Abstracting the Divine: The Rothko Chapel

Friday, 10 March 2022, 16:30-18:30

Senate House, Room 243


This paper draws on a wider project of mine considering an important theme in the aesthetic theorizing and art making of the 19th and 20th centuries. An oft-expressed ambition is that art will somehow step in and play some of the roles of religion. In this talk specifically, I use Mark Rothko’s project of a purpose-built ‘chapel’ in Houston for 14 of his canvases as a case study of this broader theme. In the process, I consider Rothko’s surprising denial that he was an ‘abstractionist’ and explore his related claim that, in his words, “the people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by the color relationships, then you miss the point.”


Following NHS guidance, all attendees are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated (including boosters) against Covid-19, unless medically exempt. Face coverings are still encouraged, especially in classrooms. Our group is diverse; please continue to be considerate of those who wear face coverings and those who don’t. Thank you.