For a long while, I thought Jackson Pollock (who died on this day 66 years ago) was an embodiment of all that was wrong with modern art. The sheer incomprehensiveness, an inside joke, a secret club with esoteric knowledge needed to even have any idea about it, and a lack of any aesthetic value. Abstract art in general was a completely foreign idea for me. I could see the appeal of non-figurative expression and presentation, but I didn't put any value on it as an experience of beauty. And for me, beauty was the foremost distinguishing feature I was looking for in art and wanted to feel the beauty conveyed on canvas on a spiritual level.
And there was Jackson Pollock, just splashing paint here and there, actually throwing paint from cans onto the canvas. Walking around the painting, dripping colors over it in lines or blotches. Looking like a madman, possessed and suffering and misunderstood artist. An artist, my ass. Or so I thought for years until one day I went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Even though I was living in New York City for several years already then and going to museums every weekend, on purpose I was avoiding visiting any place that had anything to do with “modern art”. But the day had come, and I put on a brave face and walked right in. It was hard to avoid paintings by Jackson Pollock, since there are huge, and were covering most of any wall where they were hung.
It took only a few moments, a few furtive looks, for my concept of dislike of this art to disappear. I was speechless, standing and then moving to one side, then to the other. Standing some more, just moving my head up and down, left and right. Moving up close to actually see the texture of the paint and see only a few square inches of the canvas. Then walking to the other side of the room to try to take in the whole picture. I couldn’t have enough of it. Even after a while, when I went to see other galleries and works of art in MoMA — it was rather cursory and speedy. I had to go back to see “Pollocks” some more. The fact of seeing it in person, up close and from the distance — but still being right there, where those paintings were, and seeing them with my eyes made all the difference. No reproduction in even the best art book can convey what can be experienced firsthand in art. Not even the highest resolution of any painting found on the internet is enough to feel the artistry. Of course, since I know I will never visit all the museums that I would like to, art books and the internet have to be a kind of substitute. But I know — any opinion on any work of art I might have based on that, can be very easily changed by even one look at the real physical creation of the artist.