PRINT February 1967

Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part I

We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors; we endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity . . . the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence . . . What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.
—T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent.


MYTHS ARE EASIER TO GRASP than new and original abstract art; that they should have gathered early around the art of Jackson Pollock was inevitable. Both friends and foes developed notions about it that seem at best only elliptically related to the art itself. Just as the mathematical principles which Princet thought he saw at work in Cubism “rationalized” that style—and gave it cultural cachet—for those blind to it as art, so the myths about Pollock made his painting “relevant,” but only by misrepresenting it.

His detractors spoke of chaotic pictorial phenomena produced orgiastically by an artist who surrendered decision to mindless kinetic activity. But they also spoke, and sometimes in the same breath,2 of an even-textured “run-on” pictorial fabric that had no beginning or end3 and which Pollock was supposed to have sold by the yard like textile,4 ostensibly for the purposes of interior decoration. Even Pollock’s admirers wrote confusedly about the relation of his means and ends. Their conceptions of both led them to posit a Pollock who had entered the history of art like a meteor, whose “drip” pictures came out of nowhere, embodying an esthetic that was entirely new, and who painted virtually nothing but masterpieces.

The most popular of the localized Pollock myths is that of the cowboy painter, “the man out of the West,”5 twirling “lariats” of color in the Wide Open Spaces6 of immense canvases. This myth has been particularly popular abroad, and especially among Frenchmen of the younger generation who have generalized far beyond the familiar analogies that couple Pollock with Whitman and Melville. For them the very virtue of “the American” is that he is supposedly naive, unconscious of, or outside, any traditions of art, and hence “styleless”—a kind of Noble Savage. Pollock as cowboy not only fits into the French myth of an ecole du pacifique7 (which reaches east to the Badlands as well as west to Japan), but sorts well with the cult of Hollywood Westerns celebrated by the young critics of the Cahiers du cinema. (An unfounded rumor that Pollock had once been a cowboy threw his European admirers into rapture.)

As in most myths, there are seeds of truths here which we want to preserve.8 Pollock was indeed born in the West (Cody, Wyoming, in 1912), and he spent his earliest years in Wyoming, Arizona, and northern California. When he was thirteen his family settled in Los Angeles. Four years later he left Los Angeles for New York, at the suggestion of his oldest brother, Charles, and studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Though he made several trips back to the West in ensuing years, Pollock lived in New York from then until the last decade of his life, which he spent in Springs, East Hampton, Long Island, which is only 125 miles from New York City.

Pollock’s childhood in the West probably had an effect on his sense of scale. And the Navajo Indian sand painters’ methods were of special interest to him as models of an art free of the limitations of easel painting, though it is doubtful whether he ever had much firsthand contact with this form of art.9 At its core Pollock’s art is not primitive or provincial. It is phenomenally complex, subtle and sophisticated, and it developed amid, and reflected, the rhythms, fluxes, convergences and confrontations of a metropolitan urban environment. It was, like all other serious painting of our time, firmly rooted in European traditions.

The acuity with which Pollock grasped the nature, the feel, of life in the great city in which he lived derived precisely from his having come to it from outside. Much in the new American painting is no more imaginable without New York than Impressionism is without Paris. That Monet and Renoir came from the provinces, and Sisley and Pissarro from outside France, certainly enhanced their responsiveness to Paris and its life, about which they took less for granted than more native painters did.

If we are to subscribe to the environmental reasoning by which the “wide open spaces” inform the scale and size of Pollock’s painting, then we must keep in mind that the New York environment is also a monumental one. A consistent difference in scale can be observed between American painters of Pollock’s generation who were not brought up on the prairie and their Parisian counterparts. Moreover, the notion of Pollock as a painter of primarily outsize pictures is contrary to fact. As we shall see later, Pollock was, with Newman, Rothko and Still, one of the pioneers of the outsize picture. But with the exception of a mural commissioned early in 1943 to decorate Peggy Guggenheim’s apartment and executed in December of that year, it was only in 1950, at the end of the “all-over” drip period that his pictures really assumed wall size.10 One, Autumn Rhythm, Lavender Mist and Number Thirty Two (all 1950) are the only wall-size pictures of the classic middle period. (There were, to be sure, about six horizontal format pictures with widths of eight to ten feet—sizes equally common amongst European painters of the previous generation—and a few exceedingly long “friezes” whose height, however, never exceeds about three feet.) Convergence (1952) and Blue Poles (1953) complete the list of wall-size pictures.

Though one of those who pioneered it, the immense picture remained exceptional in Pollock’s work as a kind of summing up of experience. By the time of his death it had become a commonplace in American painting. An art based on line does not lend itself to expansion like one based on color. In making his immense pictures Pollock was literally rupturing the inherently easel scale of his draftsmanly style, whence the tremendous effort and focus required to produce the pictures and explosiveness of their release into being.

Not a little of what has been written about Pollock reflects the “meteor” myth in which he comes to his crucial role from virtually nowhere—certainly from outside the main tradition of modern painting.11 To be sure, this view sometimes allows for the importance of the Mexican muralists, Picasso and the literary side of Surrealism in Pollock’s pre-1947 (i.e., his pre drip) painting. But as to antecedents of the all-over drip Pollocks we hear of virtually nothing but the Navajo sand painters.12 Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealist automatism go unmentioned. We are told of Pollock’s “absolute newness and rupture with the past”13 in the context of an American art described as “a real departure from zero.”14 Yet no more than the mature Cézanne was without roots in Impressionism, and Cubism without roots in Cézanne, is Pollock unrelated to what was anterior in the tradition of modern painting. By dissociating him from any sort of past, blind admirers have reinforced the criticism, widely voiced by his detractors in the early fifties, that what Pollock made—however interesting—was “not painting.” European exponents of an art autre provided further justifications for such criticism. Many modern styles have seemed to come from nowhere at the moment of their appearance, but they have always taken their place eventually in the coherent process of the unfolding of a tradition. A style can no more be without roots in the art that precedes it than a mature man can be independent of his society or culture. That such commonplaces should have to be voiced at all is a measure of the “meteor” myth’s persistence in connection with Pollock.

To reduce history to a formula in which everything comes out of everything else is to parody the discipline. But to properly consider the sources of a style is to help understand and characterize it. Sometimes an artist is able to meld stylistic conceptions and components held antithetical in earlier art into a viable and richer whole. Pollock’s greatness lay not in being a meteoric outsider but in building simultaneously (precisely in the all-over drip pictures) on such diverse and seemingly irreconcilable sources as Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. These were fused with his own ideas and recreated as viable orderings of mid-twentieth century experience.

In associating the mature Pollock with Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism I am not reducing his history to an absurd generality. The uses of the past are selective. Almost as significant in understanding his classic period is to know the styles he did not build on, among them Expressionism (pace that hard dying misnomer “Abstract Expressionism”15), Dadaism, Futurism, and Fauvism.

Expressionism—derived not from the German Expressionists but from the Expressionist Picasso—is manifest in Pollock’s painting only up to 1946, that is, before the great drip pictures (and, to a lesser extent, after them). In part it seems to have reflected an incongruity and hence tension between Pollock’s extraordinary pictorial potentialities and his then inability to forge the proper vehicle for their fullest realization. This condition contributed to the anxiety, conflict, and ultimately, violence, reflected in the iconographies of the 1942–1946 pictures, a violence expressed plastically in their compositional discontinuities, convolutions, truncations, angularities and frequent asperity of color. This is not a criticism of those works but an attempt to distinguish them from the subsequent drip paintings. Indeed, there are masterpieces in Pollock’s painting of 1942–1946 which go beyond anything the Expressionist tradition had up to then proposed. (In the later forties Willem de Kooning was to give the Expressionist vein an extraordinary, new and quite different impetus.)

If, as I shall try to show, Pollock found inspiration in Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism, these sources were so fused, so totally assimilated in Pollock’s language by the time of his maturity that they are not easily distinguished in the pictures. Some sophistication in modern painting and much very careful looking is required to discern them. This is not the case with the paintings of 1942–1946, where the debts to Picasso in particular, and to a considerably lesser extent Masson, Miró and others are easily distinguished. When, in the winter of 1946–1947, Pollock purged his art of these obvious borrowings in the style that realized his full identity, the Expressionist element disappeared and the violence, frustration and tension were largely transformed into a passionate lyricism—a choreographically rhythmical art capable of an almost Rococo fragility and grace. The gap between an inherited language and a burgeoning new content, between instinct and self awareness, in short, between the potential and the actual had been closed.

Another familiar Pollock myth celebrates the athlete whose works are residues of enactments of “events” in the “arena” of the canvas (the underpinning of this is the notion of “Action Painting”). Here again the myth springs from a seed of reality. Pollock did work with great spontaneity during the physical execution of the picture. As we shall see later, the aim was to circumvent the operation of those pictorial inhibitions which derive from habit, expectation and immersion in a tradition, and to reach, as the Surrealists had already tried through automatism, into areas of unconscious experience which might not otherwise be tapped. While there are some crucial differences between Surrealist automatism and Pollock’s methods, both were committed to the notion of beginning the picture without an a priori image or intent and then letting it gradually emerge (as had Klee, in his “doodling”). Both Pollock and the Surrealists used automatism as a starting point but subsequently applied conscious control to endow the picture with order and coherence. Surrealist automatism involved the artist’s wrist, sometimes his arm; Pollock’s involved his arm and, especially in the larger pictures, his whole body.

The public’s impression of Pollock’s methods, much conditioned by the deservedly famous Namuth photographs of the painter at work, is almost entirely that of a “gestural,” automatist artist functioning seismographically in response to immediate inspiration.16 This is not so much wrong as incomplete; it shows us Pollock’s “Romantic” side. (Indeed, Surrealism, which had stimulated Pollock’s interest in the expression of unconscious ideas even as it had popularized automatism as a means of realizing them is the most recent evolution of 19th-century Romanticism.)

Yet Pollock was also at work during the hours he stared at the unfinished canvas as it hung tacked to the wall of the studio or spread on the floor. This meditative phase—which more recalls the mood of Analytic Cubist and Mondrianesque picture making—reflects Pollock’s “Classical” side. Though Pollock obviously improvised a great deal while executing his drip paintings, sometimes in response to unexpected, accidental aspects of the picture-making process, it is certain that the frequently long periods of studying the canvas which preceded resumption of the painting activity (particularly once the picture was well under way) were concerned with planning what he would do next. Non musicians are amazed to hear that Mozart wrote the entire overture to Don Giovanni the night before its final rehearsal. Actually, it had been taking form in his mind for some time before he wrote it down. The analogy is hardly an exact one, but I think we very much mistake Pollock’s methods if we do not recognize his capacity for storing decisions which would then counterpoint the more immediately improvisational aspects of his method when he was actually painting. The fact is that Pollock’s very large paintings often took months to bring to completion.

Pollock pioneered a kind of painting which in spontaneity, abstraction and scale went far beyond anything Surrealist automatism or any other previous improvisational art had proposed. It seemed to initiate (Pollock “broke the ice,” Willem de Kooning has generously observed) and epitomize a liberation of the painting process experienced by many other painters of his generation in the late forties. The need for a description of this art was met in many quarters by acceptance of Harold Rosenberg’s term “Action Painting.” Insofar as it was widely used, and still is, simply as a convenient handle for a new and more gesturally executed art, this label raises no problems. But when Action Painting is used to define and characterize Pollock’s way of work (and it is commonly so used), it becomes a falsification. This is not the place for a thorough critique of the theory of Action Painting, nor do I wish to become embroiled in the recent polemics surrounding it,17 but its frequent employment by writers on Pollock requires that we confront it. Here are some essential passages from the Rosenberg text:

At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or “express” an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter . . . The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life . . . If the picture is an act, it cannot be justified as an act of genius in a field whose whole measuring apparatus has been sent to the devil. Its value must be found apart from art . . .

Based on the phenomenon of conversion the new movement is, with the majority of painters, essentially a religious movement. In almost every case, however, the conversion has been experienced in private terms. The result has been the creation of private myths.18 (Italics Mr. Rosenberg’s.)

Just how an “event” was to go on the canvas was not clear in the original essay and Mr. Rosenberg subsequently elaborated:

The innovation of Action Painting was to dispense with the representation of the state in favor of enacting it in physical movement. The action on the canvas became its own representation. This was possible because an action, being made of both the psychic and the material, is by its nature a sign—it is the trace of a movement whose beginning and character it does not in itself ever altogether reveal (e.g., Freud’s point about lovemaking being mistaken in the imagination for assault); yet the action also exists as a “thing” in that it touches other things and affects them . . . In its passage on the canvas each such line can establish the actual movement of the artist’s body as an esthetic statement.19

Starting with the final observation about the artist’s body movement as an esthetic statement we naturally ask, what medium? As movement it has a right to be judged as choreography, just as the “enacting” of a “state” might be considered theater. But the marks these actions produce—if we consider them as painting—are part of another order of symbols in which their simultaneous relation to each other (the time of an “action,” on the other hand, is continuous like that of theater, dance and music), to the frame (the space around the artist’s body is boundless), their color and texture, in short their whole constitution as a picture have no equivalence—though they may have affinities—with the possible “esthetics” of an “action.” Moreover, marks have no inevitable relationship to the speed, character or range of the body-movements that produce them. Similar marks can be made in quite different ways just as similar body and wrist movements can lead to quite different marks.

But the fundamental contradictions of Action Painting are our problem only if we consider the kind of painting Mr. Rosenberg has in mind as art. Mr. Rosenberg need not answer to this, since his essay indicates that such was not his intent (“the canvas was not a picture but an event”—“broken down every distinction between art and life”—“its value must be found apart from art”). Insofar, however, as the term has been used, without qualification, about Pollock’s painting, if indeed we are convinced that painting is what Pollock was about, Action Painting is a myth.20

What Mr. Rosenberg describes in “The American Action Painters,” to whatever extent it may or may not justly describe painters other than Pollock, is an excellent extension and elaboration of ideas regarding the importance of “the act” first advanced by the pioneer Dadaists21 and further developed by certain of the Surrealist poets (as opposed to the painters) when they discussed automatism as an end in itself, independent of any esthetic concern.22 It is true that Mr. Rosenberg never mentions these precedents in his text, but we can assume his familiarity with them as a leading literary critic who contributed to surréalisant magazines in the 1940s. When he observes that the Action canvas “at length was put aside to produce Happenings,”23 he links what he is talking about with its Dadaist origins, Happenings having existed primitively as Dadaist and Surrealist “manifestations” and having been described—though never realized—in even more evolved form by Schwitters. This is not to say that Happenings lack original content any more than Mr. Rosenberg’s essay is merely a rehash of Dadaist and Surrealist ideas. Both are new impulses in a particular line of thought. The myth of Action Painting has had a compelling influence upon Happenings; indeed, the “inventor” of Happenings, Mr. Allan Kaprow, reads—or better misreads—Pollock’s works essentially as a link in this chain.24

The myth of the violent Pollock, the murderer of painting (“Jack the dripper” one critic called him25), is a concomitant of the myth of the painter as athlete. Writers have pressed the point of violence very hard: “The violence that feeds on everything typically American . . . becomes obsessive and unchained.”26 Such truth as this myth contains pertains more to the painter’s life than to his art (and the two are not, and cannot, be the same). This image of Pollock was occasionally associated with the well known fact of his alcoholism—which sometimes made him violent in his life—and which was alluded to by detractors in describing the supposed chaos of his art. In any event, the critical tradition by which innovations in modern painting are derided as the products of drink goes back to the time of Courbet and the Impressionists.27

I have already observed that Expressionist violence is evident in Pollock’s work both iconographically and plastically before 1947. But the myth of the violent Pollock demands that this quality be seen throughout the classic drip pictures of 1947–1950 as well. The question is why these pictures—which situate whatever violence they contain in a whole spectrum of emotions containing far more of passion, joy, exuberance, ecstasy, delight, gravity, tenderness, suffering, grace, fragility, and, at moments, even charm—should have seemed so violent, particularly when they first appeared. There are, no doubt many reasons for this, among them the public’s incomplete image of how Pollock actually worked. Perhaps what the public thought they saw in the pictures really lay in Pollock’s radical challenge to its accepted notions of painting. Pollock was doing violence to its expectations. As the audience’s conception of art expanded it began to see the pictures, not the challenge. It is at this point in the individual’s experience that the phenomenal range of Pollock’s content becomes manifest.

A final word now about what might be called the myth of the “faultless painter,” but which is really just an exaggerated uncriticalness that has prevailed in many quarters of the literature on Pollock.28 Even during the years of the great drip pictures Pollock was not without his failures—and he seems to have been as well able to recognize them as anybody else. The same is true of the art of his earlier period and particularly of the last years when Pollock was struggling with alcoholism and felt himself to be in perpetual crisis. There are great works in all his periods (the late pictures are more criticized by his own previous work than anything else). But uncriticalness does Pollock a great disservice, and is utterly foreign to his own spirit. Not to acknowledge his problematic pictures and outright failures is to miss the perilousness of his struggle and therefore its humanity, especially in view of the unusual risks his revolutionary methods involved. Pollock’s failures measure for us the hardness of making a picture, even for a great painter, when he eschews formulas and throws the dice—in the Mallarméan sense—with each picture.

Pollock never treaded water; he perpetually challenged himself. Nor did he over identify with a single style or a single conception of painting. He kept his art open ended and was not loath in 1951, after almost four years of development of the all-over drip conception, to veer off in another direction. His unabating self-critical dialectic led to more stylistic and morphological variety in his career taken as a whole than is typical of other great painters of his generation. (I distinguish his work here also from the variegated unfolding of a central stylistic idea, as in Gottlieb, and the simultaneous multiplicity of manners in Hofmann.) This variety has been considered a sign both of strength and of unsureness. Such changes in direction are, however, independent of the quality of an artist’s work (Matisse does not suffer in comparison with Picasso, despite his more limited stylistic range, or vice versa); but they are not without meaning in the characterization of its spirit.

The unity in Pollock’s diversity derived from the continuity of the terms of his interior dialogue, and reflected the wholeness of his being. This is a transcendent unity in which the painter sacrifices oneness on a level once removed from himself (his stylistic image through the course of time) in order to find it on the primary level (his self). For the spectator, the picture is an isolated object, a closed, self-contained system of meanings and, to that extent, an end. For the painter, the making of it is part of a process of self-interrogation and, hopefully, self-discovery, and is therefore also a means.

Equilibrium is a continuing dramatic factor in painting as it is in life, and must constantly be regained. For a painter like Pollock—who rejected the crutch of yesterday’s solutions—it made every new picture a peril. Risky as Pollock’s technique was, his conception of painting was even riskier. His problem pictures and failures are testimonials to the courage of his quest as well as guarantors of the authenticity of his successes.


THE VIRTUES OF THE 1947–1950 “classic” Pollocks are both intrinsic and historical. Their challenge to conventional conceptions of picture-making (as opposed to their particular style) operated on the spirits of many artists all over the world, granting em “permissions”29 for new departures. But in heir particulars they had hardly any immediate recognizable influence on other painters the way, for example, Willem de Kooning’s paintings did. De Kooning’s art lent itself to a variety of Inflections and was cannibalized by most of the young painters who claimed attention in the mid-fifties; his style took genius to invent but it required only talent to exploit. The few painters obviously influenced by Pollock in the early and middle fifties, like Helen Frankenthaler and Paul Jenkins, came out of the stained and puddled pictures of 1951–1953 rather than the linear classic The labyrinthine webs of the latter constituted so personal, so qualitatively unique an image, that they resisted borrowings short of rank imitation.

The immediate historical influence of these pictures was of a subtler order: that influence consisted in the establishing of the “single image” and “all-over” conceptions of a picture as they subsequently emerged at the end of the forties in the work of many painters of Pollock’s own generation. Pollock’s heraldic, frontal and nearly symmetrical images were also to exert influence in the middle fifties and later on many younger painters whose work bears no prima facie similarity to Pollock’s, among them Sam Francis, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and particularly Larry Poons; and—to the extent that they used all-over patternings—on such artists as Jasper Johns (in his “Numbers” and “Letters”) and Andy Warhol (in his early soup cans and coke bottles).

From 1947 to 1950 all-over patterning and the drip technique coincided in Pollock’s works. But they were not identical, nor did they develop in the same moment. “All-over” refers to a pattern governing the surface of the canvas; the dripping, spattering, and pouring, though they endowed the picture with certain properties of style, essentially constituted a technique for extended drawing with paint. The all-over patterning came first and elicited the drip technique as a solution to certain problems it posed. This happened late in 1946 in connection with transitional works like Shimmering Substance and Eyes in the Heat I.

From 1942 on Pollock’s painting is marked by a motor vigor that goes far beyond that of any of the improvisational artists who influenced him, even Picasso. The drawing in those pictures, while still representational, becomes increasingly galvanic and begins to unlock itself from the description of the totemic forms which, as we shall see later, body forth Pollock’s early dramas. The fragmentation of these forms, already quite advanced in Night Ceremony of 1944, leads to an almost autonomous rhythm of the line in certain gouaches and pastels of 1945 and early 1946. The larger paintings of that period, Circumcision (1946) and The Blue Unconscious (1946), though more descriptive in their forms, reveal a comparable progression toward compositional openness and linear autonomy. Though they retain an obvious hierarchy of larger and smaller forms, these paintings already tend to be distributed with considerably even density over the whole picture surface.

Some time late in 1946 Pollock’s drawing acquired sufficient acceleration to literally “take off” and leave the orbit of description, definition, and containment which had always been the traditional sphere of line. In Shimmering Substance and Eyes in the Heat I Pollock’s line30 forms a series of looped and arabesqued patterns all roughly similar in character and in approximate size and more or less even in density over the whole surface of the picture. This is what is meant by an “all-over” configuration. As we study these key transitional works we become aware that fragments of Pollock’s earlier totemistic presences are covered by the rhythmical linear pattern of white paint which dominates their surfaces. These presences have not been wholly “painted out” but lurk mysteriously in the interstices of the white lines, taking the form in Eyes in the Heat I that the title suggests. Much less of the “underpicture,” if we may call it that, is so literally visible in Shimmering Substance.

The process we are describing is one in which the literal metaphors of the poetic early works (as embodied in the figurative totems) were in effect going underground, beneath the new non-figurative painterly fabric. But to some extent their spirit continued to inform the new abstractness. Perhaps this is why Pollock’s non-figurative painting so well exemplifies what seems to me the specifically poetic cast of American abstract art as a whole in his generation.

The early and middle forties saw among these artists, as I have detailed elsewhere, the influence of surrealist ideas of peinture-poésie.31 But by 1950 the reaction of the pioneers of the new American painting against their own earlier work and against the Surrealist ambiance which had affected it appeared to be complete. Except in the case of Pollock’s automatism, their mature styles seemed to reject out of hand everything Surrealism had stood for. At the same time the Americans produced a kind of abstraction markedly different from that to which Cubism and Fauvism alone might have been expected to lead. These movements had already lost their momentum in Europe in the 1930s, and the American practitioners of Cubism and abstraction in that decade found themselves at a dead end. Only a new spirit could have freed them.

Of course, the mature styles of the new American painters descended from Cubism and Fauvism, but these painters’ experience of Surrealism in the early and middle forties enabled them to “open up” the language they had inherited from Cubism and Fauvism, and thus preserve what was still viable in those styles. And while it is true that they expunged the specific imagery that had earlier related their paintings to Surrealism, the visionary spirit of their wholly abstract art retained much of Surrealism’s concern with poetry albeit in a less obvious form. The poetic content of the mature art of Pollock, Rothko, Newman, Still, Motherwell and Gottlieb (to say nothing of some sculptors) does as much as differences in technique or structure to set them apart from Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian.32

The impulse towards poetic abstraction, fostered by contact with Surrealism, was abetted by the interest Pollock and other members of his generation had in ethnic and primitive art. Signs and symbols drawn from such sources—and filtered through an awareness of Jung—alternate in Pollock’s early work with iconographies suggested by classical mythology in surreal Freudianized form. They are also common in the work of other artists, as notably in the pictographs of Adolph Gottlieb. Lawrence Alloway has pointed, in this connection, to the importance of the exhibition called The Ideographic Picture organized by Barnett Newman in 1947.33 Newman’s catalog text speaks of “a new force in American painting as the modern counterpart of the primitive art impulse . . . The abstract shape [the primitive artist] used, his entire plastic language, was directed by a ritual will towards metaphysical understanding.” Interest in ethnic symbolism dovetailed with that in the more familiar classical mythologies in Freudian form, as indicated in a statement signed by Newman, Gottlieb and Mark Rothko five years before (and which we shall consider later in a study of Pollock’s iconographies).

The all-over style that Pollock broached in the transitional Eyes in the Heat I and Shimmering Substance led him to envision a kind of painting that required breaking with conventional methods of paint application. With his drawing now free from the limitations of description, how could he, with paint, make uninterrupted lines of the kind that could be drawn with a pen or pencil? (The problem was one that had confronted “abstract” Surrealists like Masson and Miró when in 1925–1926 they attempted to convert into painting the possibilities discovered in “automatic” drawing.) The brush or knife can be loaded with only so much pigment; a given line has to be interrupted with each reloading (which explains the smallness of the abstract “figure” or “motif” in Pollock’s transitional pictures). Furthermore, the drag of a stick, knife or brush (though Pollock hardly used the latter after 1941) constrains and slows the drawing; at the same time these tools deposit more pigment at the beginning of a stroke than afterwards. Finally, the transitional pictures of which we have been speaking (both relatively small) supported a fairly heavy pigment load due to the all-over patterning of conventional tube pigment. A very large picture of comparable surface incrustation might have proven visually indigestible due to the charge of cuisine.

Pollock’s adoption of the drip technique at this point was a brilliant solution to all these problems at the same time that it provided a line of a new character and profile, a line guaranteed against the familiar mannerisms and inflections of drawing as he had learned it. Now Pollock could pour liquid paint in a continuous unbroken line virtually indefinitely. Controlled pouring could thicken, thin and articulate the line at will in a way a loaded stick or brush could not. The thinned oil paint and commercial enamels he employed could be used over large spaces without creating a surface burdened with a bas-relief of impasto. With the drag of the brush eliminated, the spontaneity of Pollock’s drawing could reach a new point and the anatomy of his line a new variety. “There has never been enough said,” wrote Frank O’Hara, “about Pollock’s draftsmanship, that amazing ability to quicken a line by thinning it, to slow it up by flooding, to elaborate that simplest of elements, the line—to change, to reinvigorate, to extend, to build up an embarrassment of riches in the mass by drawing alone.”34

This linear variety was subtly inflected by the different tools—sticks, brushes, basting syringes—that often mediated between the paint in the can and the surface of the picture. (In some cases, such as Number 1, 1948 and Lavender Mist, Pollock smeared his hands with paint and printed them directly on the canvas.) His most common operation in the execution of his drip pictures (though poured pictures is a more apposite term) was to place a stick in the can of paint and, by tilting the can, to let the pigment run down the stick onto the canvas. The latter had to be placed flat on the floor to prevent the liquid paint from running (“run-off” patterns are familiar in works by Matta and Gorky in the early forties when they painted, on the easel, pictures with a very thin medium). The stick or brush only rarely touched the canvas and when it did, the line changed nature. Pollock could vary the character of his line by changing the viscosity of his paint, altering the tilt of the can and thus the speed of the flow, and modifying the nature and speed of his own arm and body movements. All these determinations functioned in tandem to control a phenomenal range of drawing and surface patterning.

The drip technique thus made possible an almost ecstatic exploitation of linear automatism in the realization of all-over configurations on fields of large and, at times, heroic proportions. It also opened up a new pictorial vocabulary of edges, splatters, puddlings and other patterns. The gatherings and the spreadings of the skein patterns—the “pneuma” of the work—group themselves more or less evenly over the surface, never overly focusing upon one point. There is an airy transparency to the webs. In the better pictures they never seem clogged or opaque despite the multiplication of “layers” (as defined by the spreading of a color that must then be allowed to dry before work is resumed).

A special feature of Pollock’s all-over style is that with the majestic impact of its immediately perceived singleness of image—what Alloway has called its “holistic character”35—it combines remarkably delicate variations in texture, drawing, color, etc. We feel an instantaneous unity and comprehensiveness, and then discover the multiplicity—and yet coherent interaction—of myriad individual parts.

It is crucial here not to be misled by the term “all-over.” It is also important not to judge the pictures on the basis of reproductions, as certain of Pollock’s critics have done. The term “all-over” is a relative one. (Compared to the hierarchical distribution of accents in Old Master painting, the atomized textures of many Impressionist pictures are essentially “all-over.”) It is surprising how frequently writers on Pollock use the term “all-over” as if it meant that the pictorial fabric was literally the same all-over the surface. We read in the most extensive monograph on Pollock published thus far that he “made every square inch of the surface of his paintings of equal intensity.”36 Whatever definition we give of “intensity”—whether referring to chroma, value, hue, texture or the character of the drawing—such a remark is mindless; the writer relies on the jargon of art writing instead of first hand experience.

Yet it is also necessary to stress that the local articulation of Pollock’s surface is not based on an infinite series of entirely unrelated patterns. If every inch being the same would mean a picture that was unified but also boring, every inch being different would mean the destruction of order or unity. (This would apply, of course, only if the similarities and differences extended to every level of the esthetic.) Both extremes militate against the creation of truly meaningful structure. Anarchic variety might be produced by a series of random accidents, but if these accidents were sufficiently multiplied over a large enough surface, as Rudolph Arnheim has pointed out,37 they would produce an inert and boring order. The virtues of Pollock’s classic pictures are due in part to his having introduced such great variety in their local sub-units while still making these sub-units cohere in an organically unified whole.

Pollock adhered instinctively to distributional orderings involving number, size, and color that prevented any climactic emphasis on one point or section of his essentially light dark structured canvas. It meant that no one of the drawing motifs (if we can call them that) should ever become too dominant, and that each quadrant of the canvas should have approximately the same number or density of any size contours. It also meant that within the diverse local accents, Pollock would have to multiply analogies, finding common denominators in the patterns. These analogies are developed not only on the level of the smaller units but the larger; in the angular rust brown “joints” of Autumn Rhythm and as well as in the black and white “hooks” in Mural on Indian Red Ground.

Eyes unable to distinguish the point to point nuancing and variation involved here found Pollock’s all-over paintings to be mere decoration and ornament—the “inorganic order of simple periodic repetitions”38 or “apocalyptic wallpaper.”39 No doubt, these pictures do relate somewhere to a tradition of decorative art which includes the Impressionists, Nabis, Fauves and other modernists. But this is only one of their aspects. Mere decoration is definable as the formulaic repetition (hence predictability) of impersonal marks in absolute symmetry on a field of potentially indefinite extension. Pollock’s art involves a mosaic of esthetic decisions in a context of free choice over a field whose exact shape and size plays a crucial part. The precarious poise of an all-over, single image is achieved through the equally precarious balancing of virtually endless asymmetries.

The drip technique fostered and enhanced one of Pollock’s most revolutionary accomplishments: a kind of line predicted but not realized in the transitional works, a line which would no longer be the edge of a plane. This invention was first remarked some years ago by Clement Greenberg, and has been independently observed and excellently described more recently by Michael Fried.

Line is a stylistic convention and not, as the Impressionists pointed out, a fact of nature. It is traditionally a shorthand convention for indicating the edge of a plane or surface. If we shade a simple turning plane—the surface of an apple, for example—as the Old Masters did, the black of the chiaroscuro becomes absolute (all color and light values disappear) at the very outer edge of the form. Now erasing everything but that outer edge, we get a simple “outline” which nevertheless implies the relieved plane of which it is the edge.

It is, in fact, almost impossible to use line so that it does not suggest a plane. By wrenching line from that servitude Pollock opened a whole series of new possibilities for himself and others. Fried describes this accomplishment:

Pollock’s finest paintings . . . reveal that his all-over line does not give rise to positive or negative areas: we are not made to feel that one part of the canvas demands to be read as figure, whether abstract or representational, against another part of the canvas read as ground. There is no inside or outside to Pollock’s line or to the space through which it moves . . . Pollock has managed to free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing or bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas.40

In abstracting line from representation (which had been done before) and from the simple creation of shapes (which had not), Pollock was aided by a factor unmentioned by Fried: the novel and particular profile of the poured or dripped line. Distending laterally, developing excrescences of all sorts from the “drop-like” to the “hairy,” this line not only spreads out but frequently “bites” into the canvas irregularly on both its (the line’s) sides. In thus precluding our reading of one of its sides as the “outside” (which would therefore immediately imply its descriptive relation to a planar form) it sits flat on the surface, an entity in itself, like the black “lines” in the mature Mondrian. (The latter are really more planes than lines; viewing them as simply bounding the contiguous planes means reading these pictures faultily. To the extent that they represent an abstraction—pursued between 1913 and 1920—from conventional lines they adumbrate Pollock’s handling.)

Even this newly profiled line, however, was not in itself a guarantor against representation, or even the shaping of abstract planes. In fact, Pollock could and did use it descriptively in a few pictures—the “personage” of Moon Vessel (1946) and the skein drawn head and shoulders on the right of The Wooden Horse (1948), for example. To create an entirely non figurative linear picture free of even abstract contoured planes, Pollock had not only to use the kind of dripped lines we have been describing, but he had to run them together in so tight an interlacing that no canvas ground showing through could be read as a plane outlined by a skein of paint. When this was not done, as in the long, frieze shaped duco drawing of 1950, the line tended to contour planes (even though it was not used here in the Rorschach-like, image invoking manner that emerged in Pollock’s work the following year).

It is the scintillating, molecular fabric that results from the multiplication of the criss-crossings that constitutes what I believe to be the consummation of Pollock’s plastic accomplishments (which, though dependent upon his having liberated line, goes even further), that is, his conversion of drawing into painting. This at once transcended the familiar Wolfflinean antithesis by creating an art that was simultaneously “linear” and “painterly” (malerisch).

If we consider the great painters in the modern tradition who were essentially draftsmen, we become aware that when they painted, they carried over into painting the linear contourings, hatch marks and other shading devices proper to drawing. Van Gogh is a classic example. In exploiting possibilities of color and impasto opened up by Impressionist painting, he nevertheless remained true to the “handwriting” of his drawing. But in Pollock at a certain point, the criss-crossings, convergences and puddlings of the linear skeins fuse into a “painterly” fabric. As such his painting reaches back behind styles of linear and planar determination, like Cubism, to the scintillating painterly fields of Impressionism. In adapting drawing to painting, Van Gogh reaffirmed its traditional character; in forcing drawing into painting Pollock atomized it into a new form of painting. To do this on a scale of sometimes epic proportions—given the surface density the drawing had to achieve—took incredible concentration of effort, and its accomplishment released in Pollock immense inertial energies only hinted at in the more conventionally drawn pre-drip pictures which could only chaffingly accommodate his draftsmanly genius.

William Rubin


1. This and the following section are the first of six selected from Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition (H. N. Abrams & Co., Fall, 1967) which will appear serially in Artforum. “Impressionism and the Classic Pollock” and “Color and Scale; Affinities with the Late Monet” will appear in March; “Cubism and the Later Evolution of the All-Over Style” and “Surrealism: Automatism and the Early Iconography” in April.

2. Thomas Hart Benton (“Random Thoughts on Art,” The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 28, 1962) speaks of Pollock’s “paint-slinging hinges” which somehow “always ended attractively” (though they were “completely without human significance”). Michel Tapie, a detractor only in an unwitting sense, sees Pollock’s art “totally developed in anarchic drunkenness (ivresse)” yet finds it not without continuity of patterning (Un art autre, Paris, 1952, pages unnumbered).

3. This view was held by some of Pollock’s admirers as well. “In order to follow it [Pollock’s form],” writes Allan Kaprow (“The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Art News, v. 57, no. 6, 1958), “it is necessary to get rid of the usual idea of ‘Form,’ i.e., a beginning, a middle and end, or any variant of this principle . . . It indicates that the confines of the rectangular field were ignored in lieu of an experience of a continuum going in all directions simultaneously, beyond the literal dimensions of any work.” (Italics Mr. Kaprow’s).

4. “He [Pollock] even cut and sold the immense surfaces obtained in this [drip] manner by the meter.” Marcel Jean, Histoire de la peinture surrealiste, Paris, 1959, p. 347.

5. Pierre Restany, “America for the Americans,” Ring des arts, 1960.

6. Rudi Blesh, (Modern Art, U.S.A., New York, 1956, p. 253) is typical in calling Pollock’s canvas his “cattle range.” Bryan Robertson (Jackson Pollock, 1960, p. 35) sees him timing his movements “in the way that a cow-hand wields a lariat.”

7. The notion of a Pacific School of American painting was first popularized in France by Michel Tapie. It had been proposed to him in 1947 by Francis Henry Taylor “as a movement of capital importance” (c.f. Tapie, Morphologie autre, Torino, 1960). The popularity of Tobey on the continent—far greater than that he enjoyed in the United States—helped cement an image, always popular in the French mind, of an America mediating between the cultures of the European west and the Orient. To this thinking, New York is merely a province of Europe; the real America begins somewhere around the Mississippi.

8. Personal testimony on this point is contradictory, to say the least. Axel Horn, who studied with Benton at the time that Pollock did, remembers Pollock as the “perfect prototype” of the Westerner: “Rugged, shy socially, awkward, inarticulate, he was ordinarily the possessor of a temperament as sweet and gentle as prairie clover.” (“Jackson Pollock: The Hollow and the Bump,” The Carleton Miscellany, Summer 1966). Harold Rosenberg describes him as “playing cowboy” wearing “high boots, the blue jeans and the ‘neckercher;’ he crouched on his heels and pulled up blades of grass when he talked; he liked to go to saloons and play bustin’ up the joint.” (“The Search for Jackson Pollock,” Art News, v. 59, no. 10, Feb. 1961.) Clement Greenberg (The New York Times Magazine, April 16, 1961) says:

Where myth and legend have taken over with a vengeance is with regard to Pollock’s early life. That he was born in Wyoming and spent his boyhood on truck farms in the Southwest has caused many people to visualize him as a kind of frontier character . . . Pollock himself was not entirely guiltless in this matter. When in the country, he continued to wear high-heeled cowboy boots . . . The truth is that Pollock and his four older brothers were raised by a mother filled with cultural aspirations, and when he began to study art at high school in Los Angeles, it was in the footsteps of his oldest brother Charles, a painter who now teaches at Michigan State University. Pollock himself always regretted that he had not gone to college and become more of an intellectual. He was only 18 when he came East to continue studying art, and the rest of his life was passed in New York and in East Hampton, Long Island.

9. On this subject, Pollock’s oldest brother, Charles, who can speak both as an artist and as the person closest to his brother’s situation until his marriage to Lee Krasner, has the following to say (from a letter to this writer):

There were of course many Indians living fairly close by—mostly I think of the Pima tribe—when the family lived in the Salt River Valley between Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona, from 1913 to 1917. They came into Phoenix on Saturdays by horse, wagon and buggy to sell their wares and to trade. There must also have been Indians from other tribes and from greater distances, for the sellers sitting on the sidewalks displayed not only pots and baskets, but silver and blankets as well. Though Jackson saw much of this he would surely have been too young to retain very firm impressions. [He was then age two to five.]

Jackson, with Sande and Frank, was with his father and mother in northern Arizona in the summer of 1927. My father was employed in some capacity which is now vague to me—ranching, or lumber perhaps. It is possible that they returned there in the summer of 1928. It is evident that they did a certain amount of exploring: I have a photograph of them at one of the cliff dwelling sites on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. Whether Jack or any of them had contact with the Indians in the area it is now impossible to say. Jack was fifteen at the time.

My brother Jay had a collection of perhaps two dozen Indian blankets and rugs. He started collecting these in Los Angeles, in 1924 or 1925. In a letter to me (10 October 1960) he says he traded these to Jack for a painting. Date of trade not mentioned. Jack certainly saw them many times before coming to New York in 1930, but if he ever had them in the East I did not see them.

Jack and I made one long (8000 mile) trip together in the summer of 1934: through the coal fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, into the deep South and New Orleans, through Texas to El Paso, through Arizona to Los Angeles. We did not visit any Indian reservations nor museums of Indian art, nor do I recall any talk of doing so.

Jack made two or three later trips West on his own but I doubt that he had the leisure or the money to investigate Indian ritual.

I have the Eighth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1891). Among other things, it contains 12 chromo-lithographic plates. Four of these are sand paintings, the other ritualistic paraphernalia—blankets, feathers, paints, etc.

Jack had several volumes of this kind. As I remember, we bought them together in one of the then innumerable secondhand bookstores on 4th Avenue—sometime between 1930 and 1935.

Without denying that Indian art, cowboys, Western air and landscape may have had an influence on Jackson, I cannot myself see any evidence for a specific relevance at the point in his development when painting influences were crucial.

In my view the important elements were the following: the analytical methods of Benton with their reference to Renaissance & Baroque art, the emotional overtones & controlled violence in Orozco, and finally an acute awareness of contemporary French painting (your article on the importance of Masson in this context is a case in point). I think also that his experience and memory of the Siqueiros workshop has been overlooked.

10. The idea that Pollock painted numerous wall-size pictures—as is, indeed, the case with such painters as Rothko and Still—is one of the most persistent of his myths. Equally incorrect is the widespread impression that such giant pictures began to he made by the New York painters in the late forties. Irving Sandler begins an otherwise well-informed discussion, “When Jackson Pollock’s wall size pictures . . . were shown in 1947 . . .” (New York Post Magazine, Jan. 26,1964.) Bryan Robertson (op. cit. p. 531 writes typically that Pollock’s pictures “frequently attain the practical (sic) measurements of mural-size paintings” . . . in the context of a “late 1940s” movement. Even E. C. Goossen, in his pioneering article, “The Big Canvas” (Art International, v. 2, no. 8, 1958) slightly mistakes the date: “The first big canvases of the post-war period were done between 1949 and 1951 by Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. Prior to that there was little of equal size done in the United Slates except a lot of second rate official art . . .”

None of the wall-sized Pollocks or Newmans dates before 1950. Moreover, Mr. Goossen’s statement needs amplification in view of the fact that the earliest large Rothkos are coetaneous with those of Pollock and Newman. Clyfford Still probably also painted wall-size pictures in 1950. (To he sure, recent exhibitions of Still’s paintings have included giant canvases dated in the forties, but there is no evidence—based upon work exhibited at the time—of any such pictures before the fifties.) In regard to the idea of size alone, the Goossen statement also needs modification in view of the fact that Matta painted many pictures of 9' by 15' and larger in the years 1946–49. A number of these were shown in his annual exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Matta was then very much in the New York “scene” and his work—which has nothing in common with “official art”—provides, at least with regard to footage alone, a precedent. His painting was, of course, illusionistic and in that sense related back to Guernica and earlier rather than forward to Pollock. In fact, as will be seen in my discussion in the next issue of Artforum, the giant American picture distinguished itself not so much by actual size as by the projection into that size—for the first time in the history of art—of an intimate and personal style with no scale referent tied to the world of objects. With few partial exceptions, notably Monet’s Nympheas, giant pictures had previously been public in content (hence figurative), in manner and in intended context.

11. Michel Ragon (Naissance d’un art nouveau, Paris, 1963, p. 73) speaks of Pollock’s “departure from tabula rasa.” Jean-Clarence Lambert (“Observations sur Jackson Pollock et la nouvelle peinture americaine,” Cahiers du musee de poche, No. 2, June 1959) sees Pollock’s painting “in revolt against everything . . . in the western tradition.” An unnamed editor of Art News writes of Pollock “demolishing a two-thousand-year-old corpus of world style.” (Introduction to Parker Tyler’s “Hopper/Pollock,” Art News Annual, No. 26, 1957).

12. Robertson’s monograph is a case in point. Here the real sources of Pollock’s style are unacknowledged, but his shift into abstraction (called his “liquidation of the image”) is attributed to “a most loving understanding of art . . . made by the Navaho Indians.” (op. cit., p. 821; “he [Pollock] was most directly affected by the practice of Indian sandpainting.” (Ibid., p. 87). On this question see footnote no. 9.

13. Ragon, op. cit., p. 73.

14. Tapie, op. cit.

15. The term “Abstract Expressionism” was coined around 1929 by Alfred Barr as a way of distinguishing some of the painting of Kandinsky from the expressionistically deformed realism of the Brucke painters. Apposite as it was for that purpose, the term achieved a vogue only in the 1950s, as a description of the new abstract painting in America. It was Robert Coates, art critic of the New Yorker magazine, who first used it in that connection. The heterogeneity of manners in a group containing Pollock, de Kooning, Newman, Rothko, Still, Baziotes, et al. precludes their being rightly gathered under a single stylistic label. The classic periods of Pollock, Rothko and Newman are manifestly not expressionist (though de Kooning and Kline’s painting might quality for such an appellation). Kandinsky’s influence on this movement has been much exaggerated as a result of this confusion of terms. It is demonstrably important only in the work of Gorky (around 1943) who was, in any case, as close to Surrealism as to Kandinsky or the new American art that developed after his death in 1947. The more general term—“The New American Painting”—devised by Barr for the Museum of Modern Art’s touring exhibition of 1958–59 is valuable, but was more so then than since the emergence of a strong—and very differently profiled—second generation of painters in New York.

16. Irving Lavin describes the creation of a large picture such as Autumn Rhythm as demanding “let’s say six hours of actual painting time.” No allowance is made in this supposed procedure for analysis or reflection. Other than the “actual painting time” Pollock is described as just “sleeping, eating or what have you.” (“Abstraction in Modern Painting,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 19, no. 6, 1961.)

17. Clement Greenberg, “How Art Writing Earns Its Bad Name,” Encounter, no. 111, Dec. 1962. Harold Rosenberg, “The Premises of Action Painting,” Encounter, no. 116, May 1963.

18. Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” reprinted in The Tradition of the New, New York, 1959, pp. 23–39.

19. Rosenberg, “Hans Hofmann: Nature in Action,” Art News, May 1957.

20. This, of course does not preclude Mr. Rosenberg from trying to define the esthetics of a new art, though that does not seem to have been his aim. It may very well be that of Allan Kaprow (see text below and note 24).

21. The pure Dadaist was not a painter, or even a poet, but someone whose essence was expressed in acts and gestures. “Dada,” Tristan Tzara insisted, “shows its truth in action.” This action had to he instinctive and disinterested. “Everyone,” according to Richard Huelsenheck, “can he a Dadaist . . . The Dadaist is the completely active type, who lives only through action because it holds the possibility of achieving knowledge.”

22. Surrealist automatism, whether verbal, pictorial or directed in such actions as public “manifestations” was always in theory “beyond any esthetic . . . preoccupations” (Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism). Miro and Masson, who had adjoining studios during their pioneer days in the movement, frequently joked about humoring Breton with regard to such absolutist anti art notions and then returning home to paint pictures.

23. Rosenberg, “The Premises of Action Painting,” op. cit.

24. We have seen earlier (note 3) that Kaprow’s Pollock rejects the usual form of painting insofar as it is bounded; he ignores the confines of the field in favor of a continuum that expands outwards in all directions. “Pollock’s choice of enormous sizes (sic) served many purposes,” Kaprow continues. “They [the enormous canvases] ceased to become paintings and became environments . . . But what do we do now?” (op. cit.). Kaprow had earlier characterized Pollock in terms of Action Painting: “the work placed an almost absolute value upon a kind of diaristic gesture;” “. . . perhaps bordering on ritual itself which happens to use paint as one of its materials;” “to grasp Pollock’s impact properly, one must he something of an acrobat . . . [identifying] with the hands and body that flung the paint and stood ‘in’ the canvas.” When Kaprow, still speaking of Pollock, asserted that “the artist, the spectator and the outer world are too interchangeably involved here” [to be mere painting], he spelled out the dialectic by which the putative environmental and action components would fuse into Happenings. In a letter to Art News (Dec., 1958) Irving Sandler criticized Kaprow for treating Pollock “as a stepping stone for Kaprow’s own still unrealized art.”

25. Restany, “Jackson Pollock, l’esclabousseur,” Prisme des arts, No. 15, 1958.

26. Giovanni Galteri, “Jackson Pollock,” Avanti, (Rome), March 22, 1958. Blesh (op. cit.) writes of Pollock’s “deeds of incredible violence done with paint.” The opening sentences of Robertson’s monograph (op. cit.) characterize Pollock as “drawn to violence” and “absorbed all through his life by the structure of violence . . .” When Pollock tried to “go against the momentum of life which produces circumspection,” Robertson continues, “it was as if he crashed an immensely heavy object on to a table . . . This was his attempt to disrupt the time flux and invoke a new contingency.”

27. A classic example is the absinthe bottle in the foreground of Couture’s The Realist Painter. Benton’s reference to Pollock’s “paint-slinging binges” (c.f. note 2) is worthy of this snide tradition.

28. Both Robertson’s and O’Hara’s monographs are cases in point. Though guilty of such excesses as likening Pollock’s problematic The Deep (which the painter himself considered a failure) to Manet’s Olympia, O’Hara nevertheless makes an occasional critical observation. In the whole of Robertson’s monograph there is not a single critical remark about the work. Reading it, one would never know Pollock painted a bad picture, not to say many of them.

29. I first heard this term from the painter Paul Brach; as a young artist in the center of the New York scene he could measure clearly the psychological effect of pioneering inventions by the older painters even on young artists who did not choose to follow them up in their own work.

30. Pollock used his fingers here—as well as sticks and knives—more than brushes.

31. c.f., the Epilogue of my Dada and Surrealist Art now in the process of publication (H. N. Abrams & Co.).

32. In France, where, as the result of displacements caused by the war, painters then around the age of thirty were largely deprived of first-hand contact with Surrealism, the impulse toward “informal” abstraction was much weaker and the visionary, poetic tendency virtually nil. Dubuffet, Fautrier and Hartung had all experienced this exposure in the 1920s and 1930s; Wols had some contact with Surrealism but derived far more from Klee. But the large majority of younger painters took their cues from seniors like Jean Bazaine and Nicholas de Stael whose art teetered on the edge of an academic and effete late Cubism and, in the end, led into a blind alley. Even the supposedly informal, and certainly rapidly improvised, tube drawing of Georges Mathieu almost always disposes itself in as rigidly and obviously Cubist patternings as the more studied patternings of Soulages.

33. Lawrence Alloway, Introduction to Jackson Pollock, Catalog, Marlborough Fine Arts Gallery, Ltd., London, 1961.

34. Frank O’Hara, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1959, p. 26.

35. Lawrence Alloway, Systemic Painting, catalog of an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Fall 1966, and elsewhere.

36. Robertson, op.cit., p. 38.

37. Rudolf Arnheim, “Accident and the Necessity of Art,” The Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, v. 16, no.1, Sept. 1957.

38. Meyer Schapiro, “The Younger American Painters of Today,” The Listener, v. 55, no. 22, Nov. 22, 1958. This is Schapiro’s definition of such decoration. However, he excepts Pollock for the most part from this.

39. Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” op.cit.

40. Michael Fried, Three American Painters, catalog of an exhibition at the Fogg Museum, Harvard University, 1964, page 14.