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Thoughts on Jackson Pollock and Modern Art

  1. Nov 13, 2007 #1
    <<Note from Moonbear: I've separated this from the urinal thread since it seems to have become a discussion all it's own. I couldn't resist the title. :redface:>>

    Jackson Pollock's work was brilliant.


    Art from that era looks inexplicable to people like Evo, but there is method in the madness. Artists were working under a set of increasingly tighter set of parameters the harshest of which was that nothing could be representational and the second harshest of which was that you couldn't imitate the previous movement. Pollock's anser was brilliantly creative: he decided to explore the effects, not of brush strokes but of dripping and splattering the paint onto the canvass.

    You may think that "anyone could do that", but, in fact, Pollock was the only one who thought of it at precisely that point in the Game of Art when it constituted the most brilliant next move in a competition of out-of-the-box thinking under increasingly restricted options.


    Given all that, his work is even more: it has the pure visual appeal of intricate texture and color. The dynamics of drips and splashes are, it turns out, extremely visually interesting, and presented formally for examination allows the viewer to appreciate that. Paint is explored both as a medium for pigment and for it's inherently liquid properties: he brings attention to paint as paint and not for it's ability to be forced to resemble something else.


    Stripped of the option of straighforward realism by the oppressive memes started by the dadaists in the early 20th century (Realism has been mastered. Everything that can possibly be done has already been done: Art Is Dead) Pollock and his contemporaries, each in their own way, took heroic measures to figure out ways to prove it all had not been done: you could, for instance, make a painting about paint itself, the drippy, liquid, splattery qualities are what his works are about; they are the subject: the lines, forms, rhythms, colors, and textures of dripped paint, itself.

    Like everything, it's nowhere near as mindless as you think. Confronted with a huge piece of canvass and ten colors of paint, you would suddenly realize that there are multitudes of decisions to make about how you drip and spatter it, and that no two people will make the same decisions. You'd quickly become aware that a certain kind of drip or spatter is much more interesting, and that certain groupings are vastly more dynamic than others. You'd start to realize that each layer of new color you add has changed what was there before, perhaps enhanced, or perhaps ruined the effect, and you'd store that information away for the next time, slowly acquiring a repertoire of effects and a procedure by which to achieve them.


    The fine art audience of Pollock's day was well aware of the restrictions and pressures on anyone seeking to be a serious player in the art game of that time: nothing conventional that appeals to obvious sensibilities is allowed, and Pollock is remembered today for the exceptionally creative, unexpected move he made in that game.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 16, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2007 #2
    I always thought of Pollack as a show of testosterone and, more recently, a possibility of him seeing (interpreting, and going overboard) of blacklight photos of a crime scene bed on CSI.
  4. Nov 13, 2007 #3
    Psychologically his work is edgy for it's frank celebration of the breaking of the general prohibition on spilling anything. That covers the gamut from spilling paint, to milk at the dinner table, to toilet bowls, to the Clinton/Lewinsky blue dress incident.
  5. Nov 13, 2007 #4
    That what I mean---he was a 'bad boy' artist--like the impressionists
  6. Nov 13, 2007 #5
    All male artists are 'bad boy' artists, and always have been.
  7. Nov 13, 2007 #6


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    Pollock's paintings look like the paper I put on the floor when painting rooms to catch all the splatters and drips..
  8. Nov 13, 2007 #7
    Which is a great deal of his point: splatters and drips are inherently more visually interesting than people realize.

    The other thing is that, if we actually compared you'd see his are much more sophisticated and interesting. You've never taken a good look at drips and splatters because they represent "spills" to you: things you were taught to avoid and that you taught your kids to avoid.
  9. Nov 13, 2007 #8
    no--sorry--I don't agree with that at all----some are (were) as an affront to rebel to join a different group, some as a leisure activity available from an affluent family, some just as a occupation of training, plus others reasons.

    Pollack's paintings mostly have an overall non-random randomness.


    Pollack's early works were all representational and weren't* very well accepted.

    Last edited: Nov 14, 2007
  10. Nov 14, 2007 #9
    I'm not sure what this says. At any rate my statement is true unless you're referring to some specific usage of the term "bad boy" I am not aware of. What I mean by the statement is that all male artists are consciously aware of the erotic atmosphere surrounding the art world, and seek entry for that reason. It's a bit higher class, more refined than going into rock and roll.

    Well, that's the extent to which you've fathomed them, anyway. You shouldn't dismiss what I said about them above as being about paint as paint. If you sit down and seriously apply yourself to the task of learning how to control any art medium: paint, clay, graphite, whatever, there comes a point where, having acquired a certain mastery in it, there is a chaotic reversal where you feel the medium takes over and starts to tell you what it wants to be. That sounds overly mystical or psychotic, but it means that you start to become fascinated with the very basic properties of the medium and you experiment and play with it simply to appreciate what those properties are. Each of Pollocks paintings is a kind of statement about what he finds interesting about paint as paint. He is experimenting with it the same way a potter might experiment with glazes as such, trying different ones out on flat slabs of clay that aren't meant to be anything but canvasses for his experiments, because he wants to focus on the glazes as glazes.

    And? (Your point?)
  11. Nov 14, 2007 #10
    :biggrin:no, "bad boy" I wouldn't consider to be a specific term to 'art'

    Most beginning artists try and want, usually, to find an 'area' that they relate to. If you like the 'idea' of an erotic atmosphere--that's great----BUT to say that 'all male artists' are -'whatever'- is kind of an over generalization. And as far as 'more refined', that, too, is a matter of personal opinion.

    I don't, in fact--Pollack is often called 'The Father of Abstract Expressionist'. I think I've only seen about 10-15 of his works in person.

    After the 'mastery', or the beginning of that phase, the creative part starts coming into play, if that is what you mean--but again, the 'mystical or psychotic' part is a generalization as is all art when put on a Bell shaped curve.

    One thing I read about that Pollack said about his 'drip' paintings, is something like that he tried to eliminate any and all representational 'images' in his work, which to me is saying that even he 'saw' images in his own works, and either didn't like them or purposely over painted them to avoid any 'comments' toward something looking 'like something'. That may go back to the negative comments he received on his post-impressionist/fauve type paintings.

    (see above)--

    --and it was supposed to read 'weren't very well accepted. '


    :tongue:I hope this doesn't become a pissing contest:tongue2:
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2007
  12. Nov 15, 2007 #11


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    Less testosterone here, perhaps.

    I’ve also heard criticism to the effect that this sort of art was regarded as safe and conservative in the face of radical developments. Despite reading this, I don’t think I agree entirely. I liked what Zoobyshoe posted, and also think these paintings involved possibly novel ideas about perception, but my Guattari book arrived yesterday, and if I manage to understand it, my opinion may be better informed eventually.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2007
  13. Nov 15, 2007 #12
    I really don't think so. I have never met a male artist who wasn't attracted to it for the manifold erotic aspects.

    I'll qualify what I said about art being more refined and higher class than rock music: this is probably not the case with tattoo, graffiti, and cartoon artists. They're in the same league as rockers, I guess.

    rwebster, there is no "mystical or psychotic" part. I was obviously refering to how my manner of expressing it probably sounded, not the activity itself.

    I'm not generalizing either. I'm talking about a stages of development type thing. For those who pursue it that far, there comes a point where you feel so comfortable with being able to make the medium do what you want that you ease up and start "listening" so to speak, to what it seems to want to do and be. This isn't any more or less creative than any other stage. It's more like the "The Medium Is The Message" stage.

    This is interesting. It is very hard to make random marks without people being able to pick various images out of them. Hence: the rohrschack test. Seems he was trying to eliminate even that from his stuff.
  14. Nov 15, 2007 #13
    Maybe when you meet other artists outside your circle, and read some more art history, you may get a different perspective. Just wondering, if you think all male artists are this way--what is your thinking of why women do art?

    again, this is kind of your personal view--I personally think its all various levels of artist expression

    I still don't get what you're saying, then, I guess

    Most, or, at least, a lot of people get that wrong---it's not "The Medium Is The Message"---its "The Medium Is The Massage"---it deals with a view on the media---not what type of 'medium' an artist uses.


    maybe you're talking about the ability to use the medium that you've chosen better--but it almost sounds like you're letting the medium (pencil, oil, etc.) control you.

    I thought Pollack's stuff was interesting, but didn't like it as much as other artists stuff.


    similar (but not the same by any means) I like Kandinsky's work better

    Last edited: Nov 15, 2007
  15. Nov 15, 2007 #14
    I don't have a circle. I meet about 3 new artists a week. That adds up to a lot of artists. I have also read an awful frickin lot of art history in my 52 years. I think my level of exposure is good enough to be confident of my perspective on this.
    A lot of women are in it for the erotic atmosphere as well, but women are more likely to have a more direct and pure enjoyment of the aesthetics as such, and of art as a medium of personal expression.
    I agree

    The slogan is, therefore: "The medium is the message", and, while I understand that McLuhan was concerned about "the media", you should have been alerted to the fact I was punning on his slogan by preceeding it with "a sort of".

    A person cannot be controlled by inanimate matter, obviously. The state of mind I'm describing is one in which you stop forcing the medium to imitate something it isn't and allow what it is to be apparent. Take the rose parade: flowers are forced to resemble all kinds of things. In the state of mind I'm talking about the artist would simply settle on a straighforward flower arrangement, and not try to make it also look like a dinosaur or a Disney ride. You can, analagously, think of Pollocks paintings as "paint arrangements" done with a specific technique (drip and splatter instead of conventional brush strokes) rather than forcing the paint to resemble a landscape or train station.

    The same can be done with any medium.
  16. Nov 16, 2007 #15


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    I should have been more precise and said I liked what was posted in post no.22, but hope that was understood by the context.
    Concerning other issues, like why humans involve themselves in art, I think is a big question that requires a lot more research. However, there have been, for example, theories that suggest the opposite, that art is superior to 'base desires'(not that I agree).
    And regarding 'high art', I think it is sad that an attitude persists that encourages people to be passive observers of art rather than more a part of it.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2007
  17. Nov 16, 2007 #16
    James Joyce defined and spoke in favor of the kind of art you mention in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I read it years ago and don't remember the details of the concept, but it was something about the superiority of art that stopped you there, fullfilled, rather than filling you with desire for more. I think he was less describing art as it really was and more trying to formulate an ideal that might rehabilitate art.

    The erotic aura around the art world is not necessarily a result of art itself, rather it results from the fact the art world has been hijacked and is now controlled by people with those concerns. Way back,of course, art used to be primarily a religious endeavor.
  18. Nov 17, 2007 #17


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    I guess, as this book suggests, by connecting aesthetics and ethics Kant had responibility for this kind of thinking. Although it boasts ‘idiotic’ as a review from the Times, and although I have a problem with a lot of the conclusions drawn, and didn’t finish it because the last part about literature annoyed me so much, the first part of this book deals a lot with these issues.


    Tangentially, it mentions dancing chimpanzees, and the little research done. I wonder if there has been any research since the book was published.

    Naturally, I'm also very interested in what motivates involvement in art currently, too.

    Oh, and I like the new thread title too!
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2007
  19. Nov 17, 2007 #18
    Pollock's paintings are MUCH more visually interesting live than in reproductions. The reason has to do with the fractals imbedded in the paintings. Pollock was not trying to be a bad boy (or whatever), he was trying to do the same thing scientists try to do when they distil the World into its essence. He was reproducing what he saw around him in its most abstract form -- as fractals.

    True abstract painting is NOT just splashing paint on a canvas. It is looking for the essence of what we see around us and abstracting it into a visual presentation. Pollock and his drip paintings are great expressions of that search
  20. Nov 17, 2007 #19


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    Or that is what people that try to justify that his paintings aren't pure crap try to reason.

    I think his work is total crap. There is no meaning in his paintings, it is random squirts and dots. I read a long time ago an interview with Picasso where he said he had no respect for the people that thought his abstract work was good, basically calling them fools. That he had no respect for anyone that would call it art.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2007
  21. Nov 17, 2007 #20


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    I think Evo speaks for the majority of people.
  22. Nov 17, 2007 #21
    I think the whole l'art-pour-l'art mentality is somewhat nonsense.
  23. Nov 17, 2007 #22
    At least the best of Pollock's drip paintings are NOT random. Published studies in peer reviewed publications have shown that the density of fractals in his drip paintings are way above what one would expect from a random walk. There was a very good article in Scientific American on this subject a few years ago.
  24. Nov 17, 2007 #23


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    Oh, come on now, how can anyone truthfully say what percenatge of paint splatters are random?

    Answer: They can't.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2007
  25. Nov 17, 2007 #24
    You speak with the passion of someone who is certain their taste is objective truth.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 19, 2007
  26. Nov 17, 2007 #25
    It is possible to mathematically break down an image into its parts and determine its fractal density. See a discussion in:


    http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/phys_about/PHYSICS!/FRACTAL_EXPRESSIONISM/fractal_taylor.html [Broken]

    The first is a nontechnical discussion and the second is a paper from the University of New South Wales. The second paper was first published in "Nature":

    Fractal Analysis of Pollock’s Drip Paintings R.P. Taylor, A.P. Micolich and D. Jonas Nature 399, 422 (1999).

    Evo, you can believe what you want, but I believe the math and the physics and they say it is not random.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
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