PRINT March 1973



An iconography of Jackson Pollock’s images is no easy matter. E.H. Gombrich in his Symbolic Images, Studies in the Art of the Renaissance warns iconographers of the dangers of their method, “disparate interpretations . . . offered by several scholars, each supported by a wealth of erudition” (p. vii). When correcting one error in Judith Wolfe’s pioneering article “Jungian Aspects of Jackson Pollock’s Imagery,” in November’s Artforum (Miss Wolfe herself brought this to my attention as a possible error), I fortunately am not suggesting a “disparate interpretation” but rather am amplifying one of her major points: Jackson Pollock’s interest in the Jungian idea of the union of opposites, specifically male and female. Miss Wolfe, following the suggestion of Sir Herbert Read and Lawrence Alloway, relates Pollock’s Moon Woman Cuts the Circle, 1943, to a Jungian text and an accompanying illustration, a Haida Indian tattoo pattern representing the woman in the moon. Though the text Psychology of the Unconscious was published as early as 1916 in English, the illustration made its first appearance in the fourth German edition, Symbole der Wandlung (Zurich, 1952), then again in the English translation of this edition, Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works, vol. 5, Bollingen Series XX, New York, 1956). Thus the illustration appeared too late to account for the tattoo pattern in Moon Woman Cuts the Circle.

The origin of this crescent tattoo pattern may be found, however, in Jackson Pollock’s own evolution of images for male and female. In an Untitled painting c. 1938–41 (I’m using Francis V. O’Connor’s dating) and a related Study Drawing c. 1938–41 (Fig. 1) variations on a motif traditionally accepted as sexual (Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, New York, 1916, p. 228), sun projecting its rays into the crescent moon, or eye locked into crescent moon, or the two so joined as to form a volute foetal shape, appear, sometimes as doodles, sometimes featured on the circular mask worn by a human figure. That the crescent moon is viewed as female by Pollock is confirmed by one of the psychoanalytic drawings 1939–40 in which he constructs the figure of a woman out of the various female symbols, one of which is the crescent moon. In Mask, c. 1938–41, (Fig. 2) the male sun or eye is replaced by an Indian or Aztec face lodged in the crescent moon with its striated border. In Masqued Image, c. 1938–41, and in Birth, c. 1938–41, and in Bird, c. 1938–41, a disk is lodged in a striated crescent form in such a way as to create a new foetal form or a new larger disc. Miss Wolfe in discussing Birth and Bird calls these “mask motifs” because of a possible relation with the mask motif in Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon. If one recognizes these motifs as being part of the evolution I have just traced, then the subject matter of birth and of male-female union, already touched upon by Miss Wolfe, is further clarified.

In discussing Moon Woman, 1942, Miss Wolfe notes the moon woman’s strange eye pierced by a crescent shape. Equally interesting is the unnoted crescent-disc motif hovering in the air in front of the moon woman. It is mirrored in her gaze. In Moon Woman Cuts the Circle, (Fig. 3), the moon woman’s contemplation of male-female union gives way to an actual enactment of it. The figure of the 1942 moon woman is still present but more fully differentiated into her female and male parts. The crescent on the left is the female and the feathered Indian head on the right is the male. Recall the male role of the Indian head in Mask. Also see the related Untitled Drawing, 1943, (Fig. 4) in which a crescent shape threatens a feathered creature. In the painting the crescent wielding a dagger cuts out the third eye of the male head. Here we have a very likely source for the title. Literally the moon woman cuts the circle. There is a gash in the male head and the eye is seen connected to the dagger by a red line. The single eye or the third eye is traditionally a symbol of Selfhood, therefore of union between opposites, as Miss Wolfe has pointed out in conjunction with Bird. As this symbol of union falls between the male and the female, it generates a flow of diamond shapes. The diamond in the belly of a voluptuous female in Drawing, c. mid-’40s, (Fig. 68, Bryan Robertson, Jackson Pollock, London, 1960) confirms the association of the diamond shape with fecundity. Another clue to the subject matter of the painting is the number 6. Miss Wolfe points out this number as a symbol of fusion between male and female in Alchemy, 1947. It also appears appropriately in the lower left of Moon Woman Cuts the Circle.

Thus this tantalizing possibility of directly relating a work of Pollock to a Jungian illustration and text is laid to rest. The illustration was not available to Pollock in 1943. Of course, he could have looked at the text. But his images do not directly mesh with the Hottentot legend about men “cutting off a sizeable piece” of the feminine sun. As I have outlined, another source for the images and the title of Moon Woman Cuts the Circle is available—in Pollock’s own evolution of images to express his general preoccupation with the Jungian theme, union of opposites.

—Elizabeth Langhorne
New York City

Since 1967 I have been doing folded paper drawings and torn paper drawings. I wanted them to be relatively inexpensive so that they would be available to many people. The price was $100 each. Some dealers, however, have sold them for more. If any- one has paid more than $100 for one of these drawings, please go back to the dealer from whom it was bought and get a refund for the difference.

—Sol Lewitt
New York City

Concerning “The Quality Question” [“The Quality Problem”] by Bruce Boice in your October issue: is not “the context of a purpose” in evaluating art precisely a peculiar, ineffable, but very real gratification of the senses and intellect? As diverse as they are, Rembrandt’s self-portrait in the Frick Gallery, the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Watteau’s Gilles, Picasso’s Head of a Screaming Woman, the Kouros from Anavysos in the National Museum in Athens all have the power to provide this singular experience. Obviously it is subjective; so, ultimately, is all experience, including the pleasure one might derive from a stone which is good for throwing at a target.

I fully agree with Mr. Boice’s contextualistic position and recognition that value is not objective. My quibble is-that Boice appears to dismiss the validity of aesthetic quality completely (“The question of quality here is simply irrelevant not to say trivial” p. 70).

In evaluating art some people are satisfied with a “gut reaction,” others construct systems. A few, however, are only trying to understand the causes of their subjective experience of value.

I agree that aesthetic quality is not definable in words precisely because it is defined in objects. Furthermore, it does not matter if everyone does not experience pleasure from works of art, only if some people do. Such a proposition, of course, suggests an “elitist” position, but is there another attitude in the arts that makes sense? If Bode, Jakob Rosenberg, Seymore Slive, Benesch, Bredius, Valentiner, Hofstede de Groot, and Stechow agree on the quality of a particular Rembrandt painting or drawing, we are probably as close to an absolute value as we are likely to get.

The evaluation of new art is inestimably more difficult, for history has not yet made even preliminary decisions about significant styles or artists. Yet the history of past art is made up of the accumulated decisions of exactly such an “elite.” (The bad record of some critics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is irrelevant. That period posed special problems and conditions which existed neither before nor since.) Evaluations about present art by Leo Steinberg, Meyer Schapiro, Clement Greenberg, Dore Ashton, Barbara Rose, Harold Rosenberg, Walter Darby Bannard, William Rubin, and a number of others are important and at least some of them will ultimately contribute to the history of the art of the present.

No matter how important content is, no matter how interesting the sociology and psychology of art, no matter how significant the creative act,value (quality) finally is exactly what art is about.

—Edward B. Henning
Cleveland, Ohio

Mr. Henning is correct: I do “dismiss the validity of esthetic quality completely.” The problem is not with the “few” who “are only trying to understand the causes of their subjective experience of value”; the problem is when those few have understood “the causes” and try to infer from that understanding sentences about the art work rather than sentences about themselves. Without rehearsing the whole argument, it should be pointed out that though “the bad record” of certain 19th- and 20th-century critics may be irrelevant to Mr. Henning’s point about accumulated decisions of connoisseurs forming a near absolute value, the ascription of a “bad record” to these critics is not irrelevant to his argument and to the problem. These critics thought a certain way and we think a different way which constitutes a disagreement but does not constitute a determination that they were wrong. “The bad record of some critics” amounts to a failure on their part to predict how we would think about those subjects they discussed. In accordance with Mr. Henning’s principle of value by consensus, my argument is clearly wrong as my mail is running 3 to 2 against me, but this also means that my argument is at least 2/5 correct; the big question becomes which 2/5?

—Bruce Boice
Hartford, Connecticut

I would like to correct certain errors in the review of my show at the Paley and Lowe gallery that appeared in Artforum, January, 1973.

First of all, I did not use silver tape; I used tape that was white. The black tape was used in the making of the maps. The lines on the map were not straight, but curved to conform with the steps of my movement through the landscape. The spaces between my steps are the energy sources created by the interexchange of my thought upon the earth’s surface. The photographs that I used dealt only with my personal observations which is stated in the diary. None of the photographs were blow-ups since there is no change in scale from my observations. One may retrace the various reference points of my observation from the distance of my body to the surface. A duality existed between fixed points in space and the symbolic configurations of the substances by which I created the essence of a particular area I was viewing. Therefore, not all the material was an exact reproduction. The areas were a meditative act to recreate an image that I perceived of the landscape. As for “Renaissance perspective,” the perspective varies by my movement upon the energy sources.

The paintings are not mud. They were different earth substances from various parts of the United States. The reddish-orange painting was from the Northeast and the gray-purple painting was from the Southeast, bringing forth the spirits of the earth. There was no charcoal in the tree-time tracings, but resin.

About the dating of the piece, I have had similar experiences since 1962 that are the source of my work. The art world does not only exist in the last ten years; there is an entire art history in which there are probably many cross references that could have been made with my art.

—Alan Sonfist
New York City

On December 26, 1972 Willis F. Woods, Director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, removed two photographs from the Institute’s 59th Michigan Artists Exhibition (December 12, 1972–January 28, 1973). The two photographs had been negatively criticized by some patrons of the Institute and by the Detroit newspapers during the first two weeks of the show. These photographs, Belle Isle Men’s Room, by Brad Iverson, and Wamba, by Bill Butt, had been awarded prizes by the show’s jurors who were: Dean Swanson, Chief Curator, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Mrs. John Varian, Director, Finch College Museum of Art, Contemporary Wing; and James Monte, Curator, The Whitney Museum of American Art.

As exhibitors in this show, we deplore Mr. Woods’ act of censorship. We feel that the Detroit Institute of Arts, through Mr. Woods, has violated its responsibility to artists and undermined its credibility. Further, we feel that the Institute, by overriding the decision of its jurors, has called into question the methods of critical judgment.

A suit was filed by Butt and Iverson against the City of Detroit, its Arts Commission, and Willis F. Woods asking for a court injunction requiring the Institute to replace the photographs in the show. On January 2, 1973, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman ordered this be done.

—Barry Avedon
Lynne Cohen
Noreen Greeno
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Editor’s Note: Wamba by William Butt was a five-photograph close-up sequence of a man pulling down his undershorts. Bradley Iverson’s work, Belle Isle Men’s Room, depicted exactly that. Their suit, a complaint for injunctive relief, contended that a contractual relationship between the parties arose from the invitation to exhibit promulgated by the Detroit Institute of Arts for the purpose of presenting the exhibition, specifically from the entry fee, the requirement that entered works be for sale with a commission for the museum, and that work submitted and accepted be publically exhibited during the period of the exhibition. Payment of the entry fee by the artists and the evaluation of their work by jurors, selected by and acting for the defendants, constituted the formation of the individual contracts between artists and defendants. Further it was argued that the removal of the artists’ works by the museum was a arbitrary and capricious act from which the artists had suffered “immediate harm and irreparable injury,” in violation of their rights to free speech and expression under the First Amendment to the Constitution and due process under the Fifth Amendment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Keller, Cohn, Downs, and Svenson, cited cases in their brief (e.g. The New York Times & Co. v United States, 403 US 713 (1971)) in which state and federal courts had declared unconstitutional abusive exercises of discretion by public officials which had the effect of censoring, impairing, or subverting constitutionally protected freedoms. The Court order that the works be restored to the exhibition was complied with on the date it was issued.