There is something about the power of both viewing art and creating art on those who struggle with mental illness that has always fascinated me. As vulnerable as it is to talk about, I think that’s one of the things that drew me so close to art history in the first place. The past summer has been so consumed by work, and coming home from Italy, and getting ready for my last year of school, that I inexcusably lost my connection to the responsibility and joy that writing about art has brought me.
But, coming up on my final first day of school, I have come to find solace again in the love of art. Like most people, once the work day is done and my brain is fried I have an amount of social media time to turn off an overthinking brain. Recently, people have been talking about pieces of art that move them immeasurably. I’m not sure if it’s just my algorithm bringing art my way, or a true and fortified trend, but it’s been fun to see what art moves people. It brings me to think on what brings emotion out of me. See, now that’s hard. Because honestly, its most art that does. But what really moves me? What motivates me to write despite the building anxiety of previously missed deadlines? I surprised myself when my first thought was modern art.
I have a huge appreciation for modern art, but usually it’s the old things that bring me to my knees. My mom doesn’t call me an old soul for no reason. When I think of an emotional response, though, I think of Rothko. Specifically the Rothko Chapel.
Religious places and art have always held a special place in my heart, despite my not being very religious. But maybe it’s the separation from religion that tugs my heartstrings when I look at cherubs and chapels and the like. I’m not sure why, but religion and its practices have always fascinated me.
The murals in the chapel are different shades of solid black. They pressure you to contemplate, and in the end I assume find your own pictures in the darkness. It’s one of those things where people outside of the art world comment, “Oh, well I could do that!” – But when you think about it, they didn’t, and they can’t. There’s a way, somehow, that Rothko painted the solid black that I don’t think anyone really could have done. They’re not smooth or perfectly solid, and I can only imagine how the streaks start to form shapes the longer you stare. Rothko truly created a place for quiet contemplation, separate from, and even making a statement on, prayer. It’s not the Sistine Chapel, but when given the opportunity it can still spur the same inspiration and image. To me, Rothko reminds a conflicted world that you don’t need a strict religion in order to pray, or to want better, whether for yourself or for others. Or both. I hope to find myself in that room one day.
Rothko himself struggled with mental health, as so many artists do, and I think that is what makes him able to create such poignant pieces. Artsy has an article revolving around his life and how he used his struggles to create art through color, and its truly fascinating to see where he pulls all his inspiration from. He had this uncanny ability to look at renaissance or medieval art and translate that into his work, despite there being little physical resemblance. He had a life full of struggle and mental toll; things such as losing his father young, antisemitism in college, and even just the intense pressure of the art world created a pressure cooker of obstacles with him trapped inside. Unfortunately, after an aortic aneurysm and separating from his wife, Rothko took his own life in his studio in 1970. I feel like you can’t look at his work without thinking about the feeling of “if only I knew then, what I know now”, and I like to think the feeling comes from him seeing his impact. You cannot take a modern art course without learning about Rothko. In the end, his pain inspired him to create art. Just as many artists see, the art world is an outlet from the real one. What better way to push yourself forward, than to escape? So many artists like Rothko, Van Gogh, Munch, among many others used art as their outlet from the struggles of mental health—sometimes the most beautiful things can come from it! The connection between creation and pain always has been a bit of an enigma, but its a fascinating one at that. The biggest thank you to all of them that took the leap to share such an intimate part of themselves, through something so impactful. Artists rock.