Minimalism and Meaning: Lessons from the Art Gallery

deformingprisms

by Nathan Cornelius

This week, I took advantage of a free afternoon in Washington to visit a couple of museums for the first time, and I felt several of the artworks spoke to my own process and philosophy as a composer of music. Here are three brief reflections on what I learned:

First, I visited the Phillips Collection, famous for its Rothko Room, with four large works by the great modernist painter. The first thing you notice about a piece by Rothko is its relative lack of content, not so much its abstraction per se but its openness, sparseness, and diffusion of visual information. Instead of filling the canvas with some variety and number of images (whether abstract or representational), Rothko deals with large, soft-edged blocks of subtly shaded color. The obvious response to a skeptic of this sort of art to say that Rothko’s work bears more than…

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