Jackson Pollock

‘At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. … What was to go on canvas was not a picture but an event’

-Harold Rosenberg

Art and History are like fraternal twins They both tell the stories of those who came before, the difference is the way they tell those stories. Art is the quiet and emotional younger twin who has animosity towards the older twin for his ability to tell stories so well. History is jealous as well, because art has the uncanny ability to show her emotions and give them meaning so others understand the emotions as well. This inseparable pair needs one another to tell the complete story. American history is taught throughout the nation as a mandatory credit for high school1 and even before high school elementary students learn about this nation’s history they can. Art on the other hand has had less success with reaching the minds of the youth, art is not a mandatory requirement for schools. This creates a very one sided look at the way we view our own history. Art is the feelings and the emotion behind the times while history is just the times. Without the feelings you get events in a timeline not the full picture. Art and history have a symbiotic relationship; one could not survive without the other, thus creating a necessity for both to be taught together to have the full impact of the times before.  

The art portrayed in different time periods and the new movements in the art world reflect what is happening in the real world around the artists. There are many different time periods where the art from the era create and set the mood for what was happening in the historic time. The easiest ones to identify as relating directly to the history of the times is portraits; they directly relate the important people of the historic time to the art that was created during that time. The styles of art also directly relate to the times and how people perceived the world in that epoch. These styles can vary from Portraiture to Abstract Expressionism to Cubism.

The movement in art and the world events were parallel like no other was in the Depression era in the US. The Great Depression was a time when the US went through a massive recession and the unemployment rate was at its highest2. Resulting in the hardest time for Americans until recently3. Hard times call for harder emotional pitfalls. Many people in the living through the Great Depression in America were depressed themselves. “The largest increase in the US suicide rate occurred during the Great Depression surging from 18 in 100,000 up to 22 in 100,000”4 The US was as emotional as a hormonal pregnant woman, leading to a great era for the artists in the world.

Jackson Pollock was an American artist who has a great legacy in the Depression era because of his inventive ways of taking on experimental art forms. Jackson Pollock Played a pivotal role in taking the events going on around him and putting the feelings of those events to canvas. He used art to show the emotions he felt during the depression era. He wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of art. He wasn’t afraid to push boundaries in general either. His legacy still lives on today.

Pollock was born in 1912 to Stella and LeRoy Pollock. He was the youngest of 5 boys making for a pretty interesting life, presumably. He grew up in Arizona and California, during school in he had trouble with academics and got into trouble often; he was expelled from his high school in California. He grew into an alcoholic in his adult life and that became the important factor in his death at 44. He was a quite emotional man and let his emotions take their toll on his personal life. He followed his brother to new York where he really found his calling as an artist. Pollock is easily the most well known American artist today, giving what he left behind more power. When he was in New York Thomas Hart Benton5  was one of the mentors he took much of his inspiration from. Benton mentored him through a lot of Pollock’s early career creating some similarities between their work.

This is one of Pollock’s early works called “Going West” He took great inspiration from the American Regionalism that Benton essentially created and used often. “et Going West is characterized by a dark, almost mystical quality similar to another American visionary painter Pollock admired, Albert Pinkham Ryder”

Thomas Hart Benton “Achelous and Hercules”

Benton was a well known muralist for his works like  “America Today” and “Persephone.”6 He was the leader in a sense for the New York group of artists at the time. Pollock studied with Benton at the Art Students League of New York, an institution founded for artists by artists, “The Art Students League was founded in 1875 by a group of artists - almost all of whom were students at the National Academy of Design in New York City and many of whom were women.” The leaders wanted a very different environment for art rather than the Academy’s ways. Because it was post Civil War, artists were looking for something different than the usual European influenced techniques. The Art Students League of New York gave a new option to the artist in America. The institution was and is a success, based off the success of the artist coming out of the institution artists like: Georgia O'Keeffe, Barnett Newman, Norman Rockwell, Roy Lichtenstein, and Mark Rothko and many others, either attended or instructed at the institution7.

Benton was one of main contributors to Pollock’s inventive ways, showing him some of the experimental painting techniques. He was apart of a group called Works progress Administration (WPA). The group was the starter of the Federal art Project which was under Holger Cahill. In a years time by 1936 the project helped employ about 6000 artists and over half of those artist lived in New York8. Benton was also apart of the leftist political group making him what we would call today and extreme liberal9. His political stances were very similar to Pollocks other mentors in the field.

Pollock used a method of painting unlike any of his predecessors but he was introduced to one of the techniques he used regularly by the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. In 1936 Siqueiros introduced him to the art of using liquid paint, Siqueiros used this technique in his thrilling murals. These techniques were purely experimental (often where true art is really found), his apprentices and him had an inside joke about his form of painting called “Duco” paints which was a pun referring to his political stance and his use of that in his art. He believed that Politics and art were to go hand in hand, just as art and history are to never be separated. He used his stance liberally in his art. He Diego Rivera and Javier Guerrero, started El Machete, a paper that came out weekly that soon became the front piece for Mexico’s Communist Party. The Mexican artists were as big of an influence on Pollock’s artwork as benton was.

Diego Rivera also mentored Pollock, Rivera was most known for his murals as well and was married to Frida Kahlo another exceptional artist of the time.10 Though the Mexican artist do not have a direct connection to the American history part they had a huge influence on Pollock. Pollock took inspiration from them and created his own style of painting a style that brought out the emotion in the paintings. He used techniques he learned from all of his mentors to create a painting. Action painting is the typ of painting you can only do if you have enough passion and emotion. It is the raw and unaltered way to put your feelings on canvas11.

Action painting falls under the category of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism is the result of the legacy of surrealism. Surrealism is best known by the artist Pablo Picasso or another Salvador Dali. Abstract Expressionism is basically your emoitions on paper or canvas. Pure, raw emotions12.

Works Cited

The !930s. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~am482_04/am_scene/bentonbio.html>.

The Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-pollock-jackson.htm>. This site also helps with the decoding of Jackson Pollock’s works but this site helps relate it back to his life.

The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.theartstory.org/movement-abstract-expressionism.htm>.

The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. <http://www.theartstory.org/artist-pollock-jackson.htm>. This sight explains the artwork of Jackson Pollock and how he used different techniques to convey different emotions

The Art Students League. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.theartstudentsleague.org/About/History.aspx>.

David Alfaro Siqueiros Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/david-alfaro-siqueiros-9485144#the-politicized-artist>.

Decoding Jackson Pollock. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/decoding-jackson-pollock-142492290/?no-ist>. This site helps delve deeper into the artwork of Pollock and it helps with the history relating to the artwork.

Diego Rivera Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/diego-rivera-9459446>.

Fineberg, Jonathan. Strategies of Being. 2nd ed. Englewood cliffs: Prentice Hall, 2000. Print. Vol. 2 of Art Since 1940.

The Great Depression. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.history.com/topics/great-depression>.

The Great Depression in Washington State. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://depts.washington.edu/depress/culture_arts.shtml>.

High School Graduation Requirements. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/curriculum/home/graduationrequirements.pdf>.

Jackson Pollock. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.jackson-pollock.org/>.

MoMA. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10088>.

Thomas Hart Benton Bio. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. <http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-hart-benton-9208158>. The information on Thomas hart Benton that gives a basic over view of his life and the famous works that he is known for.

Thomas Hart Benton Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-hart-benton-9208158#synopsis>.

Washington Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2015. <http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/05/more-americans-committing-suicide-than-during-the-great-depression.html>. This sight draws parallels between the Great Depression and the Great Recession. It mainly focuses in the suicide rates in both eras creating interesting parallels for what the people are feeling and how history repeats itself.

Washington’s Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/05/more-americans-committing-suicide-than-during-the-great-depression.html>.

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