How to Look at a Jackson Pollock Painting

jackson pollockIf you’re interested in art, then there’s a good chance you’re familiar with a few famous names from the art world. Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso are three painters whose work (or prints of it) is commonly found adorning the walls of restaurants, homes and offices. But what about Jackson Pollock? Though certainly very well-known for his “drip paintings”, how many of us could imagine hanging a print or postcard of one of his works on our wall? And how many of us would be able to tell the difference between – say – “Autumn Rhythm” and “No. 5, 1948“?

The truth is that for many people, Pollock is a rather puzzling artist. Not only are his most famous paintings non-representational (i.e. not depicting recognisable objects or scenes) but they also appear at first glance to be a chaotic, random and perhaps even thoughtless collection of paint splatters. When compared to Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or Picasso’s “Weeping Woman”, it is undeniably hard for the average viewer to discern any obvious meaning.

Convergence byjackson pollockThe problem is, if we cannot discern meaning from a painting, or even simply enjoy it as an aesthetically-pleasing representation of a recognisable subject or scene, how much can we value it as a piece of art? By extension, is Jackson Pollock just another one of those artists hailed as extraordinary by the artistic elite, but essentially inaccessible for the layperson?

As it turns out, there is a vast amount to be mined from Pollock’s work – it’s just about knowing how to look. If you’re new to Pollock’s work, these eight simple tips should help.

Step 1. See the painting in real life

You might be lucky enough to own a 25-inch full HD computer monitor, but there is no substitute for seeing a painting in real life. This is particularly true for the works of Pollock, whose paintings have a 3D element verging on the sculptural.

Step 2. Clear your mind

Walking into an art exhibition or gallery collection, it’s hard not to have preconceptions of what you’re about to see and experience. But when looking at any painting – especially those as abstract as Pollock’s – it’s a good idea to try and block out the environment around you (that means other paintings and gallery-goers). Concentrate on the painting and only the painting.

Step 3. Move around

Jackson Pollock’s most famous paintings are big – like, really big (17 feet wide and 8 feet high in the case of “One: Number 31, 1950”). For the fullest experience of his works, be prepared to move around. Start by looking from a distance (fellow visitors allowing) and slowly approach the canvas, getting as close as you can so that you can appreciate the impasto quality of the paint. The nearer you get, the more apparent the differing textures will become; keep an eye out for the sand, glass, cigarette butts, coins and keys often thrown into the mix. Some will be obscured by the paint, but should be visible if you’re determined enough.

Step 4. Imagine how it was created

The most revolutionary thing about Jackson Pollock’s work is the way in which they were created. Rather than working with an easel, Pollock lay his canvases on the floor of his studio, walking around their circumference and flinging paint across them using household tools like sticks and trowels. In the eyes of many art critics, Pollock’s

creative process was a piece of performance art in and of itself; as you stand and look at one of his paintings, try and feel the vigour and vitality that has gone into its creation. It may look haphazard, but it’s not something that just anybody could do.

Step 5. Don’t search for a “subject”

Early Pollock paintings such as “Going West” are representational with a fairly clear subject matter. But during his drip period, Pollock went in a completely different direction, painting large canvases that lacked identifiable subjects or scenes. One critic claims that the painting “Mural” contains Pollock’s own name, hidden amidst the swirling lines and shapes, but the common consensus is that there nothing to be discovered in his paintings beyond, well, the painting itself. As Pollock himself said, “the painting has a life of its own”…

Step 6. Let your eyes move over the entire canvas

Pollock also said of his paintings that they do not have a centre, but “depend on the same amount of interest throughout”. The human eye has a tendency to seek out order, symmetry and focal points when they look at a painting; Pollock’s work challenges this impulse by asking you to focus on the entire canvas at once. Resist the urge to let your eyes linger on a single point – instead, move your gaze across the entire canvas, reading it as a whole.

Step 7. Think about how the painting makes you feel

Yes, you read that right. It’s time to get in touch with your emotions! Look at the painting in front of you, whether up close or at a distance, and try to pin down the feelings it stirs up in you. Ultimately, a painting’s worth stems from the emotional connection we make with it as a viewer. And remember, this isn’t a test of your artistic integrity. If it leaves you completely cold, move on to the next one.

Step 8. Lastly… read the plaque

It can be hard to resist reading the plaques in art galleries as soon as we approach an artwork; after all, they tell us what to think! But if you avoid reading the accompanying information until you’ve had the chance to properly look at the painting, you’ll be able to come away with your own interpretations.

If this process awakens a new appreciation for Pollock’s paintings, don’t forget that – though a print lacks the textural intensity of the real thing – a good quality reproduction might be just the thing to brighten the walls of your home or office. Even better, you can get it mounted and framed with the help of EzeFrame’s simple online service.

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