How did Jackson Pollock change the way Abstract Expressionism is viewed?

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism was preceded by Surrealism and gained a consciousness of spontaneous and subconscious acts of artistic expression. According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Abstract Expressionism grew in New York among a loosely associated group of artists; it was also called "The New York School." Abstract Expressionists experimented with forms that would support "significant content." They broke away from conventions in "technique and subject matter." The scale of works experimented with were "monumental" in scale. The scale of the work reflected their personal "individual psyches" and, it was hoped, reflected "universal inner sources," which were goals that reflected Carl Jung's school of psychology. They assigned artistic value to process above all while giving high value to "spontaneity and improvisation" in their artwork.

Jackson Pollock

Pollock changed Abstract Expressionism by creating dripping, or drip painting: "a radical new technique, pouring and dripping thinned paint onto raw canvas laid on the ground." To Pollock, this was his "gesture," his "revelation of the artist's authentic identity." This gesture gives evidence to the viewer of the "actual process of the work's creation" (MMA).

On the floor I am more at ease, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting… Since this way I can walk around in it… Work from the four sides and be literally ‘in’ the painting. (Pollock qtd on Color Vision and Art).

Pollock rejected the constraints of composition. His drip, or "action," paintings provided no focus, no focal point for the viewer's eye. The viewer's peripheral vision was engaged with no resting of focal stopping point composed by artist (Color Vision and Art).


Stella Paul. "Abstract Expressionism." The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"American Abstract Expressionism: Painting Action and Colorfields." Color Vision and Art.

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pollock bridged the gap between intentionality and accident in Abstract Expressionism.  By concentrating on the means of applying paint to canvas, instead of on the shape of the painted object, he returned us to the state of “mixing” raw colors in the mind that George Seurat, the pointillist, was introducing a century earlier. Today modern technology can actually determine Jackson’s work, can authenticate a Pollock painting, from random paint splashes by measuring the energy, direction, order of application, etc. (gestural analysis), of the work, rather than the image itself.  Pollock’s lasting contribution is the addition of the viewer’s eye to the artistic result, not to make shapes or find representations of life, but to stimulate the eye, by giving it a task to perform in the creation.  Before him, art had to represent something.  After him, art was something.

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