How to realize his question, let alone his answer?

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Above is Jackson Pollock’s No. 1, an abstract oil painting on canvas. It looks like, well, paint splattered on a canvas. It’s chaotic, but at 6 feet tall and 9 feet wide, no doubt it’s also overwhelming. At first glance, it seems as if the colors are chosen carelessly, applied in no particular order and serves no actual purpose.

But after staring at it for a while, the painting begins to take shape. It begins to look more and more like a winter/spring scene, with the blue-white snow and pink roses in the background. The top colors, yellow and green, seem to imply that spring has come and is overtaking the winter with its vibrance and vitality…

No name but a number.
Trickles and valleys of paint
Devise this maze
Into a game of Monopoly
Without any bank. Into
A linoleum on the floor
In a dream. Into
Murals inside of the mind.
No similes here. Nothing
But paint. Such purity
Taxes the poem that speaks
Still of something in a place
Or at a time.
How to realize his question
Let alone his answer?

Now, here’s a poem by Nancy Sullivan. It speaks to the idea of abstract and modern art itself, that the observer controls what he or she sees (a Monopoly with any bank). There is, literally, nothing but paint, and its purity rejects anyone’s attempt to impose a purpose on it. We will never know why he choose to paint this piece. Unlike most art pieces, which are either reactions or imitations of the artist’s surroundings, Pollock’s art cannot be used to determine anything about his mindset or character.

The painting isn’t for the artist; it’s for the observer. By not giving the piece a name but a number, Pollock prevents the onlooker to extract anything about the painting from him, the artist. The art looks for inspiration within us, not Pollock. Thinking back to when I first reacted to the painting, I remember comparing it to things I had seen before, memories and images in my mind. And sure enough, as I had taken a long walk in the forest behind my house right before I sat down to write this blog post, I definitely noted how bad my allergies had become, thanks to the abundance of bright plants and the sweet smell of flowers…the arrival of spring. Pollock’s art is a medium for us to realize OUR questions, and OUR answers.

And that’s the beauty of abstract art. So many people lament the direction that art has taken, wishing we could return to the styles and beauty of the Renaissance and thinking, “Heck, anyone can splatter some paint on a canvas nowadays and call it art.” But this art is different. This is not Van Dyke, where today we argue whether the Arnolfini Portrait was meant to honor a beloved but dead wife, or to celebrate a marriage. This is the art of the observer, where each person derives meaning of a piece from their soul, where everyone’s vision is different but all are true.


3 thoughts on “How to realize his question, let alone his answer?

  1. boots1958 says:

    I loved how you compared the painting to the beginning of Spring. I’ll admit I didn’t see that particular description until you mentioned it. Once I looked again I could see the snow and the flowers slowly popping up. Isn’t it interesting how much detail this painting has but still seems to be a simple task to do? I definitely agree that the reason for this painting’s recognition is because of its ability to respond to each observer’s definition. Yes, that’s why I think it is so famous because of its essential detail yet simplicity which, like you said, “each person derives meaning of a piece from their soul.” Originally I saw only it’s detail, then with Sullivan, I was exposed to its simplicity. But the combination of the two leave it open to the observer and that’s its best quality.


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