Abstracting the Divine: The Rothko Chapel
This paper draws on a wider project of mine considering an important theme in the aesthetic theorizing and art-making of the 19th and 20th centuries. An oft-expressed ambition is that art will somehow step in and play some of the roles of religion. In this talk specifically, I use Mark Rothko's project of a purpose-built 'chapel' in Houston for 14 of his canvases as a case study of this broader theme. In the process, I consider Rothko's surprising denial that he was an 'abstractionist' and explore his related claim that, in his words, 'the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by the color relationships, then you miss the point.'
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