Tag Archives: Rothko

Gifts of Transcendence

I have wonderful friends. Ones who support me and understand me. So, when they heard I was injured and stuck lying around; off my leg for weeks to come, two of the most insightful ones brought me a gift of art. Both went to museums and came back to me with Rothkos. One with a beautiful print and, one with a powerfully written tale of his trip to see a Rothko in my honor. They understand me well.

Some works of art have the ability to transport us emotionally to another plane of experience. Certainly music will do this for most of us. Think of the elevating power of the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, the Ode to Joy or listen to Pachelbel’s canon. Visual arts too have this power. The Shiva Linga paintings that I discussed in an earlier post are a clear and direct example of this. They were painted as devotional images intended for use during meditation to help the believer focus their prayers. The paintings depict one of the forms of the Hindu god Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation. He  oversees death and rebirth. These paintings therefore are meant to represent transitional space between creation and dissolution.

Despite my not being Hindu or particularly meditative, I found these paintings absolutely compelling. They are simple and repetitive; painted on found scraps of paper by individual, anonymous practitioners. Similar yet interesting in their differences.  As I stared into their central black ovals I felt the world around melting away from behind me while the black space grew to envelope my thoughts.

I have to wonder if Mark Rothko perhaps saw and was influenced by similar paintings. There are parallels to be found in his work: the spare design, simple color blocks and, the intended purpose of transcendence. Rothko meant for us, the viewers stand close to and alone in front of his paintings. He meant for us to be embraced by them. A sensuous, tragic, moving embrace. So now I in possession of my own Rothko’s, feel able to extend beyond the limits of my own experience. I am momentarily lifted beyond the couch and into the enfolding spell that art can provide.         ©

“I’ll never be an artist!” or, how our talking about art at the dinner table started

This business of  teaching my three kids about art has several roots. I am most assuredly a frustrated artist. Frustrated mostly by lack of real talent. Frustrated partly by lack of time. So, without talent and time to make my own art I like to read about art, think about art and talk about art with anyone who will join in with me. It can be hard to find similarly obsessed partners but I was thrown a crumb of interest by my daughter years ago and have used it ever since as the cornerstone for a great ongoing family discussion. She was in preschool at the time. I found her in her bed feeling sad one evening and asked why?

“I’ll never be an artist” she said.

Why?

“Because my pictures never look like what they are supposed to look like”.

Now, she was in a fabulous, progressive parent cooperative preschool. One where part of the training of the participating parents was a lecture on how to encourage our budding artists.

“Never ask them what it is. Ask them to tell you about it!”

Even with this she still felt pressure. In her preschool world, enormous pressure. Her art did not look like what it was. Well! That was an easy one for me (the frustrated artist and college student of art history)! And, out spilled a nice lesson on abstract/modern art. Of how great, respected art often looked like…nothing much. I talked of Picasso, Rothko and Pollock. It was Pollock she grabbed onto as her own personal hero.

Why should you talk with your kids about art? Well for one thing, our schools can no longer afford to. With nationwide school budget struggles art has often been the first thing to be cut. If you don’t it,  teaching art may not be done at all. So, why do kids need art education in the first place? How about this? Study of art and the appreciation for the beauty in the world surrounding us has clearly been shown to improve student’s performance in school, especially for low-income students. But art education is important for all students:

At the heart of a solid education in the arts are the appreciation of beauty and the aesthetic qualities of our lives and society; the ability to communicate the ineffable through images, music and movement; and the appreciation of diverse cultural expressions“.

The quality of the art education left in schools varies. All too often our children are given a pen, crayon or brush with a blue print to follow. My eldest was corrected for using the wrong color for the leaves in his picture  – never mind the fact he is “color blind” – it was the “wrong color”, in other words, not green.

Years later when my youngest son was in kindergarten, Pollock came up again. It was art day (see what I’m saying? – just one day given to art….even in kindergarten, even in liberal California!), they were given paints, paper and set free. In a bit, his teacher came by, he smiled up at her and announced that he was painting a Jackson Pollock. She had the wisdom to smile back and say “tell me about it”.

So, readers, part of my goal here is to encourage you to talk about art with your kids. I know this is daunting. My closest friend is not much of an art enthusiast; through her I understand that this art business in no small task. Let’s try together. Let me help start the conversation in your home.