In this paper I am going to concentrate on the mystical implications of the work of the well known abstract painter Mark Rothko [1903-1970]. First I will sketch a brief description of the history of the beginning of abstract painting and its relation to mysticism and spirituality. Than I will give a few details on Rothko's biography. Finally I will describe what mysticism means.
1.1 Abstract Art.
In one sense, abstract painting is ancient; in another, it is quite recent. Abstract patterns appear on artefacts such as clothes and pottery since ancient times, but only as decorative designs. In fine art, the idea of abstract painting begins only from the nineteenth century, when it was motivated by the invention of photography. Photography made painters realise that visual art should not be simply used to describe what is observed. But ideas related to abstract appeared in painting even before photography was invented.
For example, James McNeill Whistler compared visual art to music. He asserted that, just as music attempts to produce a harmonious arrangement of sounds, visual art should attempt to produce a harmonious arrangement of colours. His painting from 1875, Nocturne in Black and Gold, is considered a landmark in the history of abstraction.
Nearly from its beginning, abstract painting was considered related to spirituality. Several of the pioneers of abstract art, the Russian painters Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevitch, and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, were strongly influenced by the religious mysticism of theosophy. The abstract cross-shaped patterns that often appear in Mondrian's paintings, for instance, have spiritual meaning: in his notebooks he says that they represent the struggle leading the cosmos from dualism to unity, and the religious symmetry underlying the material world.
Piet Mondrian, Composition A, 1923
Oil on canvas (Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e...