Dumb Luck, or Divine Path?

Recently we saw a movie, and in the movie, a painting was featured that piqued our curiosity. The painting portrayed was valuable, albeit quite untraditional (think colored scribbles laid out in random fashion). When we returned home, we searched on the Internet to learn more about the artist who created the painting.

We discovered that the painting was created by Jackson Pollock. Jackson was the originator of a technique called “action painting.” Up until this time, the majority of paintings were created in a vertical position, utilizing thick oil-based paints on canvas and applied with a variety of brushes. However, Jackson changed the rules and forged a new path in the visual arts.

Let’s look at how Pollock changed the art world forever, and went from an unknown to a world famous painter. We’ll go to his Wiki to learn more about his creative journey. We’ve added our thoughts in italics as we read portions his biography below.

Jackson was born in 1912 in Cody, WY. Both of Jackson’s parents died within a year of the other, and his neighbors adopted him. Jackson grew up in Arizona and Chico, California.

Jackson knew what hardship was early on, and that set the stage for his independence, creativity, and risk taking.

While living in Echo Park, California, he enrolled at Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School, from which he was expelled. He had already been expelled in 1928 from another high school.

It seems that Jackson was quite the rebel due to his creative nature.

When Jackson was 18, he followed his older brother Charles Pollock, and moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League. Benton’s rural American subject matter had little influence on Pollock’s work, but his rhythmic use of paint and his fierce independence were more lasting. In the early 1930s, Pollock spent a summer touring the Western United States together with Glen Rounds, a fellow art student, and Benton, their teacher.

Jackson was not afraid of change and risk, and understood the value of sitting under a teacher/mentor while learning the craft he was passionate about. He was also making relationships.

From 1938 to 1942, during the Great Depression, Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project.

More hardship for Jackson, but he found a way to continue doing what he loved while generating revenue. We are sure these were lean times for Jackson.

Pollock signed a gallery contract with Peggy Guggenheim in July 1943. He received the commission to create Mural (1943), which measures roughly 8 feet tall by 20 feet long, for the entry to her new townhouse.

Jackson found a connection to the wealthy and famous. Guggenheim operated a famous gallery and museum. It appears this was a random relationship, however it sprung out of his relocation to New York and his studying with known artists. This was a relationship driven opportunity. Had he played it safe and stayed in California, this relationship may have never materialized.

At the suggestion of her friend and advisor, Marcel Duchamp, Pollock painted the work on canvas rather than the wall, so that it would be portable.

That was a great idea! Jackson could take his work around and show it in other venues. He capitalized on other’s suggestions and ideas, and applied them in his journey.

After seeing the big mural, the art critic Clement Greenberg wrote: “I took one look at it and I thought, ‘Now that’s great art,’ and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced.”

Jackson turned heads with his unique creativity even before his discovery of a new method and medium in the art world. His studying paid off early as his credibility was being established, and more doors were opened to him because of his reputation.

In October 1945, Pollock married the American painter Lee Kranser. In November, they moved out of the city to the Springs area of East Hampton on the south shore of Long Island. With the help of a down-payment loan from Peggy Guggenheim, they bought a wood-frame house and barn. Pollock converted the barn into a studio. In that space, he perfected his big “drip” technique of working with paint, with which he would become permanently identified.

The relationship with Guggenheim paid off again and again in his life, and provided him the stability to start his family and have a facility to discover what would become his calling card in his career.

Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936 at an experimental workshop in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Jackson continued to be open to learning, expanding his mind and exploring possibilities. He never stopped learning or experimenting.

He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques on canvases of the early 1940s, such as Male and Female and Composition with Pouring I. After his move to Springs, he began painting with his canvases laid out on the studio floor, and he developed what was later called his “drip” technique. He started using synthetic resin-based paints called alkyd enamels, which, at that time, was a novel medium.

And here is the discovery that would change his life and career!

Pollock described this use of household paints, instead of artist’s paints, as “a natural growth out of a need.” Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint is thought to be one of the origins of the term “action painting”. With this technique, Pollock was able to achieve a more immediate means of creating art, the paint now literally flowing from his chosen tool onto the canvas. By defying the convention of painting on an upright surface, he added a new dimension by being able to view and apply paint to his canvases from all directions.

You have to be first, best, or different. Being one is great, being two is awesome, having all three is incredible and can change culture!

You have to be first, best, or different. Being one is great, being two is awesome, having all three is incredible and can change culture!

Pollock’s most famous paintings were made during the “drip period” between 1947 and 1950. He rocketed to fame following an August 8, 1949 four-page spread in Life magazine that asked, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?”

Jackson dared to be different, took a risk, and created new content that could have been rejected by the establishment and consumers, yet it resonated with the masses. The masses at that time were ready for abstract art. Pollock took the risk and was rewarded! Dumb luck, or divine path?

In 2013, Pollock’s Number 19 (1948) was sold by Christie’s for a reported $58,363,750 during an auction that ultimately reached $495 million total sales in one night, which Christie’s reports as a record to date as the most expensive auction of contemporary art.

In February 2016, Bloomberg News reported that Kenneth C. Griffin had purchased Jackson Pollock’s 1948 painting, Number 17A, for $200 million, from David Geffen.


In Conclusion:

Even though Jackson’s world was the visual, his life lessons can apply to anyone creative, whether it be as a songwriter, musician, writer, or anyone for that matter.

Here’s the takeaway: Was Jackson a beneficiary of dumb luck, or divine path? It may be one or the other, or a combination of both. The biography did not make mention if Jackson was a Christian, but in our opinion, God uses all of our stories to create His story. He uses His creations, imperfect vessels, to usher in new creativity through a variety of situations, circumstances, decisions, and opportunities. He seems to want to do this with those who are daring, risk takers, learners and doers.

We love learning about other’s journeys. There is much to learn from other’s success and failure. How is your journey going? We’d love to hear from you!

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