The Emotional Impact of Modern Art on the Viewer

Some artists feel that the reason for painting is not to convey a fleeting emotion but to inspire others to feel deeply about the world around them. While other painters feel that a work of art is only successful if it provokes a strong emotional reaction either positive or negative – in the viewer.

An abstract expressionist artists named Mark Rothko created color field paintings as a means of expressing his complex, brilliant, radiant and dark inner world that could not be expressed through traditional painterly representations of human figures. Rothko painted awe-inspiring large scale color field paintings which brought viewers in touch with a spiritual dimension of their being. Being in the presence of a Rothko feels like a religious experience, a feeling of pure awareness and grace. Rothko believed that the power of layering stunning oranges and reds, yellows and blues, and the deliberate absence of solid form and line could best express the transcendent feeling that naturalistic paintings could not. He wanted to represent through pure form the deepest of emotions like ecstacy, anguish and desire. In pursuit of this vision, he took viewers into some mysterious place which sometimes resulted in viewers breaking down and crying in front of his paintings. He felt this was the greatest compliment because the viewer was experiencing what he experienced as he painted the paintings. He thought that the viewer should stand 18 inches from his painting, the lighting should be low and the painting should be hung low as well. This was to immerse the viewer into another world, a gateway into a space beyond what could be understood with rational thought. Can art change the world? Rothko believed it could be a wordless elixir to the chaos of modern life. After the Holocaust and the Atomic Bomb, he, like Kline, Pollock and other leading abstract expressionist artists in the 1950s, believed that after such cruelty by man, the human form was no longer the means to express the truth. For Rothko, the truth was in the depths of his feelingsLike the ancient Chinese master calligrapher who spent 10 years to master drawing a crab in just one stroke, when asked by a stranger at a bar how long it took him to paint one of his paintings, Rothko responded, 57 years. His paintings were pure expressions of his emotional states and his motivation was not monetary but a human reaction shared by the artist and the viewer.

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