Jackson Pollock is Trash and Abstract Expressionism Needs to Die

Jackson Pollock's 'No. 5', a meaningless mess. (Photo courtesy of Jackson-Pollock.org.)

When I look at the oeuvres of old masters like Raphael, Rembrandt or Van Eyck, I feel inspired. Even more modern and non-traditional painters like Egon Schiele, Frantisek Kupka, Giorgio di Chirico and Mœbius move me with their works. I can find something to appreciate in almost any painting you throw at me, but I just can’t stand Jackson Pollock's.

Pollock was an acclaimed American painter who rose to global prominence in the mid-20th century. He’s famed for his work in pioneering the unfortunately enduring abstract expressionist art style, a movement that seeks to portray emotion in the form of banal mishmashes of colour.

Pollock employed his infamous ‘drip technique’ in the creation of his most notable paintings. This involves pouring house paint – yes, house paint – directly out of a bucket, or from the edge of a tool, and onto a canvas without any forethought. The artist’s typical painting arsenal consisted of knives, syringes, sticks and the occasional brush, if he really felt like it. He coated or filled these objects with paint and then swung them around until he was satisfied with the chaos that ensued.

This directly defies centuries painstakingly perfected painting techniques passed down from master to pupil. Pollock’s labours resulted in what art critic Robert Hughes referred to as a “furious congestion of signs and scribbles,” that pale in comparison to the powerful beauty and raw emotion that other artists can create and evoke, respectively.  

Pollock’s most famous piece, No.5 (pictured in the header image), is spastic, devoid of any rhyme or reason and completely ignorant of colour theory. To me, it seems to have taken about as much creativity to make as its title. Yet, in 2006, it was purchased for a record $140 million, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold.

It’s infuriating that this kaleidoscopic vomit has exceeded true masterpieces like Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer 1  ($135 million) and Titian’s The Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos ($70 million) in value. While still not in league with truly priceless works like Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night or Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, it’s nothing short of abhorrent that something so uninteresting could even approach them in desirability. (I don’t think the Mona Lisa is particularly interesting either but that’s a debate for another day.)

Pollock’s style of painting is a cancer on the art world. It eats away at its creative minds and leads them down the dark path of profit-oriented art. Coffee shops and art galleries across the globe are full of abstract expressionist garbage (and its derivatives: art informel, tachisme, abstract impressionism) their price tags ranging from outrageous to unbelievable.

What struggling young artist wouldn’t set aside his or her integrity, creativity and talent to paint like Pollock or Willem de Kooning – another absurdly high-value abstract expressionist – for an easy few hundred dollars? It’s child’s play to make and there’s huge demand for it thanks to the presiding middle class desire to buy anything that makes its owner appear cultured and tasteful.

Pollock’s paint-storms flooded the market and choked off true innovation. He made producing thoughtless, low-effort art profitable. Abstract expressionism set the bar so low that contemporary “artists” like Damian Hirst are able to get away with selling paintings like Oleoylsarcosine (pictured below) for $50,000.

Artist Damian Hirst posing in front of  Oleoylsarcosine , the world’s most valuable joke. (Photo by Andrew Russeth.)

Artist Damian Hirst posing in front of Oleoylsarcosine, the world’s most valuable joke. (Photo by Andrew Russeth.)

I pray for the day when some artistic – or at least marketing – genius finally flushes down all the American modernist drek that still circles the drain.