Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Renee Jorgensen on Mark Rothko


Photo via SFMoMA

This is entry #84 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Renee Jorgensen (University of Michigan)

Artwork: Untitled #14, Oil paint on stretched canvas, 290.83 cm x 268.29 cm by Mark Rothko, (1960)

Words: I hated this painting when I first saw it, printed roughly one square inch in a textbook. But in person, the nine-foot canvas hums with subtle variations of color and texture, and one can’t look away. I love it because despite its size, it’s soft, even quiet. It invites reflection without dictating its direction; there is as much space here for melancholy as for exuberance. Though Rothko himself was emphatically anti-representational, to me this piece feels like the night sky during wildfire season: the orange-red of the glow from distant flames, up against the deep blues of the nocturnal landscape. 

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