The Colors of Emotion

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1951, oil on canvas.

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1951, oil on canvas.

The summer heat draws me to this Rothko painting…blazing hot…blinding…sublime… yet disconcerting, like suffocating humidity…how could just blocks of color touch my core?

Throughout history color has carried symbolic meaning. A golden yellow can symbolize divinity, truth, trust…ochre yellow can symbolize doubt. Today colors continue to express emotional intensity. This may seem to be a dichotomy, but as I am personally drawn closer and closer to this color field, I feel doubt in my soul as I look at the outer ochre edges, yet at the same moment a peace when my eyes move to the richer, golden yellow in the center. The orange-red rectangular plane that caps the color field gives me a feeling of love.

Rothko described “Untitled” as a “self-contained unit of human expression.” He declared, “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions…If you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.” (Quote is from the Museum of Modern Art, “MOMA Highlights. NY: The Museum of Modern Art,” revised 2004)

Rothko would be pleased to know I get his message, that I am moved by his extraordinary piece… that my heart skips a beat, that tears well up…that I feel elation and sorrow, trust and doubt simultaneously…

And isn’t this true about life? One moment our hearts are filled with a joy and trust that we are on the path of life that we are meant to be on, despite the inevitable winding roads. We are so very certain of God’s plan for us, yet in a split second we doubt…we doubt God…we doubt ourselves…”one step forward, three steps back”, as the saying goes.

Today, just for today—not yesterday, not tomorrow—I will concentrate on the bright yellow and orange-red— believing, trusting, loving all that is good, all that is precious in life…