7:00 AM

Rothko, No.9, 1954

Standing on the surface of the moon, I look out into the horizon. Greeted by a dark abyss above, the luminosity beneath me assures me that I'm still grounded. All this, surrounded by a frame of burnt orange — a gentle reminder that this bleak, breathtaking landscape exists simply as a painting.

Mark Rothko's formula for abstract works seemingly allow for little detail, at least from a distance. An assortment of 3 or 4 colors, a few horizontal blocks, an unsteady hand, and voila! A bona fide Rothko, or so I thought. However, we aren't supposed to view Rothko's paintings as tiny thumbnails on Google. When asked how they should be viewed, Rothko replied, "18 inches [away]," most likely while rapidly smoking away at a cigarette. Considering his canvases ran just above the size of a regular human being, viewing a Rothko from 18 inches away would remove all distractions from one's field of vision. Now that's a different way of seeing things.

Rothko sought tragedy in his work. Yet, in a world plagued with war and the threat of nuclear annihilation, the public desired to avert their eyes from exactly that. It's no wonder, then, that his paintings prompted many to tears at the sight of them. In Simon Schama's Power of Art, Rothko's scenes are often accompanied by a grim piano track and grey scale. His actor speaks slowly and sparingly. He is solemn faced and still, surrounded by little in his giant workshop. This lonely cinematic experience and Nietzsche's existentialist teachings honed my outlook on abstract art as a whole.

Though the wars of the 20th century have passed, the existentialist concept of a meaningless world still remains. Still, if faced with insignificant lives and a feckless world, it is our responsibility to make something of it. Rothko's works, vague as they are, hold the same principle. Engage with the work, and discover your interpretation.

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