The Painter's Keys Community For Artists

Search the Painter's Keys:

Yes, please go ahead, forward this clickback to a friend: by email or Bookmark and Share

FREE - Join the world's most popular email letter about art

Absolutely free, no strings. You'll get the valuable twice-weekly letter and be joining the world's most active art community.

Robert's worldwide gift that artists love to get.

Related Clickbacks:

Mark Rothko Die happy High exaltation

Mark Rothko (1903 - 1970) 
::: click images to enlarge :::
Mark Rothko c. 1964
Mark Rothko c. 1964
Untitled (three nudes), an Mark Rothko Oil Painting, 1926/1935
Three nudes
oil painting, 1926
Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red) Mark Rothko Oil Painting, 1949
oil painting, 1949
Untitled (Black on Grey), an Mark Rothko Oil Painting, 1969/1970
oil painting, 1969
Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman - in front of the Rothko chapel
Broken Obelisk
by Barnett Newman
Inside Rothko Chapel Virtual Tour
courtesy of The Rothko Chapel

Click and drag your mouse across the image to move it left, right, up and down. Click the + and - buttons to zoom in and out. Please note that you require the free quicktime plug-in to view the Rothko chapel images.

See the exterior 360 tour

National Gallery of Art, Washington
Guggenheim Museum
ArtCyclopedia - Mark Rothko Online

New: If you would like to see a Robert Genn "Sketch from Life, Waiting for the Puntarenas Ferry" written and painted, click here

Nothing is something
March 18th, 2005

Dear Artist,

I'm laptopping this letter from beside a reflecting pool in Houston, Texas. The floodlights are coming up on Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk. Beyond, in the Philip Johnson-designed Chapel, there are 14 of Mark Rothko's final works.

New York abstractionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) took his own life a year before
Self portrait by undefined, oil painting, 1936<br>by Mark Rothko
Self portrait
oil painting, 1936
by Mark Rothko
 click image to enlarge
the paintings in this Chapel were hung and dedicated. Rothko had worked on the project over several years and spent considerable time fine-tuning and giving specific instructions as to positioning and lighting. He was a fussy and particular guy. During the Great Depression Rothko lived precariously on occasional grants. For a while he did piecework in his wife's jewelry shop. Alternating between bouts of depression and optimism, he combined lofty idealism with ever-present feelings of his own worthlessness. His art was a progression from attempted realism, crafted abstraction through giant soft-edge colour-field to overt minimalism. Success came late for Rothko. These last paintings are wall-to-wall purplish-browns and black with little or no linear relief. Reaction ranges from hopeless nothings to the Holy Grail and Final Statement of Modern Art. It's certainly possible to wander deeply into these mysterious, imageless paintings and feel what you will. Apart from nothing, some see the face of God, others the Mystery of the Universe. Canvases not cluttered with subject matter leave little to distract. It's a do it yourself art experience. Like the Shroud of Turin there's just enough to fascinate. Originally planned with a Roman Catholic focus (Rothko nixed the inclusion of the Stations of the Cross) the Rothko Chapel is now an ecumenical sanctuary.

At the unveiling on February 26, 1971, Dominique de Menil, Rothko's benefactor, said: "I am supposed to talk about the paintings but I don't think I can explain them." She added that there was nothing wrong with talking, "except that it has never stopped." Rothko's death message was a gift of silence. He had always felt it risky to send paintings out into the world. "How often must they be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent," he said.

It's 7 p.m. and the doors of the Chapel are now closed to both the Believers and the Philistines. I'm almost, but not quite, speechless.

Best regards,


PS: "There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing." (Mark Rothko)

Esoterica: People come here to meditate and to pray. Celebrations of Puja, Rosh Hashanah, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Eid-el-Fitr, Cinco de Mayo Mass, weddings and memorials take place beneath Rothko's enigmatic stare. Buddhists now dance with new-age Zoroastrians. Lectures, music, dance and poetry are regular happenings here, as are Human Rights Day and the Annual Awards for Truth and Freedoms. This place is an ongoing rally for peace, freedom, and social justice. A freethinking and lapsed Jew, Rothko might not now be so depressed.

Artists' Responses to Nothing is something by Robert Genn
Be sure to check our Archives for related material.


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Kay Cox :: Great vision

by Kay Cox, Seabrook, TX, USA

contact Kay Cox share Kay's letter with a friend

The Rothko Chapel is one of Houston's finest assets… a gift to those of all faiths and it is always a powerful experience for me to sit in silence in the presence of Spirit and Rothko's incredible canvases. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and I am grateful that you have had the opportunity to share in this experience. The Menils had great vision in building the chapel and the museum nearby.

, Other letters by Kay, Related material on Great vision
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Julie Rodriguez Jones :: Nothing is still nothing

by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Spanish Springs, NV, USA

contact Julie Rodriguez Jones share Julie's letter with a friend

I must be a Philistine or ignorant because when I look at Rothko's work I ask
Bubble Nebula by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Freehand, Digital Airbrush
Bubble Nebula
Freehand, Digital Airbrush
 click image to enlarge
myself, "Where's the beef?" Hopefully my legacy will be at least "one quarter pound before cooking." His work reminds me of what I saw at the Reina Sophia in Madrid: blue canvases, stabbed canvases, pencil poked canvases and as my son back then said, "dookie on a stick." And to think we actually paid to go in. Nothing is still nothing.

, Other letters by Julie, Related material on Nothing is still nothing, Julie Rodriguez Jones Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Susan Canavarro :: Visual Rorschach

by Susan Canavarro, Florence, OR, USA

contact Susan Canavarro share Susan's letter with a friend

Thank you so much for recognizing Mark Rothko's life and work. He is, above
Deadwood Orchard, Deadwood,Oregon by Susan Canavarro, Acrylic Gesso and Gouache on paper
Deadwood Orchard, Deadwood,Oregon
Acrylic Gesso and Gouache on paper
 click image to enlarge
all else, my favorite 20th century painter. Much of what I strive to achieve in my meager painting efforts has been inspired by Rothko's beautiful translucent use of color, his simplicity of design and shapes and its inherent spirituality. His paintings make my mouth water. The progression one sees in his work from translucent color to greys and browns and to even more simplicity in his shapes and design is a visual Rorschach of his inner self leading up to his ultimate and tragic suicide. A visual image packs a powerful message if we take the time to look, feel and understand.

, Other letters by Susan, Susan Canavarro Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by John Ferrie :: No future for Rothko

by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada

contact John Ferrie share John's letter with a friend

"Seeing the face of God" and the "mystery of the universe", please! These are
Luminaries 9 by John Ferrie, from the Luminaries collection
Luminaries 9
from the Luminaries collection
 click image to enlarge
merely the smearings of pigment on canvas from a man who was three doughnuts short of a baker's dozen. But because nobody could ever figure out what he was doing and he was given so many grants to pursue his message-less works, his work was eventually deemed acceptable. Of course, he was fussy and particular about his precious lighting – how else could he command attention to his insignificant and boring works. His works are described as "Do it yourself". Do what yourself? There were maybe a handful of people who liked or even cared for this man's work. But now we are supposed to sit up and take notice of this insipid man's paintings. It is not something I will notice in my lifetime. Centuries from now they won't be studying them in art school.

, Other letters by John, Related material on No future for Rothko, John Ferrie Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Jean King :: Living with the Menil Legacy

by Jean King, Houston, TX, USA

contact Jean King share Jean's letter with a friend

I live in the museum district of Houston. I live just around the corner and down the street from the Rothko Chapel. I rent my studio (about two blocks away from the Chapel) from the Menil Foundation. I use the inner sanctuary of the Rothko Chapel and the quiet stillness of the reflection pool as places to sit and meditate. I alternate use of the Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Chapel in inclement weather. I much prefer to sit outside and watch the surface of the reflection pool. I try to walk several times daily around the two blocks that are occupied by the Menil Collection, Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery and the Menil Bookstore.

top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Ron Gang :: Poor quality paint in Rothko works

by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel

contact Ron Gang share Ron's letter with a friend

Unfortunately, Mark Rothko had not used quality artists' paints, and as a result
Seven Point Blue-Gold by Ron Gang, oil on canvas, mandala series
Seven Point Blue-Gold
oil on canvas, mandala series
 click image to enlarge
the colours of his paintings have changed, maybe due to the chemical instability of the pigments. Photographs of the works taken when they were fresh and years later showed the pronounced colour shift. On one hand this underscores the need to use good grade materials, while on the other it shows that nothing can really last in this world. I think of the beautiful Tibetan Buddhist mandalas produced by the monks with coloured sand that after completing them, they scatter the works to the winds. I'm glad you wrote about Rothko and the chapel. I like art that triggers a religious feeling that transcends organized belief.

, Other letters by Ron, Related material on Poor quality paint in Rothko works, Ron Gang Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Alyson Stanfield :: Spiritual place

by Alyson Stanfield, Golden, CO, USA

contact Alyson Stanfield share Alyson's letter with a friend

You helped me relive my three trips to the Rothko Chapel. For me, it's one of the most spiritual places on earth and I (who am very active) could honestly spend all day there – meditating in the peacefulness of the paintings and simple architecture. An unabashed Rothko fan, I am particularly drawn to this space where the large paintings hang without the intrusion of other art or noisy crowds.

I have the new book of Rothko's philosophies, The Artist's Reality, edited by Rothko's son. You have inspired me to pick it up and drink it in.

(RG note) I have that book too, Alyson. It's an early (c1939) attempt by Rothko to make sense of what he was feeling and seeing. Unfinished, scattered and not fully resolved, it's nevertheless an insight into this painter's considerable brain. Rothko's son Christopher found the well-thumbed but disregarded manuscript among the painter's belongings. Another valuable book is The Rothko Chapel--an Act of Faith by Susan J Barnes. This is a well-footnoted, well-illustrated and definitive book on the genesis of the Chapel and the Rothko connection. Another book that gives an insight into Rothko's dealer relations and the skullduggery that took place in his estate is The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes. This is a "must read" for those artists who have an attitude about dealers or who might want to know how pyramiding price-success is created by posthumous control of a commodity.

, Related material on Spiritual place, Alyson Stanfield Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Mary Madsen :: Modern art talk

by Mary Madsen, Henderson, NV, USA

contact Mary Madsen share Mary's letter with a friend

Although I personally enjoy Rothko, if for no other reason than the sheer size of his canvases and the pressure of his caprice of color and brush stroke on the human body, I can't help but feel that this letter, once again, holds the public hostage to the snobbery and insecurity of Modern Art. The public is threatened with being labeled as having "…the unfeeling eyes and the cruelty of the impotent" if they look at a Rothko or Pollock or Hockney and say, "Huh? I don't get it." Art has, and always will, fall flat on its face if it has to be explicated to be experienced. Knowing more about the intent and the theory behind the painting should deepen one's enjoyment of a work of art after the experience of it has taken you for a ride, not cause the reaction of, "Oh, Okay, now I get it. But I wouldn't want to live with it." I recently sat on a panel that received the final pieces for a juried exhibition, and I noticed that most of the work was large, very large. As in Rothko large. The work was also simplistic in its subject matter. Content was minimalized; size maximized to the point of intimidation. Those are the cheap tricks of corporate America. When the public is bored with the size and shape of Oreos and Cheez-it, a "genius" comes along and changes the size and packaging, and the ever-restless, stimulation-crazed public bites the bait.

Can't we raise the bar a bit on Modern Art? Can we stop with the snobbery that mocks honest reaction and belittles personal pleasure? At the risk of turning unfeeling eyes toward my impotence, I'll state that I resent being held hostage by the desperate debasement of the withering garde arrière, and say, "Come on. Enough with the threats and the lectures from on high. Gimme some beauty and truth, kick me in the gut and make me cry with some paint on canvas. I'm getting tired of all this corporate trickery and Viagra that childishly stomps its foot and insists on being called art."

P.S. Rothko was Bipolar I, and no amount of exhibition of his work would have eased his depression or stopped his suicide. This romanticism of mental illness and art is a dangerous thing. The origins of art are prayer to the gods, and its evolution has been toward pleasure. Isn't it time for art to take on a bit of responsibility? There are a lot of tortured and disturbed youth out there who sneak under the radar when we glorify the agony and the ecstasy of artists. They and their families don't have to face the pain of mental illness and dealing with it because they can say, "Oh, there's nothing wrong with Johnny. He just has an artistic temperament." Is the possible production of a piece of art worth the cost of a human life? I do believe the world would have survived and evolved if Van Gogh had been a healthy man and never painted anything more than his kitchen.

, Other letters by Mary, Related material on Modern art talk
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Cathie Harrison :: Nix on blog idea

by Cathie Harrison

contact Cathie Harrison share Cathie's letter with a friend

My heart skipped a beat when I read the note in response to Julian Merrow-Smith's suggestion that you make the twice weekly letter a blog. Please don't change it significantly. It is so clearly meeting a deeply felt need in so many artists to feel connected to each other and to read about and glimpse moments that we all experience on this journey of life as an artist. I've been talking up the twice weekly letter to all my artist friends and they want to know "the catch". I tell them there is none, just connection, sympatico, "aha" moments, inspiration, sadness and glee as you share the stories of your life as an artist and others respond with their challenges and achievements. I always smile and giggle a little when I read the letters about you being in the mind of others. You could probably do a whole page of responses of people who believe you tapped into their minds when you chose the topic. Maybe you did. I know there is one sure thing in life and that is change, for good and for bad, but I beg you on bended knee, don't change a good thing that means so much to so many. Your letter makes me feel that there are people like me out there who soak up the visual world and are inspired by its beauty. That is no small thing!

(RG note) Thanks Cathie. Your sentiment reflected the thoughts of several other writers. You might notice that we included a sort of blog (Sketch from Life – Waiting for the Puntarenas Ferry) as a supplement to the previous clickback. My excuse is that it includes a work in progress and the kind of mental process that a person goes through when choosing subject matter. For some reason the response to this little effort is overwhelming. So we'll do something like it again. The clickbacks will remain as always – selective, representative, and edited. The last thing we want to do is to waste the precious time of artists.

, Other letters by Cathie
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Lyn Cherry :: Sketch from life

by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA

contact Lyn Cherry share Lyn's letter with a friend

Thank you for the lively sketch (both painted and written) in
Teton View by Lyn Cherry, watercolor
Teton View
 click image to enlarge
Waiting for the Puntarenas Ferry. I could almost hear the sounds, and smell the ordure, and see the colors. I think that by picking the nuns in their white habits, you were giving us a place to rest our senses, brought to exciting overload by the myriad sights, sounds, and smells.

(RG note) Thanks so much to all who responded to this. And thanks also to everyone in Houston and thereabouts who wrote and asked me to come by for tea, etc. By the time I received the emails I was out of your wonderful city. Another time, I hope.

, Other letters by Lyn, Related material on Sketch from life, Lyn Cherry Website,
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Sally Pollard :: The King is Dead, Long live the King!

by Sally Pollard, Weiser, ID, USA

contact Sally Pollard share Sally's letter with a friend

Seems to me a lot of artists are celebrating the death of abstract expressionism and the dictates of taste from the US east coast. Are you talking out both sides of your mouth when you eulogize Rothko?

Last week I went to Boise and saw a small show of word art in encaustic by Bingo Barnes and almost cried, in joy and in sorrow. I bought one and had a hard time sleeping and my daily painting ritual died. Something deep in me was moved that I didn't quite understand. These encaustics spoke a language I haven't heard in a while. They were so under-priced I went back and bought 4 more. I love the surface, the colors, the crudeness, the randomness. I showed them to my art friends and they haven't a clue as to the beauty of these small pieces. It is as if it is in a language they don't speak.

Did the appeal of high art loose the easel painter while pushing the envelope with randomness? Is the painter today longing for more predictable orderliness and the security of recognizable subject matter and studied techniques?

Since moving to this artistic backwater I have been trying to learn to paint "real" subject matter again after years of experimenting with "art ideas," with textures and assemblages, color and paint for its own sake. Now I am painting an occasional barn and barnyard friends. I find people here in the sticks do not speak art. They understand pictures of horses and snow covered peaks, but haven't the slightest clue what distinguishes a picture from a painting, honestly. They have no use for Rothko. They have more thrill with paint chips from the hardware store. These tiny encaustic pieces by Bingo Barnes reminded me of the death of modern art expressions.

I wondered if I was still decompressing from my art school lessons, although it has been years for me. (I've been told you have to unlearn as much as you pick and choose what to follow.) Now from between the lines of The Painter’s Keys I am wondering if there is a message about there being a whole art world decompressing from the tyranny of art historians and art trends. Or have I, at my old ripe age, finally stopped worrying about being a genius and can now simply work at my art and not take myself too seriously? (Free at last from the tyranny of high art?) I am sorry Rothko committed suicide. I have read he rented a room at the Salvation Army and was gravely disappointed when the expected throngs of young artists never showed up groveling for his wisdom and blessings. I am glad to have stood in front of a few of his paintings and become lost in their expansiveness. There were many other high artists that I didn't appreciate until they were explained to me. High art indeed. What is the lesson?

I rationalize there is nothing bad about a good barn painting or landscape or other traditional subject matter. I am just trying to paint well. They're having a statewide competition here called "Barn Again". Now I'm getting a bit uneasy with barn art. Is high art dead? Is the tyranny over? Will we all be Barn Again?

, Other letters by Sally, Related material on The King is Dead, Long live the King!
top of page


Response to 'Nothing is something' by Wayne Ralph :: Lasting contribution of a WW2 artist

by Wayne Ralph

contact Wayne Ralph share Wayne's letter with a friend

Among the many airmen that I interviewed for my most recent book was Robert
Above Falaiseoriginal painting by Robert Hyndman<br>Canada War Museum
Above Falaise
original painting by Robert Hyndman
Canada War Museum
 click image to enlarge
Hyndman. He was a Spitfire pilot and a Canadian war artist during the Second World War. Trained on the Spitfire in 1943 he joined 411 Squadron, 126 Wing RCAF, at Biggin Hill, England. Hyndman witnessed many horrific events during his tour. He can never forget the shock of his squadron commander's Spitfire blowing up in front of him on a sortie, falling to the French soil below in a thousand burning pieces. The loss of so many young men in combat made Robert hate the war intensely. At the same time he commented to me that "I would have hated myself if I had wangled my way out of the war." After 155 combat ops, he was "tour-expired" and his nerves told him he needed a break. Recognizing Hyndman's artistic talent, the RCAF appointed him an Official War Artist and provided him with a studio at Lincoln's Inn Fields. By war's end, Robert Hyndman had painted most of the Canadian senior commanders and many of the fighter aces of the RCAF.

Robert has made his living as an artist since 1945, doing commission work, and though he will turn 90 in June, still teaches at the Ottawa School of Art. He likes to teach, but is quick to point out that there are no pensions for self-employed artists, and he needs the money. He is proud of having been self-employed as an artist all his life.

None of his war art produced as a war artist belongs to him. When a small portion of the Beaverbrook War Art Collection toured Canada some years ago, his painting of a Spitfire in flight over France became the main advertising image for the tour. It was plastered on T-shirts and coffee mugs. He didn't get a royalty. He's not allowed to reproduce his work without the permission of the government of Canada. He, like all published artists and authors, must pay a reproduction fee to the Canadian War Museum in order to use any image from the collection.

(RG note) Thanks Wayne. Wayne Ralph's book is Aces, Warriors & Wingmen : Firsthand Accounts of Canada’s Fighter Pilots in the Second World War.

Hyndman and much-decorated Canadian fighter ace, Robert 'Buck' McNair
Hyndman and much-decorated Canadian fighter ace, Robert "Buck" McNair
Canadian War Artist and ex-Spitfire pilot Robert Hyndman today
Canadian War Artist and ex-Spitfire pilot Robert Hyndman today

, Other letters by Wayne, Related material on Lasting contribution of a WW2 artist, Wayne Ralph Website,
top of page

New: If you would like to see a Robert Genn "Sketch from Life, Waiting for the Puntarenas Ferry" written and painted, click here

World of Art

 Featured Artist: Varteni - Boston, MA, USA
'Celestial by Varteni, Boston, MA, USA
Gouache and ink painting by artist Varteni, Boston, MA, USA
Email, Website Listing

(RG note) You might consider including your own art related website (or your dealers' sites) to our links page. Over four thousand interested visitors access this site daily--and it's growing! If you link with us you will notice an increase right away. Find out how to take advantage of this free service at

top of page

Clickback afterthoughts - The Painter's KeysAFTERTHOUGHTS

Please feel free to comment on anyone's remarks. If you add your email address right after your name at the end of your letter, we will include it. If you wish to write incognito we will honor that too. All unused letters are carefully archived for possible future use. We generally include ten or so letters in each "clickback" so you can expect about the same amount of reading. Readers really appreciate it when you tell us approximately where you are located. It would also be great if you could include where we might find some of your work on the net. We edit most letters for clarity and brevity. We are able to translate letters from most languages. Please address your letters to

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.

If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the last letter "Multi-stylist" and others, please go to

If you think a friend or fellow artist may find value in this material please feel free to forward it. This does not mean that they will automatically be subscribed to the Twice-Weekly Letter. They have to do it voluntarily and can find out about it by going to

The Twice-Weekly Letters are in Russian at and in French at

 PURCHASE "The Painter's Keys" ( secure payment )
Purchase The Painter's Keys -- by Robert Genn  Please select your currency to begin the payment process 
 Note that all prices include shipping and handling 

Link Exchange

The Painter's Keys Community Links Pages. To put in a free link to your art site, and up to five specific pages of dealers who handle your work, please send pertinent information to Include your name, web site title & address.

If you would like to add an image to your listing see the new Premium Link Service

To add a reciprocal link, please visit:

BETA :: send feedback

Below is a sample listing from our growing database of artists and art organizations. Everytime you visit a 'clickback' a different link listing (chosen at random) will be displayed. You can try it out right now by refreshing this page (click the Refresh or Reload button of your browser).

Robert Renfrow
'Burano' by Robert Renfrow

Robert Renfrow - Artist's Web SiteRobert Renfrow - Artist's Web Site

About Robert Renfrow...  Robert Renfrow - Alternative photographic processes on paper and fabric (cyanotype, vanDyke, etc.), photographic montage, and photography.

click to go to the top of this page

To see more listings from our R section click here

How quotable are you?

The Resource of Art Quotations on our site is the largest of its kind. It's a source of inspiration and motivation for a world of artists, students and art educators. It's also a dynamic, evolving resource. Practically every day our volunteers are finding and putting in new quotes. Lately we've been looking at the writing of those who contribute to these twice-weekly clickbacks. To see if you've been included just type your name--or any name for that matter--into the box below. Press "author search" and thank you for being so quotable.

Search for a quote by author's name :::
Browse Authors Index Browse Quotations by Categories Submit quotations

Previous ClickbackMulti-stylist click here to go to the top of this page Next Clickback:  The Jokkmokk Effect The Jokkmokk Effect

Robert's world-wide gift that artists love to get.

Absolutely free, no strings. Cancel at any time.
You'll get the valuable twice-weekly letter only.
Your email address will not be lent, sold or put
on any spam or other nasty list. Guaranteed.

Last modified: March 20th, 2005 :: Copyright 2005 Robert Genn, All Rights Reserved