Last weekend I spent a bit of time at the Rothko Chapel with a friend. It’s a nondenominational chapel designed to incorporate wall-sized paintings by Mark Rothko. While I was only there for about 15 minutes, it was still an experience for me. The dull lighting gave the interior a solemn tone. People were silent, aside from some soft whispers. Some were using the meditation cushions up front. Even the children were quiet. It was the ideal space for public contemplation.
The paintings were largely monochromatic with darker tones than Rothko usually employed. They were like giant, opaque mirrors that reflected my own thoughts back to me. Their lack of shape and contrast offered me little to fix my mind upon, so I had no choice but to listen to my increasingly loud, wayward thoughts. At times the black paintings were reminiscent of Rorschach ink blots, and my mind would impose shapes onto the paintings.
I left with the feeling that it is what a religious edifice ought to provide: a space in which to cultivate silence and self-awareness. It takes away the images, fables, and rituals, but, in exchange, the visitor receives a brief opportunity to get to know oneself.