If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Rothko, No. 210/No. 211 (Orange)

Mark Rothko, No. 210/No. 211 (Orange), 1960, oil on canvas, 175.3 x 160 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). Speakers: Dr. Margi Conrads and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    Is there any evidence that Rothko was thinking of the Civil Rights movement when he painted this? My recollection of the times is that, while civil rights for African-Americans had been an increasing concern and movement in 1960 and previously, the real passion and enthusiasm which brought significant numbers of white America to the side of equality occurred a couple of years later. I know that artists are frequently in the vanguard of movements for progressive causes, but I have a hard time seeing the connection between the (well-explained) technique that Rothko used, and the civil rights connection opined. Did Rothko document his thoughts on this, or on any of his works?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
    The narrators mentioned that this painting seemed to have movement (I'm paraphrasing.) Does it seem to anyone else that it's much like looking into a blast-furnace? or the heart of a volcano? To me it looks almost like molten steel or rock, and that standing in front of the painting you might almost feel the radiant heat leaping off the surface.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jonathon
    It is amazing how educated people are assigning deep meaning to a crude painting with no detail. Is it not just an empty vessel into which the observers are pouring out their personal concerns?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Yes, truly, this is amazing. In a way it is similar to how clergy, who are educated, become skilled at assigning meaning to scriptural passages which carry no detail. Sermons are, all too often, exercises into which preachers pour their personal concerns.

      By this measure, your opposition to educated people assigning deep meaning to crude paintings might logically be extended to the practice of educated clergy writing and delivering many sermons.

      Do you follow?
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

(piano jazz music) - [Narrator] We're in the galleries at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. I'm seeing this beautiful, luminous Mark Rothko. It's number 210, number 211, Orange and it dates to 1960. - [Narrator] It is hard for me to verbalize my relationship with this painting. It just makes me want to be quiet. It surrounds me even though it is a flat plain where these orange rectangles and squares hover and vibrate against this lavendery but dark purple field. It makes my whole body feel like it's vibrating. - [Narrator] Quiet, contemplative, is exactly how I feel. It almost feels like an intrusion that we're speaking in front of the painting. There's something about the horizontals of the forms that make everything feel as if they're moving ever so slowly, almost the way the clouds form and un-form. And the way in which those forms fill the space but then push out forward and then recede also simultaneously back into the pictorial space is slow and gentle and densely aesthetic. - [Narrator] How can something painted so flatly, though we see a lot of brushstrokes in it, it creates this deep illusionistic space. - [Narrator] It really seems to be basically two colors and yet each of those colors are seen infinitely modulated. There are so many yellows and oranges within those spaces and then even the purple that functions both as a space that the orange can occupy but then somehow also as a frame. It's got an infinite set of variations. - [Narrator] Rothko, by the time he painted this in 1960 had been painting abstractly for 20 years and yet in that practice there's similarities but no picture is the same. And in this particular one, you see these shifting shapes and there are places where the orange is more densely painted and other places where it's really thin so that because it is painted entirely purple underneath, that you also get the sense of a veil. - [Narrator] It's really instructive to look at the decisions that Rothko made and I find especially intriguing the edges of the orange, the way in which they feather and the complexity of the relationship that he draws between the purple and the orange. This idea that pure color in pure form could resonate in a way that was spiritual, that was profound was central to some of the thinking of the abstract expressionists and I think especially important to Rothko. The idea that this was a painting that would elicit deep human emotion. - [Narrator] In the mid 20th century there is less conversation around spirituality in art and Rothko was throughout his career concerned with thinking about painting and its relationship to the spiritual. And not being connected to any kind of specific religious dogma, but rather, that much larger idea about there being something larger than us and where do we or how do we stand in relationship to it. - [Narrator] This is painting that develops in the post war era at a moment when society had some fundamental questions in front of it. This was the aftermath of the holocaust, this was the aftermath of atomic weaponry, this is a moment when important philosophical questions are being asked and Rothko is confronting those but is not using the visual vocabulary of a past era. He's not showing angels. He's thinking about how is it possible to touch the spiritual in our modern age. - [Narrator] And thinking about the year of this painting, 1960, this is a fiery orange painting and this is just as the civil rights movement and so much activism was literally catching fire. And I think that we can't ignore that combination and its possibilities of being on Rothko's mind. - [Narrator] So this is a spiritual and transcendent painting but it is very much a product of this moment. (piano jazz music)