Atelier · April 13, 2007

Friday in the atelier: ” No. 5. 1948″ by Jackson Pollock

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

– Taken from “Jabberwocky”, as written in “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

Welcome to the second “Friday the 13th” edition of Friday in the Atelier. As I did last Friday the 13th, I will be displaying an example of what I do not consider to be art, in my opinion.

And that of course leads to the question of, “What is art?” Honestly, I don’t have a definitive answer and I’m not sure anyone does. But I would hazard an opinion that art requires structure to lift it up from being merely an exercise in color-coordinated decoration.

That’s what I’m trying to show here by duplicating the first two verses of “Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll. Carroll invented words that could have been written in a sentence in an ordinary fashion, or even just scattered on a page. Instead, he placed these invented words within a very strict classical English structure that followed rhyme and meter perfectly. The nonsense words become fascinating, and the poem has become so famous that individual nonsense words have found their way from the poem to the English language.

Jackson Pollock didn’t seem to care about structure in his paintings.

I’m showing you one of Pollock’s most famous paintings, called simply, “No. 5. 1948”.

This work possibly has the distinction of being the most expensive work of art ever purchased in auction. Allegedly it was purchased for $140 million dollars. I say allegedly because there seems to be some confusion about the sale. Still, if it were sold it is likely that it would sell for that sum – Pollock’s works are popular, and unlike Picasso’s proliferation of artwork there are not that many of Pollock’s paintings left in the world. His painting, “Blue Poles” has been appraised at $148 million dollars.

I’m showing a cropped portion of “Blue Poles” to the left; click on it or the link to see the whole painting.

Pollock started his education in more traditional art. After dropping out of high school, he studied with the Art Student’s League in New York, and was taught by Thomas Hart Benton, who was classically trained in Paris at the Académie Julian. By the late 1930s Pollock was suffering from depression and alcoholism. He was also suffering under what he called the “yoke” of Thomas Benton’s influence.

He was a subsistence-level painter, cranking out a painting a month for the Works Progress Administration of 1935 before he got his first break when a wealthy heiress became his patron. His second break came soon after his marriage to his wife, Lee Krasner. From AskArt.com:

Much influenced by [his wife’s] theories and encouragement, he began painting increasingly with drips, smears, and giant circular motions over smaller geometric shapes. This technique seemed particularly inspired by readying for an exhibit in 1947 arranged by Betty Parsons, who took over Peggy Guggenheim’s Gallery. He made a transition to mural size works asserting that easel painting was a dying form. He laid canvases on the floor, where he felt nearer his work, and feeling totally into the work, likened it to Indian sand painting.

He applied paint with sticks, trowels, knives, and by dripping paint. He spoke of the painting taking on a life of its own, and a sense of pure harmony with the creation. It set a new standard in American art, especially when Pollock abandoned brushes completely for dripping and pouring paint to avoid the disruption of reloading the paint brush. He said he had a general notion of what he was about before beginning but that the painting also took on a life of its own.

He seemed to come to terms with himself for a while and even stopped drinking. But as his art gained a successful reputation he seemed to lose it – and his works became very dark while his output plummeted.

Five months before Pollock died, he met Ruth Kligman, a young artist who idolized him and became his girlfriend. According to Kingman’s book, “Love Affair: A Memoir of Jackson Pollack”, Pollack considered himself to be a phony.

Pollock died at the age of 44 while driving drunk, in a single-car accident with two passengers, Ruth Kligman and her friend, Edith Metzger. Metzger also died in the crash.

Whether or not the very tortured Jackson Pollock truly considered himself a phony may be up for debate. However I won’t hesitate to say that works like “No. 5. 1948” and “Blue Poles” are nothing more than decorative designs to me, lacking the necessary structure to hold my interest. The idea that anyone would pay a hundred million for these works seems ludicrous.

Another artist that I respect, Norman Rockwell, created the painting “Connoisseur” which by its very contrast seems to point out the absurdity of this sort of “art”. I hope Rockwell’s painting is enough to cleanse everyone’s (ahem) palette.

Next Friday I’ll once again display “real” art, so everyone can rest safely until the next Friday the 13th!