/

Gyral Sketch Book 1

Date
1937  1938
Collection
National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, 1986.56.644.a-aa
Remarks
The paperboard front cover of this fourteen-hole spiral-bound sketchbook bears a red paper label embossed with “GYRAL Sketch Book” and a decorative border, both in silver. Morris Calden, a painter who rented a room from Rothko and his wife Edith between 1935 and 1940, recalled that Rothko purchased Gyral pads from Woolworth’s five-and-dime store for five cents [Morris Calden interviewed by Bonnie Clearwater and Barbara Shickler, June 30, 1982, Mark Rothko Foundation Papers, transcript, National Gallery of Art]. 
              This sketchbook contains 56 pages (28 sheets). Of these pages, 27 include drawings by Rothko, 17 are blank, 6 bear stray marks or offset smudges from a facing page, and 6 at the back contain Rothko’s handwritten notes for a speech. The paperboard back cover is annotated in the artist’s hand with lists of supplies and tasks and what are likely corresponding prices.
              The sketchbook’s 28 sheets have been numbered in graphite at the upper right of each recto. It is believed that these inscribed numerals predate the sketchbook’s entry into the National Gallery of Art’s collection. To each drawing with a blank verso, the National Gallery added an accession number in graphite at the lower right on the verso. Only pages with drawings have individual catalog entries in this online resource. All pages can be viewed by clicking the image of the sketchbook cover above.
              Drawings in the sketchbook depict a range of subjects executed in ink and/or graphite with varying degrees of finish. Rothko appears to have used this sketchbook indoors to record domestic vignettes, as well as outdoors to jot rapid sketches on the street and in subway stations. Rothko’s text begins at the back of the book, advancing toward the front, perhaps because Rothko had already begun working in the sketchbook, filling it with drawings from the front. 
              His text begins, “Ten years ago, when this school began to function, progressive art methods were looked upon as a suspicious motivation and experiment.” He almost certainly refers to the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, which was founded in 1928 and where he began teaching in 1929. The text appears to be a draft of an address that Rothko delivered at the school’s tenth anniversary in 1938. This provides an indication of the period during which Rothko used the sketchbook. 
              The subject of Rothko’s text is the school’s approach to teaching arts, which valued creativity and expression above technical facility: “In our methods the child from the very beginning [is] encouraged to be an artist, a creator. Our dictum is not to do so and so; but what would you like to express and how clearly and vividly can you express it. The result is a constant creative activity in which the child creates an entire childlike cosmology which expresses the infinitely varied and exciting world of a child’s fancies and experience.” 
              Rothko here rehearses the main points of an argument he laid out in early 1934 in an article published to coincide with an exhibition of his students’ work in the print room at the Brooklyn Museum [“New Training for Future Artists and Art Lovers,” Brooklyn Jewish Center Review 14 (February–March 1934): 10–11]. He would elaborate further in a handwritten text in a notebook now known as the “Scribble Book” [Research Library of the Getty Research Institute, 2002.M.8 (box 2), transcribed in Glenn Phillips and Thomas Crow, eds., Seeing Rothko (Los Angeles, 2005), 232–261]. The full text as it appears in the current sketchbook (minus Rothko’s edits) is transcribed in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Mark Rothko: Writings on Art (New Haven, 2006): 14–15. It is also transcribed below, complete with Rothko’s edits.

[Rothko’s text] 

Ten years ago, when this school began to function[,] progressive art methods would have been presented apologetically with were looked upon as a suspicious innovation and experiment. Today this method needs no martyrs. Even public schools The method has extended itself into various public school buildings, which have become distinguished and admittance sought after for this very reason. It has even been extended into the teaching of adults.
              This has been due to several reasons. First of all, a large an increased knowledge and appreciation by the public of of contemporary in art in general and contemporary art currents specifically, and also a widespread interest in the art of children by museums, galleries and other cultural centers who have been frequently exhibiting the work of the children [?] working from this point of view in our school and others schools in and have. The public has responded to the new art and participated in the irresistible vividness and expressiveness of children’s painting. In margin: {They have learned the difference between sheer skill and skill that is linked to spirit, expressiveness and personality[,] between the painter who paints well and the artist whose works breathe life and imagination / use materials to say something}
              In progressive art we tend do not work from the  X’d out: {In our methods, we encourage the child at all times to be an artist; to use his materials to express himself, to give concrete expression to his imaginings, fancies, proclivities. Rather than make his art work a duplication of methods and examples} 
              The difference between our methods and older methods is this. In the older methods a child was taught how to do various things. Given examples, his problem was to perfect himself in the imitation of them. The sum total of his experience was the sum of the things he learned to imitate and their combinations. In our methods the child from the very beginning [is] encouraged to be an artist, a creator. Our dictum is not to do so and so; but what would you like to express and how clearly and vividly can you express it. The result is a constant creative activity in which the child creates an entire childlike cosmology which expresses the infinitely varied and exciting world of a child’s fancies and experience. School books, far off lands, movies, dreams, playgrounds, desires all contribute to the panorama of his work.
              From the very beginning then, our children's work is art since it expresses in vivid terms the personality of our children. How do these children Do these children progress, improve, and how do they do it. Yes, they definitely progress. No two groups work on the same level. The level of observation and representation rises with each group and each age level. It happens this way. As they grow older their standards of observation rise as well as their experience with their art materials. To meet these new standards they must constantly deal with new problems and new methods.
              Our children have courage. For instance if the Brooklyn Bridge fascinates them, they will draw it, and if it must extend across the river, they will make it do so.
              In the old methods the child would have been stumped before he began. He would have been so aware of perspective mature technics [sic] as difficult problems, that this difficulty would have discouraged him from the very beginning. Our children working from the point of view of expressing their ideas, meet their problems as they feel the need for them[,] as their standards of maturity demand.
Loading...
Top