rothko the writer


IN 1978, THE PAINTER Philip Guston warned that if artists did not speak in public, they ran the risk of being reduced to “painting monkeys.” If, on the other hand, they did speak, their words were generally not to be trusted. The only truth, according to Guston, was in their candid remarks.

His prime example was Mark Rothko. After a visit to Guston’s Manhattan studio in 1957, Rothko had told him, “Phil, you’re the best storyteller around, and I’m the best organ player.” Admitting that after more than 20 years the meaning of the comment was still not entirely clear-was Rothko saying that his pure tones were like the awe-inspiring chords of a church organ?-Guston nevertheless preferred it to the “words like noble and sublime” that had been used to embalm or explain away the mesmerizing bands of color that characterize Rothko’s mature work.

more from Boston Globe Ideas here.