9780300102536 / 0300102534

The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art


Publisher:Yale University Press



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About the book:

Mark Rothko, the painter famous for his luminous abstract canvases, spent several years in the late 1930s and early '40s writing a book about the meaning of art. Edited by his son Christopher, Rothko's uncompleted manuscript, The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art, reveals a man struggling to make a case for the highest ideals of Western culture at a time when crass popular taste and American regionalism were conspiring against the values he held dear. During these years, Rothko worked in a melancholy Expressionist style that was just beginning to be influenced by Surrealism. The hovering rectangles of color that would put him on the modern art map were still a decade away. While this book will no doubt be important to Rothko scholars, it is a period piece, relying on a form of rhetoric and a belief system that can be exasperating to modern readers. Windy chapters on such topics as "The Integrity of the Plastic Process," studded with references to Plato and Leonardo, "truth" and "unity," are Rothko's stock in trade. He never mentions his own paintings and refers to a few other living artists only in passing. And yet--as Christopher Rothko points out in his clear-eyed and useful introduction--the process of wrestling ideas onto the page may have helped the artist find a personal means of expressing the "tragic emotionality" that he believed to be the essence of all great art. Rothko longed to discover a new, post-Christian "myth" that could express a unified outlook on life by embodying "the world of ideals." Little did he realize at the time that the resolution of his dilemma would be based on a radically new approach to handling paint and using color. Cathy Curtis

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