A Quick Six Minute Journey Through Modern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Painting, “The Luncheon on the Grass,” to Jackson Pollock 1950s Drip Paintings

Even those not inti­mate­ly famil­iar with Jack­son Pol­lock­’s work know to file him under a cat­e­go­ry called “abstract expres­sion­ism,” but some­how his mas­sive paint­ings — and the lay­er upon lay­er of drips that con­sti­tute their visu­al and tex­tur­al sur­face — still seem to slip cat­e­go­riza­tion. Some of the painter’s fans would sure­ly claim that, more than six­ty years after his death, he does indeed still stand apart. But how far apart, real­ly? Evan Puschak, bet­ter known as the Nerd­writer, takes on that ques­tion in the video essay above, “How Art Arrived at Jack­son Pol­lock.”

Puschak con­sid­ers a par­tic­u­lar Pol­lock paint­ing from 1950, “the only abstract work of art that has ever floored me in per­son as soon as my eyes caught it,” and asks why appre­ci­a­tion comes so much more eas­i­ly for him with it than with oth­er non-fig­u­ra­tive works of art. “I don’t think the pow­er of this Pol­lock depends on its place in the his­to­ry of art.” he says. “Its style, its use of col­or, its hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty are intrin­sic qual­i­ties, but I do think the his­to­ry of art has a lot to say.” In many ways, “they’re the cul­mi­na­tion of some­thing that has a fog­gy begin­ning about a cen­tu­ry or two before, with the grad­ual end of church and noble patron­age of the arts and the dawn of painters paint­ing what was impor­tant to them.”

This line of think­ing sets Puschak in search of the begin­ning of mod­ern art itself, which some find in the ear­ly 1860s in the high­ly fig­u­ra­tive work of Edouard Manet, with its “flat­tened” imagery and “scan­dalous sub­ject mat­ter.” Mon­et and his col­leagues brought about the move­ment known as Impres­sion­ism, “con­cern­ing them­selves not with the objects they see in the world but how the light plays off them.” From then on the degree of abstrac­tion inten­si­fies with each sub­se­quent move­ment in paint­ing, and by the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry “art has unrav­eled. Its cen­turies-long aim of repro­duc­ing the phys­i­cal world in per­spec­tive, col­or and form is rapid­ly being aban­doned.”

The high­ly com­pressed six-minute jour­ney that Puschak takes through art his­to­ry to get him to Pol­lock­’s “drip paint­ings,” which the artist began cre­at­ing in the 1940s, also includes stops at post impres­sion­ism; the work of Vin­cent Van Gogh (notably his “ugli­est mas­ter­piece” Night Cafe, sub­ject of a pre­vi­ous Nerd­writer analy­sis); Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky and Pablo Picas­so; Dada and the Sur­re­al­ist Man­i­festo, all in the span of less than a hun­dred years. “A fast-chang­ing world con­tributed huge­ly, of course, but beyond that I do believe there’s a dri­ve in us to take things as far as they can go, and the cen­tu­ry of mod­ern art is an exhil­a­rat­ing exam­ple of that” — and the oeu­vre of Pol­lock him­self remains an exam­ple of “how irre­press­ible human cre­ativ­i­ty can be.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Dripped: An Ani­mat­ed Trib­ute to Jack­son Pollock’s Sig­na­ture Paint­ing Tech­nique

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.