The essence of Mark Rothko’s abstract paintings

This season, the name of Mark Rothko has not left the front pages of the art media. An exhibition of Mark Rothko has opened at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. At auctions, new sales records for his paintings were broken. And finally, Elon Musk made a statement on social network X: a number of these very high priced art things are tax evasion and money laundering. Let’s figure out why the billionaire is wrong and tell you about the artist.

Abstract expressionism, a post-World War II art movement, has been a significant influence in the art world, with Mark Rothko being one of its most prominent figures. Rothko’s abstract paintings have been the subject of extensive analysis, criticism, and admiration, often raising the question, “Why is Mark Rothko’s abstract painting considered art?” This article aims to delve into the depths of Rothko’s work and explore the reasons behind its recognition as art.

Understanding Abstract Art

Before diving into Rothko’s work, it’s essential to understand the concept of abstract art. Abstract art does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of visual reality. Instead, it uses shapes, colors, forms, and gestural marks to achieve its effect. It’s a style that communicates the intangible – it could be an emotion, a concept, or a sound, anything that can’t be put into words or realistically drawn or painted.

Vue d’installation de l’exposition Mark Rothko, galerie 5, niveau 1, salle Seagram MuralsParis.© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko – Adagp,Paris, 2023

Mark Rothko’s Abstract Paintings

Mark Rothko, born Marcus Rothkowitz, was an American painter of Latvian Jewish descent. He is renowned for his contribution to abstract expressionism, particularly through his signature style known as “multiforms.” These are characterized by rectangular blocks of color, layered and floating on the canvas, creating a luminous, glowing effect.

Rothko’s paintings are not about accurate representation; they are about evoking emotion. He once said, “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom.” His paintings are a testament to this philosophy, as they are imbued with a profound sense of emotion that resonates with viewers.

Vue d’installation de l’exposition Mark Rothko, salle Multiformes et début des oeuvres dites «classiques» © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko – Adagp,Paris, 2023

Why Rothko’s Abstract Paintings are Art

1. Emotional Impact: Rothko’s paintings are renowned for their ability to evoke deep emotional responses. The large scale of his works, combined with the use of intense, saturated colors, creates an immersive experience for viewers. The emotions conveyed are not specific but are universal, allowing each viewer to connect with the artwork in a personal way.

2. Innovative Techniques: Rothko’s technique was innovative and unique. He applied thin layers of paint, allowing them to dry before adding another, creating a depth and luminosity that is almost ethereal. This meticulous process resulted in a vibrancy and glow that made his paintings come alive.

3. Philosophical Depth: Rothko’s work is not just about aesthetics; it’s about conveying profound philosophical concepts. His paintings are a visual representation of human emotions and existential themes. He believed that art should transcend one’s personal experience and touch on universal human experiences, making his work deeply philosophical.

4. Influence and Recognition: Rothko’s influence on abstract expressionism and the art world at large is undeniable. His work has been exhibited in major museums worldwide and continues to inspire contemporary artists. The recognition and respect his work commands are a testament to its artistic value.

Vue d’installation de l’exposition Mark Rothko, galerie 5, niveau 1, salle Seagram Murals © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko – Adagp, Paris, 2023

Why are Mark Rothko’s paintings worth millions?

1. Rarity: Rothko did not produce a large volume of work throughout his career, making his paintings relatively rare. This scarcity drives up the price.

2. Reputation: Rothko is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century and a leading figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement. His reputation and influence in the art world contribute to the high value of his work.

3. Demand: There is a high demand for Rothko’s paintings among art collectors and institutions. This demand, coupled with the limited supply, results in high prices.

4. Auction History: Rothko’s paintings have a history of fetching high prices at auction. This sets a precedent for the pricing of his work.

5. Quality: Rothko’s work is highly regarded for its quality and aesthetic appeal. The perceived quality of a work of art can greatly influence its price.

6. Cultural Significance: Rothko’s work has had a significant impact on the art world and continues to be influential. This cultural significance adds to the value of his paintings.