“There’s no fixed point where you could mark the beginning of modern art.” – How Art Arrived At Jackson Pollock
Just this past week I found myself face to face with a large-scale Jackson Pollock painting. I stood there and stared for what felt like 30 minutes, not because I was looking for more than his drip-style strokes but because I could not figure out why Jackson Pollock is considered a great artist. And the worst part is I agree that he is, I just don’t know why he is. What is it about his art that speaks so loudly to such a large audience?
Jackson Pollock was not the beginning of Abstract art; in fact, he was one in a long line of those who came before him. Whether it was through cubism, dadaism or other forms of modern art, abstract thinking had been around for a very long time. But in most abstract pieces, there was still a recognizable touch of reality. Sure, Picasso had the eyes and mouth in the wrong location, but the audience of the piece still knows it’s a human’s face. By the time Pollock started pushing the boundaries of abstract art, he created works where nothing was recognizable. While shapes and lines formed a visual, there was no subject matter based in reality. It was confusing and at the same time, complete exhilarating.
Does abstract art have to have a deeper meaning? Maybe not.
For a very long time, I spent hours in galleries, staring at abstract pieces, trying to understand what the artist was trying to say. Every once in a while, the reason behind the piece is obvious or known, but with Pollock’s drip work, there is nothing but chaos (and a little bit of madness mixed in). What does it all mean? I have no idea. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it doesn’t matter what the artist felt while creating the piece; maybe it only matters how you feel while you’re experiencing the art. And conversely, maybe that’s what makes Jackson Pollock such a great artist. If I can stare at his piece, fascinated, for what feels like 30 minutes, I am obviously far more affected by his work than I am by the 10 or 12 paintings I easily breezed by before stopping in front of his.