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Art Is Not only Color and Form

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Art Is Not only Color and Form

Art is Not Only Color and Form

Mark Rothko once stated that "I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on." and "The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions… the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point". These quotes show that when Rothko is producing art the purpose is not the appreciation of the color choices and precision, but the emotions that he is communicating. These same objectives are valued by two others artists, Vassily Kandinsky and Paul Gauguin. These two artists prove these theories through their works of art Study for "Composition II" (Vassily Kandinsky, c.1910, Oil on canvas) and Mahana no Atua (Paul Gauguin, c.1894, Paris, France, Oil on canvas) in which they apply the use of color and style to evoke emotions from the viewer.

In Rothko's Red on Maroon (Mark Rothko, c.1959, New York, Oil on Canvas) he depicts a thick rectangular outline of a bright red hue in the center of a maroon colored background. The two colors are close in shade so that when you look at it directly the red comes off hazy, if not in the correct light. This was created as a part of the Seagram Mural Collection of paintings he had began to work on for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, which featured three full series in shades of dark red and brown (Breslin 373). Red on Maroon, like many of the other paintings in the collection features dark colors that were created to"make those rich bastards feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up…." (Jones). This work of art is an example of how the color relations in Rothko's art give off emotion. The use of red in this piece is express discomfort and uneasiness, which Rothko, along with the size of the piece, uses to achieve his aforementioned goal. This element of size is utilized in Red on Maroon, as it is 2667 x 2388 x 35 mm in size. Rothko explains that the reason he uses such large canvases "is precisely because I want to be intimate and human" (Chave 119). Rothko wishes you to be immersed in his art, saying that you should stand 18 inches away to fully understand it (Weiss 262).

These same principles are portrayed by Vassily Kandinsky, in his work Study for Composition II in which he uses the perfection of color and style to portray his vision. Kandinsky him self agrees with this quote when he says ""The true work of art is born from the 'artist': a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being"(Art Story), which is to say that he believed art should portray something, to point where the art has its own life. Also, Kandinsky uses color to portray music in his art. He connects color to music by saying "color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically" (Art Story), giving a new life to color whilst also affirming Rothko's principles in that, it is not the formal critic of the art that he cares for but the underlying context. This is shown in his Study for Composition II, in which he uses bright colors and stark outlines across the board symbolize music in his art. This is because "music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide" (Dabrowski). On the work of art, Kandinsky says in the Conclusion to his book "On the Spiritual in Art" he explains that Composition II was a reference, he divides compositions into two groups: "1. Simple composition, which is subordinated to a clearly apparent simple form. I call this type of composition melodic. 2. Complex composition, consisting of several forms, again subordinated to an obvious or concealed principal form. This principal form may externally be very hard to find, whereby the inner basis assumes a particularly powerful tone. This complex type of composition I call symphonic"(Dabrowski). By comparing this artwork to music he shows that the form is only a gateway to the symphony that is the composition. Kandinsky applies the principles of Rothko by way of taking his complex sketches and creating an artwork to be enjoyed in whole not in parts.


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