This Week's Inspiration- Abstract Expressionism, Post-War America, and New Beginnings

by - Sunday, January 11, 2015

This year, I am going to try to give each week an art theme that ties into some of the things on my mind. Sometimes, when we go to museum, especially ones that display contemporary art, the works we see on display can seem really distant and removed from anything in life. This is the opposite of the truth! In the Post-WWII years, modern art literally traveled closer to us, as the center of the art world's attention moved to New York and the Abstract Expressionists. These artists (mostly men, but we can talk more about that later) set off a chain reaction in art that would bridge the gap between fine art and everyday labor, concerns, even bringing in the junk of everyday life. The thinking of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newmann, and their acceptance by art dealers created a new interest and new direction for art.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled, 1942-44 from nationalgalleries.org
Most people can recognize a drippy, allover Jackson Pollock painting, but did you know he was trained by WPA muralists? He only came to what we know by way of a long brush with Jung, psychoanalysis, and an arguably more talented wife. His original training, with famous muralist Thomas Hart Benton, was much more historically motivated and thoughtful. He learned there to work in large scale, but I doubt what he ended up with is what Benton had in mind. In the course of his career, Pollock went from this:

Jackson Pollock, Going West, 1934 from twitter.com
To paintings like these:
Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five, 1947- from  ibiblio.org
To get there, he went through another phase we don't often consider.  In the early 40's, Pollock combined automatism (the Surrrealists process of just drawing without thinking) and a strain of psychology where this kind of drawing could offer you new information about your own subconscious (or the unconcious symbols each individual collects in their own mind). He began this as part of his treatment for alcoholism, but the concept of letting the work erupt out of the artist without much deep thought became the root of his practice.

Here at the start of the year, I feel like many of us are thinking about starting afresh, and I feel like one of the lessons we can take from his process (and long and boozey road to his signature style) is that starting new requires the kinds of detours that change the way you think about yourself and what you are doing. It hardly ever is as simple as one decision and TADA! New You! So as I think about things I want to change and the larger direction I want this year to take, I am going to spend the rest of January thinking about AbEx (and more contemporary work that still resonates with their ideas)- so I hope that it can be helpful to you too!


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