[Art: Number 8, 1949 by Jackson Pollock]
Perhaps you’re familiar with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the ones that art critic Craig Brown (a contemporary of Pollock) called “decorative ‘wallpaper.’” My own reaction to one of Pollock’s abstract works, on a first viewing, was disgust – couldn’t a five-year-old do an accurate impression? What made a splattered canvas so noteworthy that a curator hung it on a stark museum wall for millions of people to view on class field trips or high-brow vacations? Why did one of these paintings sell at auction ten years ago for $140 million, setting records at the time for the most expensive painting in the world? (Not to mention the scandals that revealed that even a fake Pollock painting can sell for 3.1 million dollars.)
The challenge of viewing and enjoying Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings exemplifies the issue that many outside the art world take toward museum art: viewers want to know, what does it mean? And if the meaning can’t be determined at a glance, is it really “art” at all?
Pollock himself responded to the issue of interpretation in a radio interview with William Wright in 1950 by saying, “I think they [the public] should not look for, but 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… I think the unconsciousness drives do mean a lot in looking at paintings… I think it should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed — after a while you may like it or you may not —