Saturday, January 14, 2012
On Jackson Pollock’s 100th Birthday
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- I was sitting with composer Warner Hutchison recently when he said, “New Mexico State University will be performing my ‘Homage to Jackson Pollock’ [written in 1973] composition sometime this year.”
Pollock’s myth looms large in the world of art and culture. Born January 28, 1912, Pollock is best remembered as the guy who splattered and dripped a bunch of paint on a canvas and called it art. Some cringe at the thought of calling him a great artist. Time Magazine mockingly deemed him “Jack the Dripper” in an article written in February 1956.
Yet the reality of his influence goes much deeper—pointing to the fact that he was an important cultural icon and fine artist.
Pollock was one of the notable painters in the field called abstract expressionism. Along with artists such as Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Mark Rothko (1903-1980), Williem de Kooning (1904-1997), Clyfford Still (1904-1980), and Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), he was at the forefront of a new movement of art that focused on emotionalism, non-representational form, and a somewhat nihilistic (dark and melancholy) philosophy.
Pollock was born in Wyoming, but grew up in both Arizona and California. It was in the Southwestern portion of the United States that Pollock came into contact with Native American abstract forms of art that later influenced his artistic philosophy.
Concerning the influence of Native American art, Pollock stated in the work My Painting, “I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.”
Pollock moved to New York and studied art with famed regionalist, Kansas City, Missouri-based artist, Thomas Hart Benton.
Pollock developed his own style of art, saying, “...Look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for.” In short, Pollock was moving away from figurative forms (realism) toward “pure painting”—non-representational forms (abstract).
Sadly, Pollock struggled with alcoholism his whole life, and died from an alcohol-related car accident in 1956. He was 44.
From a religious (Christian) standpoint, Pollock is important for several reasons:
First, all creative activity points back to the original artist, God. The very fact that Pollock was creating something gives credence to the process of creation itself. Inherent in all creative acts is the proposition that there is a greater creation and, hence, a Creator. Biblically, God created the world and infused humanity with the will and knowledge of creative acts. Taken in a generalist way, creativity can be seen as a form of praise.
Third, though Pollock lived a reclusive and alcoholic-infused life, one cannot help but think the Presbyterian faith he was reared in did have an influence on him. Maybe the influence came through the existential thought of Christian philosopher Sören Kierkegaard and his discussion of the “crises of the human condition,” whereby the individual person is responsible for finding meaning and purpose. For Kierkegaard, meaning and purpose are ultimately found in Christ. To my knowledge, there is no record of Pollock coming to the same conclusion. Yet one can wonder.
So as I sat with composer Warner Hutchison discussing his musical work dedicated to Jackson Pollock, I thought to myself, Quite appropriate; one artist of importance tipping his hat to another.
Maybe it’s time our culture takes a moment to tip its hats to the birth of an American icon. But let us not forget to bow our knees to the One who has inspired creativity from the first artistic act—forming, designing, and creating all that is.
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