Friday, November 26, 2010

I defended Jackson Pollock tonight to a ten year old art snob

Jackson Pollack's expressionistic abstract "Lavender Mist"

My acrylic expressionistic abstract "Gathering Forces"


Yes, I, actually defended Jackson Pollock tonight. I don't know which is more ridiculous: that, or that I was doing so to a ten year old arrogant girl who, with completely brazen confidence, stated that she could "...throw paint at a canvas and do it better than Pollock". Yes, better than Pollock. Ten years old and better than Pollock.

Okay, first off I have never been a Pollock fan. I have a tortured memory of studying for an art history class, where at 3 a.m. I read in my art history text, "Jackson Pollock was an artistic genius who exploited the drip.".  After a long week of classes, all nighters and deadlines, I almost hurled bodily fluids when I read that line. I shut the book, threw it across the room and went to bed. It was the last thing I wanted to read or see of Pollock. However, that was over twenty years ago and yes, I have changed. Changed from doing realism to a more abstract expressionism/impressionism, and have realized just how difficult it is to do well. In fact, it is the HARDEST thing I have ever tried to do artistically. Realism is easy in comparison.

So back to tonight, at the store where I have my artwork on display. There is a store wide anniversary event going on and there are all kinds of people and their kids there. Very posh, very upper crust. I am perusing an ecobook, and about two yards away I see two girls, aged somewhere between 9 and 11 looking at my large abstract. The taller girl scoffs at the price and then says impetuously, "Oh I could do THAT!".

I can't help myself, the die has been cast. I call over to her, "Really, you could do that?"
She confidently and without flinching strides over and states matter-of-factly, "Yes, yes I could.".
"Oh really", I reply, unimpressed.
"Oh yes, I could do it easy".
"You sound pretty confident about that", I calmly respond, even though I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. Her sidekick chimes in, "Oh yes, she's very confident".
Little Ms. Confident then blurts out, "It's easy, I could throw a bunch of paint at a canvas and be better than Pollock".

That did it. Better than Pollock?! I may have been no fan of Mr. Pollock back in the 80's, but I was young then. Fourteen some years older than little Miss Confident, but still too young to understand. It was at this exact moment that it crystallized, twenty five years later - I get it.  I get what it means to be an artist and to struggle to express the verbally inexpressible, visually. I may not fully appreciate the aesthetics of Mr. Pollock's work, HOWEVER, I get what he was trying to do as an artist. His struggle within and without, decades of dedication to his work while people criticized the vulnerable expression of his artistic truth. Better than Pollock, eh?

"So if you think you can do it then, where is your canvas, your paint? Come on now, show me, show me how you can do better than Pollock and don't copy either, something completely fresh and new from your head, right now".

"I don't have any canvas with me", she refutes the challenge but knows she's losing. Yes, yes I am winning a battle of wits with a ten year old!

"Talk is cheap", I calmly retort. A woman walking by, having overheard this exchange, lets out a laugh.

I continue the challenge, "Show me".

There's an awkward moment. Her sidekick tries to change the subject and "show" me some sort of ball thing that she pretends to conjure from thin air in her hand. I look over at her hand she has thrust out towards me. Little Miss Confident, then mimics her friend, in an almost sociopathic calm, and again, in her confident and arrogant way, thrusts her hand passive-aggressively towards my face, showing me, well, nothing. I look down at her, just because of my size mind you. She's shorter so, hey, I had to look down at her and her hand.

"That," looking at her empty hand, "is NOT impressive. "That", pointing to my painting, "IS!".

She was speechless. I didn't wait for a response, I just walked away.

You know, I have never been one to call my work impressive (there is so much room to grow), but I just had to, to make a point. That being that dedicating one's life to something so chided, so skewered, so publicly open to criticism and bracing against the slings and arrows of that criticism while continuing forward to find one's artistic truth, well, that takes pretty big cajones. Well, either that or a thick skull but I'll go with cajones on this one.

There were more artistic challenges to the evening, but I've highlighted this one in particular. Mr. Pollock, I get it, and I am sorry I ever bad-mouthed your work. Who would have thought I would feel a kinship with him, but I sure as heck do, and I would defend his work as strenuously as any other artists'. And amazingly enough, my own work as well. I have little Ms. Confident to thank for that.

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