Was Jackson Pollock Overrated? Behind Every Artist There’s an Art Critic, and Behind Pollock There Was Clement Greenberg

Abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock is one of the few painters whose work is easily identified by people who don’t care much for modern art.

More often than not, they’ll cite him as a prime reason they don’t want to spend a sunny Saturday at MoMA with you.

They’re entitled to their opinions, just as author Phil Edwards, host of the Vox series Overrated and a Pollock fan, is entitled to his.

In the most recent episode of Overrated, above, Edwards examines the driving force behind Pollock’s enduring fame.

His conclusion?

The muscular support of a highly influential art critic, Clement Greenberg, who was chummy enough with Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, to frolic with them in the Hamptons.

(Jeffrey Tambor appeared to have a ball playing him in Ed Harris’ Pollock biopic.)

Greenberg said one glimpse of Pollock’s 1943 “Mural” was all it took to realize that “Jackson was the greatest painter this country has produced.”

Greenberg was interested in what he called “American-Type” painting and Pollock, with his highly physical, booze-soaked macho swagger, was a “radically American” poster boy.

He was one of the first to mention Pollock in print:

He is the first painter I know of to have got something positive from the muddiness of color that so profoundly characterizes a great deal of American painting.

His cheerleading resulted in a LIFE magazine profile, “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?,” that took a travelogue approach to the artist’s drip painting process.

Their stars rose together. Though Greenberg's attention eventually wandered away to newer favorites, Pollock's career owed much to his forceful early champion.

We remember the artist better than the critic because of those giant, splattered canvases—so accessible to those looking for illustrations of why they hate modern art.  The critic’s art is more ephemeral, and unlikely to show up on umbrellas, tote bags, and other gift shop swag.

Those with an interest in Pollock—pro or con—would do well to follow Edwards' suggestion to bolster their understanding of Greenberg’s taste, and his role in promoting both Pollock and his fellow Abstract Expressionists.

Watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Overrated free online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Believer Magazine Has Put Its Entire Archive Online for Free

Founded in 2003, The Believer magazine gained a reputation for being an off-beat literary magazine with a commitment “to journalism and essays that are frequently very long, book reviews that are not necessarily timely, and interviews that are intimate, frank and also very long.” Founded by authors Vendela Vida, Ed Park and Heidi Julavits, and originally published Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, The Believer has featured contributions by Nick Hornby, Anne Carson, William T. Vollmann; columns by Amy Sedaris and Greil Marcus; and also interviews--like this one where director Errol Morris talks with filmmaker Werner Herzog.

Now published by the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las VegasThe Believer has entered a new era. It has launched a brand new web site and made its 15-year archive freely available online. It's a first for the publication. Enter the archive of the "highbrow but delightfully bizarre" magazine here.

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Every Cover of MAD Magazine, from 1952 to the Present: Behold 553 Covers from the Satirical Publication

For 65 years and counting, the pages of Mad magazine have entertained readers by satirizing all the cultural items, social fads, news items, and political issues of the moment. Throughout that span of time the covers of Mad magazine have done the same, except that they've entertained everyone, even those who've never opened an issue, whether they want it or not. Though on one level designed purely as disposable visual gags, Mad's covers collectively provide a satirical history of America, and one you can easily browse at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site, "a resource for collectors and fans of the world's most important (ecch!) humor publication."

Gilford started the site back in 1997, a year that saw Mad's covers take on such phenomena as The X-Files, the Spice Girls, the Tamagotchi, and Seinfeld. That last seizes the presumably irresistible opportunity to draw Jerry Seinfeld scowling in irritation at "Neuman" — not his nemesis-neighbor Newman, but Mad's mascot Alfred E. Neuman, who appears in one form or another on almost all of the magazine's covers.

These sort of antics had already been going on for quite some time, as evidenced, for instance, by the June 1973 cover above in which Neuman dons a Droog outfit to take the place of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — or, in Mad's, view, A Crockwork Lemon.

To see the archive's covers in a large format, you need only scroll to the desired year, click on the issue number, and then click on the image that appears. (Alternatively, those with advanced Mad knowledge can simply pick an issue number from the pull-down "Select-a-Mad" menu at the top of the page.) Gilford keeps the site updated with covers right up to the latest issue: number three, as of this writing, since the magazine "rebooted" this past June as it relocated its offices from New York to California. Recent targets have included Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump, and, of course, Donald TrumpMad's longevity may be surprising, but it certainly doesn't look like America will stop providing the ridiculousness on which it has always survived any time soon.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Big Digital Archive of Independent & Alternative Publications: Browse/Download Radical Periodicals Printed from 1951 to 2016

The consolidation of big media in print, TV, and internet has had some seriously deleterious effects on politics and culture, not least of which has been the major dependence on social media as a means of mass communication. While these platforms give space to voices we may not otherwise hear, they also flatten and monetize communication, spread abuse and disinformation, force the use of one-size-fits-all tools, and create the illusion of an open, democratic forum that obscures the gross inequities of real life.

Today’s media landscape stands in stark contrast to that of the mid-to-late twentieth century, when independent and alternative presses flourished, disseminating art, poetry, and radical politics, and offering custom platforms for marginalized communities and dissenters. While the future of independent media seems, today, unclear at best, a look back at the indie presses of decades past may show a way forward.

Paradoxically, the same technology that threatens to impose a global monoculture also enables us to archive and share thousands of unique artifacts from more heterodox ages of communication. One stellar example of such an archive, Independent Voices—“an open access collection of an alternative press”—stores several hundred digitized copies of periodicals “produced by feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Hispanics, LGBT activists, the extreme right-wing press and alternative literary magazines during the latter half of the 20th century.”

These publications come from the special collections of several dozen libraries and individuals and span the years 1951 to 2016. While examples from recent years show that alternative print publications haven’t disappeared, the richest, most historically resonant examples tend to come from the 60s and 70s, when the various strains of the counterculture formed collective movements and aesthetics, often powered by easy-to-use mimeograph machines.

As Georgia State University historian John McMillian says, the “hundreds of radical underground newspapers” that proliferated during the Vietnam war “educated and politicized young people, helped to shore up activist communities, and were the movement’s primary means of internal communication.” These publications, notes The New Yorker’s Louis Menand, represent “one of the most spontaneous and aggressive growths in publishing history.”

With publications from the era like And Ain’t I a WomanBread & Roses, Black Dialogue, Gay Liberator, Grunt Free Press, Native Movement, and The Yipster Times, Independent Voices showcases the height of countercultural activist publishing. These are only a smattering of titles on offer. Each issue is archived in a high-resolution, downloadable PDF, perfect for brushing up on your general knowledge of second-wave feminism or 60s Black Power; sourcing scholarship on the development of radical, alternative press over the past sixty years; or finding material to inspire the future of indie media, whatever form it happens to take. Enter the Independent Voices archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


National Geographic Has Digitized Its Collection of 6,000+ Vintage Maps: See a Curated Selection of Maps Published Between 1888 and Today

As some of the finest fictional world-builders have understood, few things excite the imagination like a map. And despite the geographical limitation implied by its title, National Geographic’s maps have surveyed the entire globe and beyond. The magazine’s articles have not always presented an enlightened point of view, but for all its historical failings, the richly-illustrated monthly has excelled as a showcase for cartography, over which readers might spend hours, projecting themselves into unknown lands, journeying through the carefully-drawn topographies, cityscapes, and celestial charts.

Started as the official journal of the National Geographic Society, the magazine has amassed a huge, 130-year archive of  “editorial cartography,” the National Geographic site writes. “Now, for the first time,” that collection is available online, “every map ever published in the magazine since the first issue of October 1888.”

The entire archive is only available to subscribers (however you can find curated selections on the NatGeoMaps Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts), but we can still see an astonishing quality and variety on display in dozens of maps on social media of every conceivable location, topic, and event, beginning with the very first published map, depicting the Great White Hurricane, “one of the most severe blizzards to ever hit the United States” (above)—the “start of a long tradition… of enhancing storytelling with maps.”

As longtime readers of National Geographic well know, the maps—often separable from the magazine in fold-outs suitable for hanging on the wall—function as more than visual aids. They tell their own stories. “A map is able to connect with somebody in a different way than a text will or a photo will,” notes the magazine’s director of cartography Martin Gamache. Maps “engage with a different part of our psyche or our brain.” From its earliest articulation, geography has inclined toward the poetic. The ancient geographer Strabo credited Homer as “the founder of geographical science,” who “reached the utmost limits of the earth, traversing it in his imagination.” Maps present us with a visual poetry often Homeric in its scope.

Though so many of these maps are detachable, it often helps to understand the specific context in which they were created, which doesn’t always appear in a self-contained legend. The map above, for example, published in March 1966, shows the Kremlin “in unprecedented detail,” as the magazine’s Twitter account points out: “Soviet regulations prohibited aerial photos, so artists collected diagrams and ground-level photos to draft a sketch that was brought to Moscow and corrected on the spot.” Further up, we see a map of Mexico from May 1914, “one of the first general reference maps of the country” from the National Geographic archive. The map at the top, from the December 1922 issue, is the magazine’s very first published general reference map of the world.

There are maps celestial, as above from 1957, and architectural—such as recent digital recreations of King Tut’s tomb, lately revealed to have no hidden chambers left to explore. Maps of planets beyond the solar system and planets (or “dwarf planets”) within it, such as this first published map of Pluto. Maps of rivers like the Rhine and spectacular natural formations like the Grand Canyon. There are even maps of flowers, like that published below in May 1968, showing “the origins of 117 types of blooms.” Some maps are much less joyous, like this recent series showing what the world might look like if all of the ice melted. Some are purely for fun, like this series on the geography of Star Wars and other fictional franchises.

If we can imagine it, National Geographic suggests, we can map it, and conversely, when we see a map, our imaginations are immediately engaged. Learn more at the NatGeo blog All Over the Map, and connect with many more curated maps from this huge collection at the magazine’s Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Enter “The Magazine Rack,” the Internet Archive’s Collection of 34,000 Digitized Magazines

Before we kept up with culture through the internet, we kept up with culture through magazines. That historical fact may at first strike those of us over 30 as trivial and those half a generation down as irrelevant, but now, thanks to the Internet Archive, we can all easily experience the depth and breadth of the magazine era as something more than an abstraction or an increasingly distant memory. In keeping with their apparent mission to become the predominant archive of pre-internet media, they've set up the Magazine Rack, a downloadable collection of over 34,000 digitized magazines and other monthly publications.

Magazines haven't gone away, of course, and at the Internet Archive's Magazine Rack you can do just what you might have done at a traditional magazine rack: flip through brand new issues of publications like Tech Advisor, Aviation History, and America's Civil War. But quite unlike a traditional magazine rack, where recency was all, you can also read back issues — in some cases quite far-back issues, stretching all the way to the mid-18th century. The London Magazine, or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer vol. XXII for the Year 1753, the oldest magazine on these digital shelves, offers such articles as "Remarkable accidents," "Danger of the empire's being without a head," and "Life and character of Christina, queen of Sweden."

As British magazines of the past go, it also delighted me personally to find in the Magazine Rack many issues of Computer and Video Games (also known as CVG) which did much, given its inexplicable availability at the library of the Seattle suburb where I grew up, to shape my worldview. Other titles catering to "nerdy" interests, broadly speaking, have — perhaps predictably — been archived with a special extensiveness: computer and gaming magazines have their own vast sections, but the collections of early Scientific American, sci-fi fan magazine Starlog, vintage men's magazines (some, of course, NSFW), and the long-running amateur radio journal 73 Magazine come not far behind.

The Magazine Rack also contains plenty of publications of the kind we tend to reference here on Open Culture, including quite a few titles devoted to pulp fictionthe influential Moebius- and H.R. Giger-featuring "adult fantasy magazine" Heavy Metal, the Hugo Award-winning science fiction magazine IF, and the made-for-PDF-format international art magazine Revolutionart. Spend enough browsing time there and you'll remember — or learn — that, especially in the print-saturated twentieth century, magazines didn't just let us keep up with the culture, they helped create it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Enter the Pulp Magazine Archive, Featuring Over 11,000 Digitized Issues of Classic Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Detective Fiction

Pulp Fiction will likely hold up generations from now, but the resonance of its title may already be lost to history. Pulp magazines, or “the pulps,” as they were called, once held special significance for lovers of adventure stories, detective and science fiction, and horror and fantasy. Acquiring the name from the cheap paper on which they were printed, pulp magazines might be said, in large part, to have shaped the pop culture of our contemporary world, publishing respected authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and many an unknown newcomer, some of whom became household names (in certain houses), like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the pulps opened up the publishing space that became flooded with comic books and popular novels like those of Stephen King and Michael Crichton in the latter half of the twentieth century.

They varied widely in quality and subject matter but all share certain preoccupations. Sexual taboos are explored in their naked essence or through various genre devices. Monsters, aliens, and other features of the “weird” predominate, as do the forerunners of DC and Marvel’s superhero empires in characters like the Shadow and the Phantom Detective.

Unlike higher-rent “slicks” or “glossies,” pulp magazines had license to go places respectable publications feared to tread. Genre fiction now spawns multimillion dollar franchises, one after another, purged of much of the pulps’ salacious content. But paging through the thousands of back issues available at the Pulp Magazine Archive will give you a sense of just how outré such magazines once were—a quality that survived in the underground comics and zines of the 60s and beyond and in genre tabloids like Scream Queens

The enormous archive contains over 11,000 digitized issues of such titles as If, True Detective Mysteries, Witchcraft and Sorcery, Weird Tales, Uncensored Detective, Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, and Adventure ("America's most exciting fiction for men!"). It also features early celebrity rags like Movie Pictorial and Hush Hush, and retrospectives like Dirty Pictures, a 1990s comic reprinting the often quite misogynist pulp art of the 30s.

There's great science fiction, no small amount of creepy teen boy wish-fulfillment, and lots of lurid, noir appeals to fantasies of sex and violence. Swords and sorcery, guns and trussed-up pin-ups, and plenty of creature features. The pulps were once mass culture’s id, we might say, and they have now become its ego.

Enter the Pulp Magazine Archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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