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What's at Stake?

04/20/2023 11:57:17 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

When it comes to the Rothko, I’ve noticed there are two kinds of CSK-ers: those who absolutely love the Rothko Chapel and those who don’t…yet.

From those who have expressed resistance to the chapel, I have heard that it feels cold.  Some have told me that the art feels expressionless and confounding.  And for others, who know a bit about Mark Rothko and hold some general knowledge about mid-20th century art history, there’s a presumption that the darkness in Mark Rothko’s chapel paintings reflects the darkness and despair in his character, perhaps leading to his tragic, self-inflicted, end to his life. But what many people aren’t aware of, is that these giant, dark paintings, weren’t Rothko’s last works.  Over the years following, while he still experimented with color and hue, mostly in geometric shapes with light and dark contrasts in the same painting, many of his works were bright and airy and burst with color.  

Now, I am not an art historian, nor am I the son of an art historian! Never fear, we have invited a Rothko Chapel expert to our Rothko Shabbat tomorrow evening.  David Leslie is the Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel and he will join us for Shabbat, and share with us some thoughts on the subject of the Rothko Chapel as a place of pilgrimage – a space for contemplation, reflection, prayer, and for CSK…Shabbat.  

I do wish to present you with one question to ponder just a bit.  It’s a big one, but one worth contemplating even if for just a moment: 

“What is at stake in the pursuit of artistic expression?”

While there is indeed often great excitement and joy in being “known,” or “famous” for being one whose left a visual legacy behind (in writing, in film, in art), to do so, whether famous or not, is such a vulnerable act. When any of us put our art out there, it doesn’t take long for our art to become artifice, representative of whatever the holder wishes or needs to see and feel. This is the nature of art.  But I do believe, especially in a space like the chapel, that there is more to learn about ourselves, than about anything we could ever surmise about the creator of the art before us. No one can ever really know what it’s like to be inside of anyone else’s head, let alone, that of a famous artist whom we have never met. But maybe that isn’t at all what art is meant to make possible.  Perhaps, as some intellectuals have argued, the art is meant to be “experienced” by the beholder – and then the question is really, what does this experience cause to arise in you?  When I think of Shabbat at the Rothko, and why I continue to bring us there, I better understand an essential element of CSK’s itinerant nature.  

Moving from one place to another, rebuilding our holy space (our mishkan) from week to week, engenders a unique spiritual approach that is both challenging and inspiring. To me, it feels like we are in sync with the Torah’s instructions for the holy space that is built anew in each stopping point along the Sinai journey.  For us at CSK, we build Shabbat anew each and every week.  We do not rely upon the consistency of an architecture that remains exactly the same and holds within it the weight of generations. Instead, we are invited into each space anew, challenging ourselves to dig deeper, to reimagine our bearings, to recalibrate our trajectories, and to commit to painting a new canvas as each new week approaches.

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784