Mark Rothko and the Freedom to Starve (#3)

Rothko was a painter who effectively declared that if the cost of artistic freedom is having to satisfy so many people and circulate the work of art through what is so painfully, obviously, a truthless and exploitative economy that is at once vulgar and elitist, then the only defensible direction is to take without giving, to reduce, subtract, and destroy everything inessential; if the artist is to be hemmed in on all sides by a systematic and dispersed arrangment of masters, then to the devil with the dream of representation and, even more radically, to the devil with any transmissable positive content whatsoever, to the devil with the fantasia of possessing an object, to the devil with deliverance. Just as a prisoner who is locked away and denied a right to petition his confinement might paint his cell with blood simply to inscribe in history the fact of his oppression no matter the likelihood that this signature will go unnoticed, the painting of the modern painter bears witness to the impossibility of true artistic freedom under late capitalism, no matter the likelihood that it will be sterilized and co-opted by its cash value. The simple unadorned spectacle of distinction itself, of separated fields of color, of discrete, blocks, lines and edges are the vain scream of artists whose every way is blocked, who—being unable to paint honestly a David overcoming Goliath at a time when such a legitimate and powerful mythic representation has no defense against immediately becoming its opposite, namely billboard apologia for David himself—who shout, silently: “This is this, that is that, there is there, here is here, this is where I stand, and I can do no other.”

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Murphy, Justin. 2012. "Mark Rothko and the Freedom to Starve (#3)," (December 14, 2018).