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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jack­son Pol­lock 51: Short Film Cap­tures the Painter Cre­at­ing Abstract Expres­sion­ist Art

Watch Por­trait of an Artist: Jack­son Pol­lock, the 1987 Doc­u­men­tary Nar­rat­ed by Melvyn Bragg

The MoMA Teach­es You How to Paint Like Pol­lock, Rothko, de Koon­ing & Oth­er Abstract Painters

60-Sec­ond Intro­duc­tions to 12 Ground­break­ing Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hop­per, Pol­lock, Rothko & More

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.

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  • Bill W. says:

    Jack­son Pol­lock was a Work­ing-class genius. He under­stood that all he had to do was to get drunk, ran­dom­ly driz­zle paint on a can­vas, assign­ing “mean­ing” to his creations–and the “Beau­ti­ful Peo­ple”, with their wads of cash, would be attract­ed like house-flies.

    Peo­ple for­get that he’s the one who put his 1st-grade niece’s cray­on draw­ing in an art-show, label­ing it as a “Pol­lock” draw­ing. The unwit­ting chat­ter­ing-elite not only raved about it, but paid him hand­some­ly for it; under­hand­ed­ly prov­ing the point he was try­ing to make…his ador­ers (Mod­ern Art-lovers) were clue­less suck­ers who made him, and oth­er like-mind­ed artists, filthy-rich! Good for him.

  • Michael D says:

    It’s incred­i­bly naive to think that tal­ent, rather than pro­mo­tion, leads to fame.

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