The Art of Color: Rothko Meets Web2.0

The Art of Color: Rothko Meets Web2.0

I've always liked the artwork of Mark Rothko. They are simple enough to enjoy with only a passing glance, but powerful enough to absorb large amounts of time considering the emotions and meanings behind the colors and how they interact with each other.

I share a similar appreciation for the hundreds of color palettes that are uploaded to COLOURlovers on a daily basis. They can be quickly appreciated as you scroll by them, but some of will jump out and grab you on personal level. And the ones that grab you could be the ones that another person scrolls on past... These little palettes become mini-artworks that can express emotion and ideas.

As basic as color is, it is a very powerful form of expression.


"Rothko's work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms. He explained: It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing."
  Mark Rothko - National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

In his career that spanned five decades, Rothko created a new form of abstract painting. This form of abstract art has been captured by and inspired many creative individuals, not just in the form of painting. Below is a collection of photographers who captured "Rothko-esque" moments.

Rothkoesque Moments Found in the Real World

Rothko Found in Life
Photo by Mexicanwave
  Rothko Found in Life
Photo by Nomad Photography
Rothko Found in Life
Photo by robpatrick
Rothko Found in Life
Photo by visualpanic
  Rothko Found in Life
Photo by imaphotog

For even more rothkoesque photos, check out the Flickr Photo Group - ROTHKOesque.

"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."

Rothkoesque Color Palettes

COPASO, our color palette application allows for custom widths of each color in a palette. As people add even more expression of their color ideas into their palettes they truly become pieces of art. Here are a few palettes from the Show Me Your Widths Group here on COLOURlovers:

Rothko Color Palette
the sarcasm of death by electrikmonk

Rothko Color Palette
projectile peas by Linsomnia

Rothko Color Palette
Campsite Crime Scene by isotope.151

Rothko Color Palette
So Bored of Tuscany by isotope.151

Rothko Color Palette
kissing by Linsomnia

Rothko Color Palette
wheres my flying car by lizcrimson

Rothko Color Palette
those things. by bijouloveshues

Rothko Color Palette
hit the brakes by mravka
Title photo by JoetheLion

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Showing 1 - 30 of 37 Comments

Lulu 05

loveeee it, especially "rothko in real life"
and all the palettes, of course


Oh, great. I get to post this again:
I don't get it


Oh yeah? Take THIS!
Robert Rauschenberg


restof, you're helping me make one of my points from above... to some Rothko paintings were just colors thrown on canvas... and to others they are powerful, expressive and wonderful.

I guess art does that in many ways... Some people clip the family circus cartoons and love them to death... I simply want to find death sooner after reading them.


What a great way to put it, agree totally.


A couple of months ago, Rothko was singled out by the Wall Street Journal because his modern acrylics are already starting to fade, as compared to oil paint by the old Masters. In another 100 years, the joke will be over.

In 2150, watch for a showing of Rothko pastels...


Darius, I know what you mean! Most people would never tell Bil Keane that what he does is not worthwhile comic art; they would just say, "It's not my kind of humor." But people will look at a Rothko and say, "Is this supposed to be art? What is the point of this?" People who don't create or thoroughly appreciate art feel free to criticize the merits of ostensibly simple art. But their dislike for it is likely due to not understanding it... like me and Family Circus or Marmaduke or something.

I have to admit that, when I was younger, I couldn't be bothered to stare at a Rothko for more than a few seconds, but the longer I toiled at my own painting, I found myself falling in love with a certain line or square I'd painted, and loathing entire complex, long-labored works, whereas others saw precisely the inverse.

The quality which breathes life and value and merit and legitimacy into a work of art is impossible to nail down, but one day a Rothko struck me and I suddenly understood. I believe that not just any person could paint squares and stripes of this nature and lend them any validity. I don't know if it's Rothko's substance, method, or simply his timing that lends his work credibility.

The avant-garde and I do not always get along, and I still don't like most of Rothko's stuff on an aesthetic basis, but I'll tell you for sure that he has said some of the most poignant and astute things about art that I've ever heard.

“We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless.”


If you want to deal with music, here's a Youtube rendition of 4' 33" by John Cage.

"A one minute silence" was plagiarized from it, so was forced to pay a 6 figure out-of-court settlement.

Another John Cage minimalist example, ASLP/As Slow As Possible is being staged over the next 639 years from 2001 in Halberstadt, Germany.


Darius didn't know what he had. I turned Colourlover's color "white" into art:


Why do we even need over 2 million possible colors here? Just go with about 10, then.


After paying entrance fee for the High Museum of "Art" in Atlanta, one primary piece was a sort of a small wooden pyramid placed in the middle of the floor so you could trip on it. I wonder whether they got sued?

Another was a 4' x 8" sheet of plywood leaning against the wall. It was a "handmade" made plywood by the artist, instead of a commercially manufactured item. The plaque didn't say whether he grew his own trees and waited 30 years.

I haven't been back to see the pile of car bumpers, either. Something I threw away in the last 10 years might be on exhibit.


You sound like the guys that say star trek sucks, never knowing that it inspired many key technologies we have today. Like the thing you're looking at right now.


That is to say that Rothko has spawned a huge number of creations, not the least of which is this site itself.


When I was fourteen I used to wonder what was so brilliant. But now I admit I GEDDIT! It's just beautiful.


Star Trek is too new. I just finished watching the 1929 sci-fi movie Frau im Mond/Woman in the Moon, which inspired the launch countdown itself. The movie was minimalist in being both silent and in black and white.


In re: the fading thing, keep in mind that Rothko actively declined to coat works in varnish, in particular the murals he installed at Harvard. Whatever his motivation for not sealing his works, he had to have known how vulnerable it would make them. Any artist worth his salt would consider the longevity of his pieces, and I'd venture to say it was probably intentional and not an oversight.

I understand the desire to let a piece of art deteriorate over time - it's legitimate to consider a work of art to be perpetually "in-progress," be that from actively tending it or passively allowing it to decay, like an organism would. It allows an artist's work to continue to develop posthumously - quite a feat for a legacy.

Rothko also relied heavily on lithol red, a highly unsustainable pigment. Acrylics by nature aren't usually as volatile as lithol red, and plenty of lightfast hues are available, as are protective coats. I concede that the overuse of lithol red and other experimental paint mediums was probably not a liability that Rothko considered, but the choice of acrylic over oils isn't in itself the sole culprit.

But I think it pays to attempt to consider them for what they are now, ruther than what they used to be, and maybe even find some new qualities there.


Slashing his wrists with a palette knife at age 67 prevented Rothko himself from fading.

Minimalist art and music seem to be intertwined.

On September 16, 2000 the Rothko Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of Morton Feldman's best known pieces of music was inspired by and written to be performed in the chapel — it too is called Rothko Chapel (1971). The musician Peter Gabriel named the song Fourteen Black Paintings after his experience in the chapel. [1] Independent singer-songwriter David Dondero also has an ode to the site titled Rothko Chapel (2007).


"We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."

That was one quotation about the timelessness of his art. His biography shows a lot of tragedy and indifference. He may just not have cared or thought about how long his ephemeral experimentations would last.


That is to say that Rothko has spawned a huge number of creations, not the least of which is this site itself.
The palettes and Copaso palettes (above) of solid colo(u)r strips do show a Rothkoesque derivation. If they came from some other artist, we all might be using paint by number or "happy little trees".


Ret, I didn't know it was with a palette knife. That's so cinematic - so melodramatic. You're right that someone in that state might not have been worried about his legacy. When I'm painting in a clear-headed state, I'm usually wondering where the painting might be in 50 years, but if I'm painting to exorcise something, I'm certainly not worried about it.

P.S. - Bob Ross made me want to paint when I was a kid :)


dunno. Another reference said, "a razor".

I still have this in the clipboard, so will add a happy pattern.
Bob Ross Wrap


cinematic drama:
Mark Rothko was found on the morning of February 25 1970, lying dead in a wine-dark sea of his own blood. He had cut very deep into his arms at the elbow, and the pool emanating from him on the floor of his studio measured 8ft x 6ft. That is, it was on the scale of his paintings. It was, to borrow the art critical language of the time, a colour field.

cinematic similarities:
New York had a charge sheet a mile long by that time when it came to killing artists, especially painters of Rothko's generation - the abstract expressionists, the epic and baffling, rhetorical and silent, introspective and dazzling movement whose intensity and originality made Manhattan the capital of modernism in the middle of the 20th century. Suicide had already taken Arshile Gorky in 1948. Jackson Pollock was killed in a possibly suicidal drunken car crash in 1956. Another dubiously accidental car crash saw to the sculptor David Smith in 1965. Rothko looked like one of the survivors, and was even insidiously caricatured as a careerist, a bit of a fraud, who had turned the rigour and extremism of abstract expressionist painting into something luscious, colourful, decorative and profitable - until that morning in 1970.

Rothko case - he had been cheated by his gallery, as was found out after his death.


Interesting post and connection between the COPASO application and Rothko. Also a choice selection from the Show Me Your Widths Group.

Comments got a bit windy.


A review of Rothko's uncompleted book available at Amazon mentions "windy chapters".

Windy chapters on such topics as "The Integrity of the Plastic Process," studded with references to Plato and Leonardo, "truth" and "unity," are Rothko's stock in trade.


an exchange considering whether a Rothko print looks better upside down


New York Review

Hughes also makes false accusations that are without substantiation in the book and must be attributable to his own suppositions. He charges that I, on the basis of "gossip," state that Rothko did not commit suicide but was "assassinated." Neither of these charges is true. I believe that Rothko's death almost certainly was self-inflicted and much of the book is devoted to the many reasons for his suicide. The major pressure on Rothko was, as I state repeatedly, "the forced selection and sale of his paintings to Marlborough" scheduled for the day of his death. (Hughes, though he has chosen to adopt much of my biographical and medical research on the matter as his own, neglects to mention this crucial motivation.)

In the penultimate chapter of the book I have attempted to resolve public and private speculations about the circumstances surrounding Rothko's death. That he might have been murdered had been voiced publicly, not only by Agnes Martin, but, as recounted by Paul Gardner in New York (February 7, 1977), by Kate Rothko's lawyer, Edward J. Ross, and others. The subject of possible murder having been raised, it would have been irresponsible, I believe, not to explore the facts as fully as possible, which I did. Apparently Hughes did not read the detailed autopsy notes of the pathologists' views that I quoted from, because he states that Rothko cut "his elbow veins with a razor." In fact Rothko did not (that would have taken much longer). Having taken a massive overdose of drugs, he somehow managed to chop through the ligaments and the artery in his right arm with only the aid of a double-edged razor blade, one edge wrapped in Kleenex. According to a well-known surgeon this is not possible without the aid of a scalpel or a blade with a handle for leverage. The ligaments and the ante-cubital fossae are far too tough to be severed with just a razor blade. But, as I wrote, at that moment in his drive to die, Rothko must have possessed superhuman strength. Still the questions of how drugged he was at the time and how he performed all this without the aid of his glasses remain unresolved. Since the possibility of homicide could not be completely ruled out—however unlikely—I reported these facts in detail in what I believe to be a straightforward and unsensational exposition. It is my view, as stated in the book, that Rothko almost certainly committed suicide, pushed to the brink by the Marlborough deal. Nowhere did I suggest or imply that any individual was the "hitman."

(He was dismayed somehow on the day before his death. The paintings that were supposed to go to Seagrams restaurant were withdrawn, and are now in London's Tate Modern. Another reviewer said that Rothko did not eat a "Happy Meal". "Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine," he told his studio assistant.)

(Doesn't a palette knife have a handle for leverage? I don't see one as being that sharp, though. Isn't it more like a spatula?)

from link previously:

Rothko did know what he was doing, and what kind of people he was doing it for. He saw his Four Seasons murals as violent, even terrorist art, a savage aesthetic revenge, and relished the chance to bite the hands of those who had made him rich.

This is what Rothko told John Fischer, a fellow tourist he bumped into in the bar of an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic in the early summer of 1959 after he had been working for several months on the paintings. Fischer was an editor of Harper's Magazine and their conversations over drinks have therefore been recorded - Fischer published Portrait Of The Artist As An Angry Man, a memoir of Rothko, in Harper's Magazine in July 1970. Some guardians of Rothko's memory prefer to think that he was playing up to the journalist, that he didn't mean what he said, because what he said is so incendiary. Rothko told Fischer he wanted to upset, offend and torture the diners at the Four Seasons, that his motivation was entirely subversive.

Fischer quotes Rothko describing the room in that very expensive restaurant in the Seagram Building as "a place where the richest bastards in New York will come to feed and show off".

Rothko didn't seem to Fischer in the least unworldly, let alone spiritual about his intentions. "I hope to ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room," he gloated, with paintings that will make those rich bastards "feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up".


This post inspired so many palettes!

Folly Night

Pineapple Parfait

Absurd Paradise

Lonely In Gorgeous

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