I’ve been working, this week, on a research project centered on the works of Mark Rothko, particularly the installation at the Rothko Chapel in Houston. He is best known for his large scale paintings of color fields, which are said to both draw the viewer into the interior space created in the canvas, and ground them in the exterior space in which the canvas exists. Rothko understood how a grand scale incites a different more experiential interaction with a piece, but is this true for all art? Does a grand scale elevate the work, or is the quality of the work – whether large or small – what is paramount for its success? I myself am attracted to large scale (as I’ve said many times before), and in my ceramics class this week, we also had a discussion of scale regarding this piece I made:
In our class discussion, we touched upon craftsmanship, intimacy, and the immediate manner of perception of the work. Firstly, if a piece is made with good design, and the design is executed skillfully and meticulously – whether large or small – how can one question its legitimacy? In Rothko’s case though, his aim was not legitimacy but transcendence brought about by a painting – a pretty tall order! I’m not sure he would have achieved his aims on canvases even half the size of the ones he used. Perhaps form rather than scale is responsible for an emotional or sensual experience in interacting with a piece of art, for there is an inherent relationship between form and size which impacts the beholder.
Secondly, intimacy often connotes closeness brought about by an object or image’s diminutive size. In order to appreciate the work, one must close the gap between the eye and the piece to eliminate the blur the space between creates. Larger work can also be intimate for it is of human scale; one can wrap his or her arms around it. This may allow the large work to be more immediately relatable to the viewer’s whole presence. This also brings to mind the manner in which one immediately perceives the work. Lastly, smaller pieces could be said to be cerebral. They are physically of the scale of the head, and may require time for a more thorough analysis of the work. Larger work could be said to be physical. As previously stated, it is of human scale, and can therefore be immediately experienced without the bridge of a thought process on immediate exposure to it. I would assert that this sensation is awfully liberating, although for Rothko, it was also intended to potentially be ominously enveloping. Still, his works consistently elicit profound experiences in the beholders of his art.
Now, what I’ve said of Mark Rothko is incredibly oversimplified. His work includes thoughts on classical art, mythology, psychology, philosophy, religion, and so much more. He was a learned man, who used what he studied to change the way individuals looked at what an artist can do to a canvas to incite a profound, multifaceted reaction, and he did so not without struggle. And I certainly do not claim that my large scale vessels provoke a profound response like that of Rothko’s canvases, but in the exploration of scale and impact, he was certainly a master from whom I have much to learn.
Now, what I’ve said of Mark Rothko is incredibly oversimplified. His work includes thoughts on classical art, mythology, psychology, philosophy, religion, and so much more. He was a learned man, who used what he studied to change the way individuals looked at what an artist can do to a canvas to incite a profound, multifaceted reaction, and he did so not without struggle.