Mark Rothko's struggle with fame and money

1 Apr

What a predicament. You are a talented painter and tons of people want to spend all their money on your paintings. Restaurants and chapels are commissioning you to paint pieces. 

But, you’re not happy because you feel like a sell out. 

Mark Rothko let this demon haunt him until the day he died in 1970. He has been one of my favorite painters since I saw his orange squares in high school. The more I learn about him, the more I’m interested in his life and his work. Rothko claimed his squares speak to universal truths and values. The cloudy color just draws you in- don’t believe me? See one in person. 

Newsweek‘s Cathleen McGuigan wrote an article about his struggle to stay true to his art by keeping his paintings for himself. She writes, 

“Rothko was the last in a line of angst-ridden, soul-searching artists who had a love-hate relationship with his own success. For him, selling art was secondary to making it—in sharp contrast to the 21st-century art world, where dealers scramble to sign up the next hot young painter, fresh out of grad school, and where money is the only marker of success.”

I’m currently in contemporary art history and this theme seems to be a problem for many recent artists. The need to live versus the attachment to one’s art.

McGuigan goes on to say,

“Rothko considered his artworks to be his children, and he didn’t like to send them off to live with just anybody.”

When he died many of his paintings remained unsold, by his own will. A “starving artist’s” worst nightmare. 

I admire him for not painting just to paint, or to pay the rent, or to be noticed. Maybe that’s the sign of a true artist?

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