“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.”
-Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb
It’s ironic that Rothko, the painter of rectangles, railed against a lack of subject matter in art early in his career. At the time, in the early 1940s, he was exploring fragmented mythological themes, blunt figures like broken chunks of classical statuary. The zones of color he later became famous for were already present-but only as backdrops.
Rothko ended up claiming that the removal of imagery liberated his art. The validity of that idea is challenged by Rothko’s ultimate fate: suicide. He slit his wrists in his art studio.
To lose the image was the great mistake of Modernism. The Remodernist artist commits to imagery. It’s a gesture of faith-the acceptance of the actual.