SNP’s word of the day: Iconoclasm

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Iconoclasm

Meaning: The deliberate destruction of icons and symbols with a political intent (usually), or the beliefs and actions of an iconoclast (someone who overthrows the establishment).

Usage: “Rothko’s ‘iconoclasm’, in other words, his shattering of the recognisable conventions of imaging, becomes, in execution, unacceptably coercive.” — The Guardian, 2001

You should know it because: Mark Rothko, one of art’s great iconoclasts, is revived in Red—the Tony Award–winning play that made its Canadian Stage debut in Toronto last night. I went to see it, and while I didn’t learn much new (as my date said, “it’s just another mythologization of the tortured misanthropic male artist”), I’m always fascinated by the inverse relationship between the artist’s greatness and his/her likeability. Rothko in Red is a supremely despicable egomaniac who’s also heart-stoppingly romantic—and often right. An iconoclast forever, he
rejected everything that came before him (“we stomped on the Cubists,” he says), everything that came after him, and, eventually, everything around him. There was a lot of Freudian psychodrama about “killing the father,” but it’s true: nothing foments change like iconoclasm. We hear the word most often in the original religious sense—from the Protestant to the French to the Russian Revolution—but it works for anything we worship, from pop stars to artists. After all, Rothko himself said that in painting murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan, he was building a “temple to art.” With that he practically set its destruction at the hands of, of course, Pop Art. One iconoclasm usually begets another.