“What do you see? How does it make you feel?”

Those two questions emerge with something like a primal force from the mouth of Mark Rothko in John Logan’s play Red. The painter is looking at his young assistant, who has just arrived to help him and is now for the first time taking in the painter’s work. Rothko wants to know what his response to the painting is. But he does not ask him what he thinks. He wants to know what he sees. And how it makes him feel.

I have thought a lot about those questions ever since seeing the play last fall in Los Angeles. Especially about why the experience of seeing seems so often to stir such strong feelings; and why feelings play such a significant role in helping us to see things, especially those things arising from what we often refer to as our ‘inner life.’ Rothko understood this. So have many visionaries and mystics. The play Red, in its insistent surfacing of the question of what it means to see and see deeply, feels like an illuminating gloss on a phenomenon that contemplative traditions have long struggled to understand and express: the moment when sight, fraught with feeling, opens up a new way of perceiving reality. When you are moved to tears by what you behold and changed by the experience, even if you cannot say why. Certainly it has been so for me. Read the rest of this entry »