Interpretation vs. Emotion

In February, I did a presentation on Mark Rothko’s 1957 painting “Orange and Red on Red” in the context of his other works. Throughout Rothko’s career, his paintings became increasingly abstract until he was simply painting large square blocks on solid backgrounds, as exemplified in “Orange and Red on Red.” Critics insisted that there must have been some biographical, historical, or psychological reason for Rothko’s reduction of figures in his painting, but he rejected any such idea, telling them repeatedly that he merely meant to express abstract universal emotions in a way that was subjective for each viewer. By making this distinction, Rothko suggests yet another binary to consider: that between definitive interpretation and abstract emotion. However, one could argue that Rothko’s insistence that his paintings are not meant to be interpreted is an interpretation in itself, thus rendering any distinction meaningless.

Below, I have included the handout that I gave my audience to follow along with my speech, and the Google Slides presentation I made with all of the paintings that I mention.