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Not that Pollock himself was bipolar (although some observers think he might have been). He was a serious alcoholic, but the bipolar thing is pure speculation at this point. No, I’m taking about the way Pollock seems to polarize discussions about art as soon as his name is brought up. People seem to either praise his work effusively or say something along the lines of “Oh my God, does THAT suck!” Not much middle ground there.

It’s this aspect of Pollock’s legacy that Mat Gleason discusses in his recent offering on Huffington Post commemorating the artist’s 100th birthday. Gleason, founder of the Coagula Journal, is his usual hip and thought provoking self and he raises issues about the art universe that I, as an outsider, think about all the time.

I tend to come down on the “Pollock Sucks” side of the equation.  I think his career was the product of luck and timing, coupled with a great deal of promotion. He could actually paint in a representational style, as Going West clearly indicates. but abandoned this style to pursue increasingly abstracted forms.

Going West (Jackson Pollock: 1934)

His career really didn’t take off, though, until after World War II By then he had started producing his now-famous abstractions by pouring, dripping, and spattering paint on canvas. It didn’t hurt that he was more or less adopted by socialite/art collector Peggy Guggenheim. It was very helpful that some of the era’s most influential art critics raved about his work and helped advance the cause of Abstract Expressionism as America shook off the chains of European convention and boldly explored a new brand of creativity.  It has even been alleged that  the Central Intelligence Agency provided covert support for the Expressionists as a part of some Cold War effort to show the world how free America was.

Killing himself in a drunken car wreck in 1956, at the height of his popularity, was icing on that big Public Relations cake. America never seems to stop loving a dead celebrity.

Regardless of how you feel about Pollock’s work, he’s a fixture in American art history. Museums all over the world own Pollocks. Even the Iranians have one.

Number 1, 1950 (Jackson Pollock: 1950)

I doubt that real Art People are going to care much what I think, nor should they. Gleason’s right: it doesn’t matter so much whether you think Pollock is America’s greatest creative genius or firmly believe that your three-year-old kid could paint just as well. He gets us talking about art. That’s a good thing.



One Comment

  1. To all the Jackson Pollock FANBOYS: Pollock is sucked off and defended, on the basis that his “ART” wasn’t about the finished product, but the “PROCESS” he used when creating it.
    Pollock painted, but I wonder if he had chosen MUSIC or FILM as a medium for this “PROCESS”… would he still be considered “a revolutionary artist” or seen for the talentless hack he is?

    Pollock was revolutionary, yes. But so are African warlords who commit genocides. And just like them, the revolution Pollock started was NOT a good one! It was a revolution to lower and degrade painting as an art form.
    The “process” can only some add appreciation to a work of art. NOT SUBSTITUTE AND BECOME THE ART WORK! For some reason when painting is the medium people can trick themselves into believing this.
    Christian Bale in the “Machinist”, Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull”, or Heath Ledger as “the Joker” are method actors whose process can we appreciate as far more extreme than Pollock’s. BUT their process unlike Pollocks, also produced amazing works of art! Their dedication to their roles as method actors wouldn’t count for anything if the movies they starred in weren’t any good!
    THE FINISHED PRODUCT IS ALWAYS MOST IMPORTANT IN REAL ART. I challenge any Pollock fanboy to apply this love of the “process” to MUSIC or FILMS, whose finished product was of Pollock painting quality. You will see it for the utter garbage that it is!

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