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Mark Rothko on Art

The recipe of a work of art

  1. There must be a clear preoccupation with death; intimations of mortality...tragic art, romantic art, etc. all deal with the knowledge of death.
  2. Sensuality - our basis of being concrete about the world. It is a lustful relationship to things that exist.
  3. Tension - either conflict or curbed desire.
  4. Irony - this is a modern ingredient—the self-effacement and examination by which a man for an instant can go on to something else.
  5. Wit and Play - for the human element.
  6. The ephemeral and chance - for the human element.
  7. Hope - 10% to make the tragic concept more endurable.

I measure these ingredients very carefully when I paint a picture. It is always the form that follows these elements and the picture results from the proportions of these elements…

- Mark Rothko (from a 1958 lecture at the Pratt Institute)