Art & Emotion: Mark Rothko

Orange and Yellow by Mark Rothko

How many people can say that they have had an encounter with a painting that made them cry right there in a museum or art gallery? Did it happened to be a Mark Rothko painting?

For those of you who don’t know who Rothko was, he was an American painter born into a family of Russian Jewish intellects in 1903. His full name was Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz which got abbreviated to Mark Rothko in 1940 due to anti-Semitism. In 1913, he immigrated to America with his Mom and sister, they eventually meet up with his father and 2 brothers in Portland, Oregon. Soon after arriving his father sadly died.

Rothko had a complicated relationship to religion and after mourning the death of his father for almost a year, made a conscious decision to move away from organized religion.

He believed that color was “primal, elemental, pure unconscious emotional resonance and response.”(Meditations on Mark Rothko) This emotional response or experience was the reason why he recommended viewers to position themselves as little as 18 inches away from the canvas to have that experience. He described his paintings as “…not a picture of an experience. It is the experience.” This experience is eventually described as a religious transcendence or spiritual transcendence. The barrier that you find in other paintings is gone when you view one of Rothko’s paintings and become a part of it.  It is essentially taking you on a higher plane.

This higher plane is the communication of emotion, that invoke the experiences of grief, ecstasy and destiny. Rothko famously wrote that “The people who weep before my pictures, are having the same religious experiences I had when painting them.”

As seen, his paintings invoked basic human emotions that allowed for the viewer to actually be felt as a human being, in an empathic way. One were the person is listened to and finally understood. It is something that is lacking in today’s world and is needed more and more in a world gone mad.

Works Cited:

Auishai, Tamar, host. “Meditations on Mark Rothko.” Episode 24. The Lonely Palette. 22 November 2017. Retrieved from

Gaylord, Martin. ( 20 September 2008). The mysterious tragedy at the heart of Rothko’s tranquil masterpieces. Retrieved from

Jain, Mayank. (28 March 2017). HOW TO UNDERSTAND ART – A MARK ROTHKO CASE STUDY. Retrieved from