Abstract Expressionism

Mark Rothko’s Recipe for a Work of Art

Zuzanna Stańska 27 July 2022 min Read

Mark Rothko, one of the most famous postwar American artists is now generally identified as an Abstract Expressionist and his art is exquisite. Who once has seen Rothko in person, can immediately fall in love with his abstract color fields. You can see everything in them: death, devotion, hope. Or even your own soul.

In November 1958 Mark Rothko gave an address to the Pratt Institute. He discussed art as trade and offered “the recipe of a work of art – its ingredients – how to make it – the formula”. Here it is. What do you think?

1. There must be a clear preoccupation with death – intimations of mortality… Tragic art, romantic art, etc., deals with the knowledge of death.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black on Grey), 1970, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, Untitled (Black on Grey), 1970, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

2. Sensuality. Our basis of being concrete about the world. It is a lustful relationship to things that exist.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue), 1966, private collection
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue), 1966, private collection. Mark Rothko.

3. Tension. Either conflict or curbed desire.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Red, Orange), 1968, Fondation Beleyer, Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel, © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / ProLitteris, Zürich
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, Untitled (Red, Orange), 1968, Fondation Beyeler, Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel, © Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / ProLitteris, Zürich

4. Irony, this is a modern ingredient – the self-effacement and examination by which a man for an instant can go on to something else.

Mark Rothko, No. 15. Black, Red and Black, 1968, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, No. 15. Black, Red and Black, 1968, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain.

5. Wit and play… For the human element.

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1956, Phillips Collection
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1956, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, USA.

6. The ephemeral and chance… For the human element.

Mark Rothko, Red And Pink On Pink, c. 1953, The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, Red And Pink On Pink, c. 1953, The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, USA.

7. Hope. 10% to make the tragic concept more endurable.

Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, private collection
Recipe for Work of Art: Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, private collection. Mark Rothko.

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