01 October 2018

How Jackson Pollock became so overrated

There's an overlooked reason for Pollock's fame. Even if you love him, you might not know the name of the man who made him famous. Subscribe to our ...

[Music]

there are two kinds of people in this world once you see this painting and think genius and once who think how did Jackson Pollock it's so overrated wait a second Jackson I am actually the first type the type that really likes don't put that cigarette out in my eyes I love Abstract Expressionism and I love Pollock when I see Pollock in person I am full on Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off [Music] what time is it [Music] but even fans like me have to admit that Pollack brings up questions questions beyond snark about why Jackson Pollock's studio floor looks identical to his paintings why is Pollock the one who gets his paintings put under a microscope why does Pollock get to be Ed Harris's passion project there's one answer that's beyond the paint this is artist Lee Krasner Jackson Pollock's wife and Jackson enjoying time in Springs New York but it's the man in between them who might be the key to understanding how Jackson Pollock became a legend [Music]

here's a young Jackson Pollock at his mentor Thomas Hart Benton house yep he has a drink in his hand most people agree Pollock's big break came in 1943 with mural which he painted for heiress Peggy Guggenheim it's got bold colors and motion Pollock later said it was like a stampede of every animal in the American West pollux birthplace of Cody Wyoming helped sell that later he pioneered placing the canvas on the ground and throwing paint down at it that helped him become a mainstream success with life magazine articles and vogue fashion shoes with his paintings in the background as well as the classic icon building hands Namath film and photos that showed the brooding cowboy artists at work I usually paint on the floor I enjoy working on a large canvas but here's the problem if you don't get Jackson Pollock it's not that straightforward why was he the one who made it big in a crowded field in 1951 Life magazine published an article about all the big art stars in America there are a lot of future museum staples in there like Mark Rothko de Kooning and

hurt still but Pollak he's in the middle to understand why you've got to return to the center of that other picture in 1933 Clement Greenberg friends called him Clem was a necktie salesman he became the most influential art critic of the 20th century in a small New York art scene where artists and critics partied together that made him eye on a hidden world it's important to put into context how influential Greenberg was thanks to articles in the partisan review and the nation let's use Ferris Bueller as an example millions of people know every scene of this movie but not as many know that it's a John Hughes movie now any movie fan knows that John Hughes was the teen movie God but many movie watchers just don't and that's a little like Clement Greenberg he was enormous ly influential in the art world but remains obscure to a wider audience [Music] he broke through with the 1939 essay avant-garde and kitsch in which he proposed that art was a bulwark against mass culture he was a newbie to art that avant-garde and Kitsch essay referenced a painting that didn't exist later in a famous mistake he said this painting had

orange and purple in it he doesn't if he knew that artists Piatt Mondrian narrowed himself to primary colors the Bluebird is even worse still some painters respected him Robert Motherwell said I disagreed with him about many things but he had a painter's eye and none of the other critics did not one so as a direct intuition he got it right off the bat that I advanced an aggressive vision of modern painting that said the buzz wasn't in Paris but New York and the perfect American the cowboy who happened to look a lot like Clement Greenberg okay that's a little unfair but seriously this is like that meme you versus the guy she told you not to worry about and it's true that Greenberg's abrasive American centric hyper-masculine view of art worked better with Pollock than with a Dutch immigrant like de Kooning who noodled over his paintings obsessively in his essay American type painting Greenberg wrote that Pollock was alone in his power to assert a paint strewn or painted surface as a single synoptic image Pollock pulverized the canvas when he changed his mind he made violent repentance throughout the 1940s

Greenberg and Pollock rose together while slightly less renowned critics popped up around them Greenberg was the brain Pollock was the soul this cheerleading from 1947 was typical in which Greenberg called Pollock radically American and the most powerful painter in contemporary America that praise bubbled to the mainstream that Life magazine article from 1948 the one that made Pollock as mainstream as the cheese platter add on the next page the entire basis for that article was a formidable highbrow New York critic the New York art scene knew that was Clement Greenberg but the rest of the country saw the new star at the top of the page [Music] Helen Frankenthaler didn't drip paint like Jackson Pollock she soaked and stained her canvases resulting in haunting images like mountains and sea this is her in the middle with Jackson Pollock Clement Greenberg and Lee Krasner Greenberg and Frankenthal er saw each other for about five years Franken thaller later said that her dating Greenberg was one of the reasons that he rarely wrote about her work

Greenberg helped make museum names out of Clifford still and Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko but he missed many movements and artists that had consequences Frankenthaler is a legend a mainstream name but she's famous the way Clement Greenberg is famous not the way Jackson Pollock is and she is kind of a symbol for all the artists whose careers Greenberg made or overlooked one critic shaped how we look at a half-century of painting if Pollock was overrated Clement Greenberg was the one doing it we just followed his lead so what is the correction here it's not to discount Jackson Pollock it's to give more attention to those other Abstract Expressionists as well and to know the critic who decided which names we'd learned with that in mind maybe it's possible to come up with more than just Jackson Pollock's name anyone anyone so if you want to learn more about clamp I really recommend Florence Rubenfeld spoke about him it gives you an entire new angle on a half century of American art and it features a surprising number of fistfights