Monday, 20 April 2009

Pollock v. Rothko - an abstract battle to contemplate

It is very easy to knock abstract modern art in general and the large works of Jackson Pollock [AKA "Jack-the-Dripper"] and Mark Rothko in particular. In both cases the "a child could have done that" factor is never far from the surface and that the Tate may have hung a Rothko on its side didn't help. I am not qualified to be an advocate of their artistic merit or otherwise but, having spent a couple of hours in New York's MoMA last week drinking in some of their canvasses, I must say that I do find some of these two artists' works most therapeutic.

With Pollock, you never see the same thing twice - he doesn't direct you to what he wants you to see, he just leaves you to your thoughts. At risk of sounding too Jungian, he seems to go straight for the unconscious mind. The scale of his One: Number 31, 1950 is awesome - I got lost in there for an age.

Contemplating Rothko is similar, but harder work. I managed to get to the recent Tate Modern exhibition on three occasions and was able to spend some time with those monumental Seagram Murals, so was very pleased to be able to follow this up at MoMA. Rothko's No. 16 (Red, Brown and Black) 1958 was particularly striking. There is something about the tones in these great blocks of colour that is somehow both challenging and reassuring.

Of the two, I would take Pollock's works every time. The poster for the Pollock exhibition at the Tate in 1999 used the tag line, "You can always spot a Pollock - it has genius splashed all over it" - they were not wrong.

A Jackson Pollock on the wall of my study would certainly help keep the day-to-day issues at work in perspective, but I am not sure that I would get a lot of work done.


  1. I'll be honest and say I didn't have you down as an art lover. So it's good to see you approaching issues of meaning and interpretation from an abstract angle.

    Personally, I'll take Rothko every time, so I'm sorry to say that our tastes diverge at this point.

    If I were in the mood for being playfully Jungian I could suggest you like looking for order amongst the chaos, while I prefer to find deeper meaning and potential amongst the neatly presented structures that already exist.

    As with most things in education, it all boils down to a matter of perspective, doesn't it?

  2. We had a discussion in Common Room about this - definitely Pollock for me!!

  3. Who's not qualified to be an art critic? In the absence of any objective definition of art, all opinions are subjective and therefore equally valid. If you don't like it, you don't like it; doesn't matter who does like it or who painted it.