Back To CourseIntro to Humanities: Tutoring Solution
20 chapters | 366 lessons
Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.
Have the events of the world ever made you want to make a statement? For Russian-born painter Mark Rothko, a move to America in his early life, followed by his experiences during the Great Depression, made him want to paint a social statement about the world.
Marcus Rothkovich, who later shortened his name to Mark Rothko, was born to Jewish parents in 1903. They lived in a part of Russia that is now known as Latvia. In the early 1900s the political philosophy of Socialism began taking hold in Russia. Originally, there were many Jewish Russian Socialist leaders; over time, however, the group turned against the Zionists and Rothko's family decided to seek political asylum in America.
By 1913, Rothko, his parents, and his three older siblings were living in Portland, Oregon. His father died shortly after their arrival, leaving Mark to learn English and go to work at a very young age to help his family. He graduated from high school early and got a scholarship to Yale University, which he dropped out of in 1923.
Rothko then moved to New York and received art training from Max Weber, who also taught Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and other prominent 20th century artists. His early paintings included urban scenes and portraits. He was invited to show with fellow painters Lou Harris and Milton Avery in 1928. It was a big break in his career, considering he had only been painting for a few years. He began teaching painting to children in 1929, something he did to support himself during the Great Depression. He said working with children helped him in his own search for truth in painting.
Rothko married twice. His first marriage was in 1932 to Edith Sachar, a jewelry designer. He divorced Edith to marry Mary Alice Beistel in 1945. They had two children, one of whom would later publish a book Rothko had written called The Artist's Reality. It is believed the book was written in the 1940s when Rothko took a break from painting and read a lot of mythology and also existentialist works by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche.
Rothko was plagued by depression most of his life and may have also had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He nearly died from an aortic aneurysm in 1968, an event that caused him to have a change of heart regarding the lack of positive remarks he had received from critics in the past. Instead of ignoring the critics, he came to resent them. Rothko committed suicide in 1970 by overdosing on antidepressants and slashing his own wrists.
By the middle of the 1930s, the economic devastation of the Great Depression was being felt in America. Rothko fell in with a group of fellow Russian-born painters who became known as The Ten. Despite its name, the group only had nine regular members, including Rothko, Joseph Solomon and Lou Schanker. A tenth member, Jack Kufeld, only showed with the group a few times. The group's main goal was to protest how literal painting had become during the Depression era. They had several showings, but their most well-known was when they showed their works together in protest of a government-sponsored art show at the Whitney Gallery in New York.
Eventually, though, Rothko ended up working for the Easel Division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by 1936, which was created by President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. The goal of the WPA was, among other things, to provide funding for painters, musicians, and other artists to continue working during the Depression and to create works that would bring America back to a state of cultural normalcy in the wake of the financial devastation of the 1930s.
At this time, Rothko's works were best described as avant-garde, which was a style of painting that became popular in the early 20th century as a means of rebellion against traditional art forms. Rothko was also influenced by Surrealism and Expressionism. By the late 1940s, after taking a break from painting, Rothko became associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. Abstract Expressionism was a style that, in the wake of World War II, relied upon emotion and bold splashes of color to create meaning within the artists' works. Well-known Abstract Expressionists included Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, both of whom were action painters. Action painting was a technique that was meant to keep the eye of the viewer moving around the canvas constantly.
Instead of action painting, Rothko created a different kind of Abstract Expressionism, called Color Field painting, along with Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. Instead of a focus on bold splashes of color that do nothing to guide you in viewing a work, Color Field painting relied on the formal elements of painting to create abstract works that seem to glow from within. Rothko used color, shape, depth, scale, composition, and balance to create two-dimensional paintings. Orange and Red on Red, was painted in 1957.
Chances are, you don't see much here other than blocks of color, right? That's all Rothko wants you to see. He wants you to be there with the painting and experience it. That's all. Rothko said he was trying to get viewers of his works to move past the commercialization of society that happened with the increased wealth and spending, especially in America after World War II.
Rothko's color schemes got darker as the 1950s progressed, but he never assigned any additional meaning to the change. He claimed his works were about the human condition and not his own ideas.
Rothko's works eventually transformed into what critics called sectionals, or paintings that focused on large sections of color that ran all the way to the edge of the canvas. Some of his more famous sectionals include Four Darks in Red and Orange, Red, Yellow. His later paintings are all variations in grey.
Despite his desire to be recognized by the art world, Rothko refused a major award from the Guggenheim Foundation, saying art should not be competitive. He also turned down an offer from the Whitney Gallery to buy two of his paintings, which he protested with one of his showings with The Ten during his WPA years. He did create mural-style paintings for the Seagram beverage company building and was asked to create paintings for The Four Seasons restaurant. During his life, Rothko's financial planner created a foundation that was supposed to gain access to his works upon his death. After Rothko's life ended, his children sued the foundation and were able to recover half of their father's works.
Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Russian-born painter who came to America as a child. His experiences with the Great Depression and America's post-World War II consumerism led him to pioneer a branch of Abstract Expressionism known as Color Field painting. Along with Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, Rothko created paintings that relied upon large sections of color and were meant to make their viewers consider the impact of their consumerism and the commercialization of society. His most famous works included Orange and Red on Red and his sectional paintings. Rothko suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1970.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseIntro to Humanities: Tutoring Solution
20 chapters | 366 lessons
Next LessonMary Cassatt: Biography, Paintings & Facts