Brief manifesto: Mark Rothko with Adolph Gottlieb, and Barnett Newman
June 7, 1943
Mr. Edward Alden Jewell
Art Editor, New York Times
229 West 43 Street
New York, N. Y.
Dear Mr. Jewell:
To the artist, the workings of the critical mind is one of life’s mysteries. That is why, we suppose, the artist’s complaint that he is misunderstood, especially by the critic, has become a noisy commonplace. It is therefore, an event when the worm turns and the critic of the TIMES quietly yet publicly confesses his “befuddlement”, that he is “non-plussed” before our pictures at the Federation Show. We salute this honest, we might say cordial reaction towards our “obscure” paintings, for in other critical quarters we seem to have created a bedlam of hysteria. And we appreciate the gracious opportunity that is being offered us to present our views.
We do not intend to defend our pictures. They make their own defense. We consider them clear statements. Your failure to dismiss or disparage them is prima facie evidence that they carry some communicative power.
We refuse to defend them not because we cannot. It is an easy matter to explain to the befuddled that “The Rape of Persephone” is a poetic expression of the essence of the myth; the presentation of the concept of seed and its earth with all its brutal implications; the impact of elemental truth. Would you have us present this abstract concept with all its complicated feelings by means of a boy and girl lightly tripping?
It is just as easy to explain “The Syrian Bull”, as a new interpretation of an archaic image, involving unprecedented distortions. Since art is timeless, the significant rendition of a symbol, no matte[r] how archaic, has as full validity today as the archaic symbol had them. Or is the one 3000 years old truer?
But these easy program notes can help only the simple-minded. No possible set of notes can explain our paintings. Their explanation must come out of a consummated experience between picture and onlooker. The appreciation of art is a true marriage of minds. And in art, as in marriage, lack of consummation is ground for annulment.
The point at issue, it seems to us, is not an “explanation” of the paintings but whether the intrinsic ideas carried within the frames of these pictures have significance.
We feel that our pictures demonstrate our aesthetic beliefs, some of which we, therefore, list:
- To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks.
- This world of the imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense.
- It is our functions as artists to make the spectator see the world our way — not his way.
- We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.
- It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.
Consequently if our work embodies these beliefs, it must insult anyone who is spiritually attuned to interior decoration; pictures for the home; pictures for over the mantle; pictures of the American scene; social pictures; purity in art; prize-winning potboilers; the National Academy, the Whitney Academy, the Corn Belt Academy; buckeyes, trite tripe; etc.
130 State Street Brooklyn, New York
Outstanding! Marvelous! Impressive! A lot of courage, confidence, truth in the act of expression. Cannot be refuted. Cannot be argued. Cannot be dismissed. Cannot be displaced, nor neglected.
This brief comment is a piece of art itself. It’s so influential still nowadays, no need to quote, because all of it is marked to be used and abused everywhere. We should believe in the power of the message of our actions, creations and life’s outputs. We are ourselves for sure!
I appreciate in a reasonable way the arrogance and irony depicted in the text, since it is quite impossible to express an opinion without them. More dramatic it is, more arrogant it will sounds.
In this modern times I think there is a lack of modernity. I am not saying that modernity is always synonym of new. Modern is bring modernity to current days, even if you will get inspiration from past echoes. More than you may want the past is the exact place where you will find the philosopher’s stone.
History told us that no one ever is ready for a genius, that he or she will be a misfit for sure, questioned hard as fuck, judged in public, maybe killed just because…, perhaps to be idolized after she or he is gone. We have a deep standardization method to live, to be living now and then and to expect others to live. We don’t want much surprises, we want comfort, easy doing processes, easy money, and getting recognition from our best personality traits, and letting our flaws be hidden as much as (im)posisble. We don’t care a penny for those who are really different. We are normal, we want normality. And so the planet is dying slowly, by our neglection.
Let’s warm it again, and accept that there is always someone better than us and somene worst than us. For everyone there is a place. As evolving creatures, our place in the society will definitely change, but it won’t disappear. We change, and we must accept change, as we accept learning, we must expect we will be a better person tomorrow — with effort, hard work and hope.