Letters to the Editor: “Mark Tobey and the Evolution of ‘White Writing’—The Awakening of Spirit” with Robert Weinberg

Robert Weinberg

Robert Weinberg

When Robert Weinberg gave a Web Talk earlier this year titled “Mark Tobey and the Evolution of ‘White Writing’—The Awakening of Spirit,” one listener said he thought it was the best Web Talk the Institute had ever hosted. We don’t know about that, but it was an extraordinarily good talk, as is attested by the outpouring of comments received.

About the American artist Mark Tobey and his development, Robert said that his talk demonstrates

that Tobey’s breakthrough was the result of a deep knowledge of the art of the past and diverse cultures, and his desire to convey Bahá’í spirituality through his work. His influence on his contemporaries—ranging from Jackson Pollock to the St Ives school in Cornwall—has not yet been fully acknowledged.

Because those who listened to Rob Weinberg’s Web Talk and shared their reactions asked the same two questions a number of times, here are the answers: (1) A transcript of Rob’s talk is not available, but the Web Talks has computer-generated subtitles in English. (2) The talk is available on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel. The link takes you to page that contains a link to the Web Talk as well as introductions to the talk and to Robert Weinberg. All Web Talks are uploaded to the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel some twenty-four hours after the live talk concludes. The result is a treasure trove of Web Talks dating back to 2015, when the talks began as part of the Wilmette Institute’s celebration of its twentieth anniversary.

To enhance your understanding of artist Mark Tobey, you may wish to visit an article that Rob Stockman wrote about an exhibit of Tobey’s works, mounted first in Venice, Italy, and then in Andover, Massachusetts, USA, called “Mark Tobey: Threading Light.”

Now, here is a sampling of the comments made about Rob Weinberg’s talk on Mark Tobey and his paintings.

Absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of this.—CHEAIR G

This webinar was superb! A beautiful synthesis of those various influences on the evolution of Tobey’s work. Weinberg clearly knows the field he addressed in such depth and so articulately. I have forwarded the Youtube link to a few non-Bahá’í, art-loving friends. Thank you all around!—RITA ERICKSON, Scandia, Minnesota, USA

Mark Tobey Book CoverThank you, I enjoyed the seminar very much. I was lucky to catch the last days of “Threading Light” in Venice [an exhibit of Tobey’s works in Italy]. The backstory of his early work and more connections in his spiritual search was new to me. The talk was very clear and engaging. Many thanks to Rob.—VINCENT FLANNERY, Ireland

Thank you for hosting this splendid webinar! I had the privilege to know Rob in the Holy Land and know some of his tremendous capabilities. The presentation could not have been better! What a service he has done to acquaint the Bahá’í world with Mark Tobey whose magnificent work is really a manifest sign of divine assistance. Is a transcript of the talk available? With true appreciation and gratitude.—NANCY BARNES, Kentucky, USA

Thank you very much. It was our first webinar, and we put it up on the TV, both sound and vision, which was very much better than relying on the tinny, quiet computer speakers. It took some time to work out how to get both screens transferred to the TV, but that was a small matter, and we will know next time. The talk itself was wonderful, and we enjoyed it very much indeed. Many images we had not seen before and some deep insights. Please pass our thanks to Rob. . . . . Please keep us on the circulation list of the calendar of your program. The publicity we got indicated this was a special free offer. Please also advise the normal cost of your transmissions. Well done, and we were delighted to have had the opportunity to be part of this. Thank you again! As a small suggestion, would it be an easy thing to have a slightly earlier start? We are currently eight hours older [later] than Wilmette (nine hours when it isn’t summer time).—MICHAEL FAIRHEAD and GERALDINE ROBARTS, Nairobi, Kenya

White Writing - an example of Mark Tobey's work.

White Writing – an example of Mark Tobey’s work.

ED. NOTE: All the of the Wilmette Institute’s Web talks are free. It is difficult to choose a beginning time that suits everyone around the world. The Wilmette Institute’s largest audience is in North America, where the talks begin at 2 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast and 11 a.m. on the West Coast. The Web Talks are recorded and are posted on the Wilmette Institute’s YouTube channel, usually within twenty-fours after the live broadcast. Hence an option is listening at a later time, even though doing so will deprive you of the opportunity to ask the speaker questions.

I found Rob’s exposition on Mark Tobey’s work added to my little stock of information. I had owned, and read and reread the book Mark Tobey / Art and Belief available here back in 1984. It had content by Mr. [Arthur L.] Dahl and others. Indeed, Mr. Dahl might have edited it. The talk has got me digging through my books again to find it for another reread. Thank you for another experience new to me—the webinar. We do, indeed, live in amazing times.—KEITH MELLARD, Scotland

Just want to let you know that I thought that the webinar with Robert Weinberg was fantastic! Can’t be any better than that.—CHRISTINE MULLER, Rhode Island, USA

Thank you for hosting an excellent presentation. I was definitely inspired! As I was encouraging the friends at a Spiritual Assembly meeting to listen in to the webinar, my long time Bahá’í friends said they used to have a Mark Tobey painting done in the Oriental style on rice paper. They sold it to their daughter who has the facilities for safe keeping. In other words, it’s stored in a closet in Columbia, Missouri, USA, until the daughter moves to her new home. Also, I had the privilege of ascending the steps to the new Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago at the dedication behind Arthur [Lyon] Dahl, whom I had just considered an environmental writer. However, when I dusted off my Mark Tobey book, I realized that he had authored it. Since this was my first webinar, I couldn’t figure out how to make a comment online.  I would appreciate any direction you could provide.—LINDA HOUSTON

ED. NOTE: There is a box at the upper right side of the screen. One usually has to open/expand it to post questions for the speaker.

I just had to let you know that this morning’s webinar with Mr. Weinberg was a tremendous inspiration in our household. Trained as an art historian, I had often wondered about Mark Tobey and his artist friends. My son, a budding composer and musician, will undoubtedly be encouraged to know Tobey was a pianist and composer. The quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Juliet Thompson is such a source of strength for a teenager! This is my first webinar, and I certainly am looking forward to listening in regularly. With deepest appreciation! P.S.: I joined the webinar about a half hour late. Is there any way to hear the whole program one more time?—JULI ANNA JOHNSON

TOBEY, MARK 1964

TOBEY, MARK 1964 © ERLING MANDELMANN

ED. NOTE: The passage that Rob Weinberg quoted is this one: “I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in the wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt though come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshiping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the temple.”

Heartfelt thanks to . . . Robert Weinberg for his talk on Mark Tobey. It was really wonderful, and much appreciated. Timely for me as well, as my long-term research on Juliet Thompson has recently taken a new turn: developing a short experimental film. Just over a week ago my collaborator and I decided to begin exploring whether we’d like to invite Mark Tobey to be a part of it, and so this was particularly welcome. Always appreciated when really knowledgeable Bahá’ís produce work of such quality. Thank you for this wonderful webinar. P.S. The Archives of American Art has Mark Tobey’s correspondence (including with the Guardian [Shoghi Effendi], and Juliet Thompson) on microfiche. I believe they can now be accessed online. Thank you so much!—SUSAN HEGARTY

ED. NOTE. The Archives of American Art, of the Smithsonian Institution, does, indeed, have a large collection of materials about Mark Tobey, who passed away on April 24, 1976.

Have you heard the delightful story about Mark Tobey in reference to the Leo Casteli Gallery? It goes like this: Upon presenting his delightful visuals in his size 16”x 20” or to a minimum 8”x10,” Castelli remarked, “Mark, these are sensitive, imaginative renderings. We would consider representing your work in the sizes of FEET: 4’x6’—6’x 10’. Our market requires the big picture. With that guidance, Mark returned to his studio, and, as you would find at the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Gallery of the Moderns, this very achievement of his work, in his “white writing” a work in the size of 6’ x 8’. Quite a powerful masterpiece! Wonderful listening to this today!—JOHN SOLARZ, Wisconsin

Leave a Reply