds. My body was tense and shivering and tired, overpowered by the aura of New York City. I was sixteen years old.

I remember entering the building and immediately being confronted by a tranquillity so unlike the jarring atmosphere of the streets from which I had came. In truth, my mind relays this moment fictitiously: everything appears so stagnant, and the room vacant, yet reason informs me of the crowds of visitors, both local and foreign, that were present that day. I remember ascending the multitude of steps in the lobby; I remember tripping on the second to last and feeling that familiar rush of nervous exhilaration- partly of blind fear, partly of astonishment. I remember laughing at my own foolishness. It was like that of a child.

I discovered the room by mistake. Wandering about the art museum, I felt like an amorphous figure, a blank slate impacted entirely by the canvases positioned on the pristine walls and the mobiles that hung from the ceiling. The slew of names, dates, compositions, and themes I absorbed reeled about my mind and my mood surged from their impact, continuously oscillating among heightened versions of euphoria, desolation, confusion, frustration, and compliance. There was no particular sensation of conscious understanding or interest, but rather a natural flow of movement- not unlike that of a river or of a good conversation- that led me before Rothko’s painting.

The room itself was spacious and relatively devoid of visitors. Its walls were purely white, so much so that I found it almost abrasive, though recently I have learned that this characteristic is archetypal of most modern art museums. The painting stood vast and impregnable upon the wall opposing the entrance. It took me almost by surprise- a block of rich and solid colours, extending from the paleness of its surroundings. The confrontation seemed inescapable, fated, and oddly human. Thoughts of a surgeon executing the first incision of a patient rushed into my mind; the sensation that someone had torn open the pallid surface- the skin- of the building to reveal the pulsating red of its muscles and tendons beneath seemed to dominate all other forms of reaction. The canvas had absorbed my interest so effortlessly and so fluidly that I stood there powerless, a slave to the indelible impact it held upon me. There was no sense in attempting to flee from its ubiquitous presence, and like a captured animal that recognizes the fatality of its situation, I grew very calm.
I’m still not entirely sure what emotion I first experienced upon entering the room. I don’t think I ever will be. On some days I look back at the event and perceive myself as a confounded adolescent, impassive and ambivalent within that moment, devoid of sensation. Other times, I see myself terrified by the intensity of the artwork, overcome with fear of the rapid, clumsy brushstrokes that so adamantly opposed the fundamental standards of art that I once adhered to so unconditionally. Still others, I imagine myself responding with gaiety, enlivened by the vivacity of the work that contrasted so magnificently with the pallid walls of the room. There are even days where I believe I was affected by a conglomeration of every type of feeling.
But it is only recently that I have discovered that my reaction to the painting within that moment is inconsequential. During my observation of the artwork, I believed I was looking at reds, browns, purples, and blacks: something as ephemeral and subjective as colour. However, the canvas was not simply hues, or paints, or even a canvas; no, it was not even the muscles and tendons of the building it inhabited. It was a reflection of myself, and my grandparents, and my great-great grandchildren, and Darius the Great, and the lady I always see in the supermarket who can never decide between red and green apples. It was a representation of the human soul: a summary of our triumphs, our failures, our perseverance and our lassitude, our ability to create and our ability to destroy, the diversity of our ideas and beliefs and cultures, and the manner in which we reconcile these differences and coexist as one unified body. So you see, when I was searching with such exasperation for a tangible emotional response to Rothko’s painting, I got it all wrong. It is not what I felt while looking at the work within that specific moment in time, but rather, what I felt the minute I turned away from the canvas, and what I felt at every instance following. It is about applying what I learned from my experience with the painting on that day to what I do in the future, and letting these themes of compassion, tolerance, cooperation and social responsibility serve as the catalyst for the upcoming intellectual and civil endeavours that I will perform.

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This article has 2 comments.

Curly_Sue said...
on Oct. 21 2011 at 6:14 pm
Curly_Sue, Sand Springs, Oklahoma
0 articles 0 photos 75 comments
really neat! love how you wrote a review/expererience in such a unique way :)

KateFerguson said...
on Oct. 19 2011 at 5:26 pm
KateFerguson, Sand Springs, Oklahoma
0 articles 7 photos 32 comments

Favorite Quote:
Your pain is a gift.

Not only do I like your review as a whole, you have a disctint writing style and a nice vocabulary! 2 thumbs up!