Blurring the Edges: Ricoeur and Rothko on Metaphorically Figuring the Non-Figural


  • B. Keith Putt Samford University



Metaphor, Mimesis, Abstract Art, Mystery


This essay examines Ricœur’s mimetic and transfigurative perspective on non-objective art and adopts it as an idiom for examining Mark Rothko’s artistic intention in the multiform canvases of his “classical” period from 1949 until his death in 1970. Rothko unequivocally denied being an abstractionist, a colorist, or a formalist, insisting, on the contrary, that he desired to communicate discrete dimensions of experience and emotions to his viewers, specifically, experiences of the sacred and the spiritual. His large canvases, with their blurred edges, force the spectator into an intimacy of experience that opens the potentiality of heterogeneous interpretations. In other words, one might consider his paintings to be metaphors of dense meanings that imitate reality, not through facile representation, but through a Kierkegaardian repetition of worlds that track Ricœur’s own ideas of prefiguration, configuration, and re-figuration. I contend in this essay that Rothko’s “abstract expressionism” adequately illustrates Ricœur’s contention that non-figurative art succeeds far better than representational art in refiguring new worlds of meaning.

Author Biography

B. Keith Putt, Samford University

Professor of Philosophy