Rothko and Mozart

Mark Rothko was a complicated and deeply empathetic man. Mozart was a kindred spirit in his mind and would try to achieve the emotion of music through his own works. How did he do this? (And no, your 6 year old couldn’t do this)


Kate Lacivita

3/1/20232 min read

My studies this quarter have been really challenging me to rethink what I want to do and who I want to be. I have been exposed to so much in only 10 short weeks. Here’s just a small bit of what I have been writing about. I may post this whole paper in the future, but in the meantime here’s the conclusion.

In short, the paper is about how Rothko shared his most intimate emotions through expression in paint. He shared his philosophy on art, music and personal autonomy that continues to push the threshold of innate human instincts that touch us all. Before this, I didn’t think I would be one to appreciate such abstraction. Now, I see the absolute beauty that it holds. I feel as though I am being swayed more towards contemporary art, how interesting. I will have to ponder this a little more.

In these works is Rothko’s last ardor for life, of it’s zeal for musical and natural beauty and his representational unknowing place among such a tragic world. Form was comfort, an escape and figured understanding of an increasingly lonely and commodified world, in which he found, through this comfort, a kindred understanding with Mozart and his compositional masterpieces (one being Symphony no.25 in G Minor) and the intoxicated Dionysian form expressed outward, in visual manifestations, the basic human emotions through which the excitement that is able to impart to the whole of men the artistic factuality of the spirit and identifying with the host of the spirit.[1] As Nietzsche will describe, “the Dionysiac musician, with no image at all, is nothing but primal pain and the primal echo of it,”[2] Rothko will imitate this theoretical concept and continual, “sanctioned habit of contemplation,”[3] that we see in both non-representational works of Untitled (Black and Grey) (1969) and Untitled (1970), showcasing the immense and primordial emotion he wanted to infect in people, something which he didn’t foresee as coming in a later temporal state, but that he was painting the woes that were already present.[4] In reality, there never is a good painting without a meaning to convey, and through a Rothko the idea that, “the simple expression of the complex thought,”[5] casts towards us in the purest sense of Dionysian substance the raw, tragic ecstasy and infectious emotion that continues to musically arouse the Apollonarian artist into oblivion.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, 17.[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, 30. [3] Barbra Novak and Brian O’Doherty, “Rothko’s Dark Paintings: Tragedy and Void,” 273. [4] John Fischer, “The Easy Chair: Mark Rothko, Portrait of the Artist as an Angry Man, 1970,” 135. [5] Mark Rothko, “Rothko and Gottlieb’s Letter to the Editor, 1943,” in Writings on Art, ed. Miguel López-Remiro (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 35.

Mark Rothko. Untitled. 1970. Acrylic on Canvas. 60’ x 57’ 1/8” (152.4 x 145.1 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Source of Image:

Mark Rothko. Untitled (Black on Grey). 1969-1970 Acrylic on Canvas. 6’6” x 66’ 1/4” (198.1 x 168.2 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Source of Image: