I took my wife to the art museum in Chicago. Pretty much every time I go to Chicago I go to that art museum. Most of you probably know it from the film "Ferris Beuller's Day Off." In that film, there is that weird scene where Cameron is staring at the little girl in the Seurat painting and there are a series of close ups which end on the little girl's mouth (what the hell was the director trying to convey there? It's creepy whatever it is). The painting is called "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and the next time you go to Chicago and you look at it, take note of the monkey in the bottom left hand corner (I'll tell you what that monkey means in another post.
I'm always excited to look at all the paintings, but of all of them I think I like Pollock the best. The above picture is my wife standing next to a Pollock painting, and her reaction was exactly the same as everybody's reaction to a Pollock painting.
"It looks like something a five year old kid could do."
Well, it does. And that's what kind of cracks me up.
First of all, let me back up and just mention that I pretty much hold the whole "art world" in utter contempt. The "art scene" to me is nothing more than an invention by rich asshole aristocrats so that instead of saying their kids are "useless drunks who hang around doing nothing...and fucking" they can say their kids are "artists." These aristocrats get together and buy the paintings of one another's kids, so the money is passed around and a measure of apparent propriety is achieved and everyone is happy.
To me, it's Pollock who blows this wide open because the initial reaction of EVERYBODY who looks at a Pollock painting is to laugh and say it's a frickin' joke and that the art world must be full of shit.
Well, that painting up there would probably sell for 50 million dollars, so that kind of throws a wrench into things.
The other thing that cracks me up about this is that I recently watched a documentary about a woman who found a painting that looked like a Pollock (The movie is called "Who the %$#% is Jackson Pollock?"). She took it around to all these "experts" who said it couldn't possibly be a Pollock. Well, their "evidence" consisted of nothing more than the fact that they had been employed in the art industry for years and that she should just take their word for it...but being the tenacious woman that she was, she hired a forensic detective who...lo and behold...discovered what appeared to be a Jackson Pollock fingerprint on the other side of the painting.
So...what I find funny about this is that even people in the art industry can't really identify what it is about Pollock's work that's captivating (because they're all full of shit).
I think the mythology about artists is that these are people of true genius (I don't believe in genius) and that sooner or later they are discovered and receive the adulation and praise that they deserve. That's the mythology. What really happens is that some rich people get a hold of a freak show like Jackson Pollock and take him into their civilized bullshit reunions (the kind of crap ACAP liked to have) as a kind of sick and unpredictable form of entertainment. So, when Jackson Pollock got drunk and urinated in the fireplace of Peggy Guggenheim at a fancy dress rich asshole party...he was secretly underscoring his role as an eccentric "artist" and he wasn't just being some drunken dipshit. After all, the thinking goes, a phony would have tried to behave him/herself so as to maintain his position...only a real true genius would not give a fuck and act like a dipshit.
Sigh...that's the kind of thinking that goes on in the art world.
However, the enigma here...if it's all bullshit...is what is it that compelled Pollock? I mean, the guy used to paint in an unheated little shed out in the back of his property. That entailed going out in the winter and working in the miserable cold for most of the day...day in and day out throughout the course of the year. I mean...the guy was frickin' COMPELLED to paint, so what the hell is it in his art that...I don't know...provided him with the release he needed to get through the day?
To some extent, THAT at least is something that I understand. The fact is I have to write some sort of bullshit every day in order to relax. Seriously, if I go too many days without barfing out some bullshit, I get all twitchy and hard to be around. Oddly, I don't even have to read the shit, I just write it and send it off and try to never think about it again. Sometimes I stumble across something I'd written in the past and it's a complete fucking surprise to read the crap I write. Sometimes I disagree with myself entirely...and other times I'm offended to the point where I want to kick my own ass. What the fuck is going on here?
Well, I can only assume that it was like that with Jackson Pollock only about 50 times worse, and the fact that he eventually got to the point where he was recognized as the world's greatest painter and stayed at that place for over a decade...WHILE HE WAS STILL ALIVE...means that HE at least was going somewhere with his paintings.
So that brings us back to the question of whether Pollock's paintings are any good, or if they're just something a 5 year old can do.
Well, to really be able to answer that, you can't just look at ONE Pollock painting. You should try to get a sense of the guy throughout the body of his work (and believe me there are a few paintings in there that kind of clue you in to the fact that the dude could handle a brush). For someone like Picasso it's easier, because he used to do these portraits back when he was like 7 that looked like a frickin' picture. I've heard stories where he'd go to art shows and just not understand what the hell people were celebrating when they gave awards to portraits that to him looked like a total load of crap (he realized later that it was a simple matter that HIS perception was just like 50,000 times more advanced than everyone around him...and he probably felt a little embarrassed that he hadn't even considered that possibility from the beginning).
If you take a series of Pollock works and look at them in the order that they were produced (this is a nice thing to do with authors, I once read all of Dostoevsky's works in the order that they were written..well, almost all, it was Notes from the Underground, The Possessed, the Idiot and The Brother's Karamazov...I left out Crime and Punishment for that little exercise, but it was OK since Crime and Punishment is pretty thematically different from the other four...Notes is too, but it fits into the sequence easier) you see a lot of things in his paintings that echo other artists. For example, Seurat's Pointillism technique is echoed in a lot of Pollock's spatter patterns (he laid down multiple colors of spatters together and...shit...you've got Pointillism). There are also elements of cubism (think of cubism of taking a huge sample of an image and then compressing it and compacting it on the canvas, so you get all sides and even the progression of an object through time represented in a two dimensional space) there from time to time...although it's usually hard to see just what the heck object it is that Pollock is showing us all the different sides of.
So...MY opinion of Jackson Pollock is that I love that the guy had the strength of will to essentially FORCE people to regard his works as brilliant. Getting other people to admit ANYTHING is any damn good is a hell of a chore...and to get them to stand there cooing over a work of spattered paint takes some real moxy.
However, I think secretly that there is something to Jackson Pollock's art, although I don't think most members of the art world can accurately explain what it is. They start going off on bullshit like it's a representation of chaos theory or something, but that's a load of crap.
When you come right down to it, there's no fucking profound meaning or revelation to the purpose of human beings on the face of the earth in Jackson Pollock's paintings. You know what IS there?
Lines that look good together, and colors that compliment one another.
That's all any art is. And Jackson Pollock's IS better than most. Oh, and next time you're around a five year old with a can of paints, see if you can REALLY get him or her to do something that looks ANYTHING like a Pollock painting.
You see, NOBODY paints like Pollock these days. Is that because his style is so obvious that it would be desperately apparent that any "students of Pollock" were essentially just second-rate rip-off artists? Is it because Pollock's contribution to the progression of the culture of art is a dead end? Or is it because nobody else CAN paint like that?