Ex Nihilo

“No chaos, damn it! There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end,” says the man bent toward the raw canvas, stretched and nailed to his studio floor. A critic once described Jackson Pollock’s work as “chaos, absolute lack of harmony, complete lack of structural organization, total absence of technique, however rudimentary. Once again, chaos.”

But you have watched the recordings of his work. He waves his right arm, down, side to side, his body sways, dipping a paint stirrer into an aluminum can of paint that he holds in his left hand, his thumb sticky from gripping the inside of the can. His lips hold a cigarette in his mouth. He steps left, right, forward; his legs stretch and his head bows. His wrist snaps and the paint falls in long ribbons, dribbling from the stirrer in his hand onto the canvas beneath his feet. He seems to dance across the canvas, light-footed as he moves, perhaps performing a more ancient act than he knows.

He says, “Because a painting has a life of its own, I try to let it live.” You agree: this is not chaos; this is animation, pattern, meaning.

Game of Interpretation: Denver Art Museum’s Audacious Interpretive Beads

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.)

Top 5 Story Inspiration

Stories surround us. As an author, I find it vital to pay attention to the stories I come across by accident and also to tease out stories from their hiding places. My reward is a rich life of beauty. These are the stories (and the places I go to find the stories) that move me.

The Artist is Present

Perhaps you’ve seen the show—you and 750,000 of your closest friends, who crowded through the Museum of Modern Art’s front door over the course of three months in the spring of 2010, to stand and stare at Marina Abramović, the Grandmother of performance art, sit in a chair across from a museum visitor. 1,565 people […]