Jackson Pollock the World Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2578 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Jackson Pollock

THE WORLD OF JACKSON POLLOCK

AND HIS ART

According to Anthony White, the abstract paintings of the American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) "are among the highest achievements of 20th-century art," and during "an unparalleled period of creativity from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Pollock abandoned the conventional tools and methods of the painter, putting aside brushes, artist's paint and traditional composition, and poured and flung house paint directly onto large canvases placed on the floor." This unique and startling artistic style "had an enormous impact on contemporary art" which can still be sensed even today ("Jackson Pollock: Before Blue Poles," Internet).

In order to understand and appreciate the world of Jackson Pollock and his amazing art, we must first explore the world of art that came before him during the middle years of the 20th century. Following the end of World War II in 1945 and the beginning of the "Atomic Age," there persisted a haunting dread among many Americans that life "had no meaning or value" which influenced a number of highly-successful artists to protest in paint against what they saw as a mechanized culture that did not tolerate individualism and non-conformity. At this time, a new artistic style emerged known as Expressionism which was harsher, more defiant and rebellious than any of its predecessors and "insisted on an even more radical abstraction from the world of reality." 1

As Western civilization continued to spread its culture and beliefs to all parts of the globe during the early 1940's, traditional values and those linked to organized modern life (i.e, the traditional family structure), were facing harsh criticism from many different sources and were declared by some as largely false. According to Justin Spring, writing in The Essential Jackson

Pollock, "It was almost as if the only value left was the belief in the artistic process on the grounds that in creativity alone resides the true nature of mankind." 2 Thus, the life of the artist becomes a model of free expression via the pursuit of self-identity and self-knowledge through art, supported by a sense of mysticism and a fascination with the unknown.

However, regardless of this desire for free expression and to live as a non-conformist, artistic individuals were forced to live and work in a modern, mechanized world in which art had become a very big business via the rise of highly-prominent art houses like Sotheby's and the creation of smaller art venues in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Thus, art became a commodity within its own market and generated much advertising in order to draw the general public into the world of art and become a buyer instead of a mere viewer in a museum. The old divisions between the various styles of art were quickly disappearing and some artists became emboldened to combine painting, sculpture and architecture into a single style while being supported by the continuing advances in technology and science.

To the casual viewer, painting styles and techniques that came about after World War II seemed very much to be based on confusion "with bewildering overlaps and intersections of tendencies and influences, yet a closer look revealed a certain order to the madness which fit haphazardly into several artistic styles, such as Expressionism, Cubism and Constructivism." 3

This order of a sort also appeared as a fundamental pairing of the works of earlier painters, the so-called "Fathers of Modern Art," being Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. Also, this new artistic means of expression reflected the dualism in Western art between the classical forms directed by the intellect and the imagination and the Baroque/Romantic expressionism based on feelings and sensations.

During the first half of the 20th century, Cubism and Expressionism dominated the world of art and are now grouped as post-war trends and styles based on the individual approach of the artist to his medium, either predominantly rationale and formalistic or emotionally expressive. These groups are also descendants of either Cubism or Expressionism and are placed under the general title of Abstract Formalism and Abstract Expressionism.

Set against the background of post-World War II America, the Expressionist artists firmly supported the personality of the artist, individuality and identity as expressed in their various paintings. Historically, these artists were heavily influenced by a tradition of Expressionism going back to the days Van Gogh and Kadinsky and their respective contemporaries. But among the later artists that rose from this radical artform, their convictions and methods were much more noticeable and vibrant. Basically, these artists questioned whether or not to retain the natural human form in their paintings or do away with it completely. In response, some chose to represent the human figure as figural, meaning that it reflected the basic anatomy of the human body, while others chose complete abstraction or the destruction of the human form into shapes that do not appear to be human upon first glance.

The distortion of the human form in painting as a means of expressing emotion and feelings is a rather old practice in Western art. In the 1910's, several prominent artists expressed through their paintings "an excruciating crisis linked to human emotions caught in a world of mechanization and sterility that goes well beyond Munch." 4 Some of these paintings also reflected "an unbearable image of insane terror," supported by "an obsession with fear and the facts related to mental illness." 5 Thus, in order for this new and radical artform to come about, old ideals and principles related to painting were destroyed which created a sensational new way of expressing human desires, wants and vices via the application of paint to the canvas.

In addition, this new artform involved the destruction of traditional perspective and challenged the traditional idea of beauty in art linked to the tents of the Renaissance during 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. And due to the horrors related to World War II in which millions of persons were killed or injured, the Expressionist artists imbued images of pain and suffering in their paintings via the use of paint and other materials. For example, some artists chose to create a painting where the surface reflects tactile reality, meaning that the surface on the canvas, instead of being relatively smooth to the touch, was rough and uneven, and at times appeared almost three-dimensional. Often, these artists "manifested figural and symbolic shapes of primeval power," a reference to images that seem to have been born from the unconscious mind, the primitive "Id" of ancient man, filled with mystery and the unknown. 6

Of all the artists during this period between the end of World War II and the mid-1950's that fostered and supported Abstract Expressionism which "emphasizes a derived essential character having little visual reference to objects in nature and reality," 7 Jackson Pollock (1912 to 1956) stands as the central figure of the New York School and best exemplifies the power of Abstract Expressionism during the post-war years in American art. At the height of his artistic powers, Pollock, along with a number of contemporaries, "shared a collective achievement that has been called the most original and distinctive in the history of American art." 8

In the words of art critic Anthony White, the life of Jackson Pollock "is no less startling than his art." Born in Wyoming as the son of a farmer, Pollock "struggled for years to overcome an apparent lack of natural talent," yet he persevered and ended up as the shining star of the New York art world in the late 1940's and early 1950's, a time of rapid change in America's social system, racked by dissent, political intrigue, and the Korean War. In 1949, Life Magazine posed the question, "Is Jackson Pollock the greatest painter in the United States?," a reflection of his immense fame and recognition as "Jack the Dripper." 9 Unfortunately, Pollock was haunted for most of his adult life by alcoholism and depression which devastated his personal and professional life as an artist and heavily contributed to his decline in artistic output. At the age of forty-four, Pollock was killed in an automobile accident "which prompted comparisons to other short-lived American icons," such as jazz musician Charlie Parker and Hollywood actor James Dean. 10

At some point in the 1940's, Pollock began to experiment with some very radical methods related to applying paint to a canvas. At his studio set up in a barn, Pollock "began pouring paint, either straight out of the can or with sticks and hardened brushes, directly onto the canvas" stretched out on the barn floor. 11 The main method of painting in American Abstract Expressionism was the use of a paintbrush in the traditional manner, except for instances where the paint was allowed to drip from the brush onto the canvas, creating a thick and tactile surface. In contrast, Pollock would roll out a large canvas on the floor and drip and splatter paint (usually regular flat or semi-gloss house… [END OF PREVIEW]

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