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  • If you visit a museum with a collection of modern and contemporary art,

  • you're likely to see works that sometimes elicit the response,

  • "My cat could make that, so how is it art?"

  • A movement called Abstract Expressionism, also known as the New York School,

  • gets this reaction particularly often.

  • Abstract Expressionism started in 1943

  • and developed after the end of World War II.

  • It's characterized by large, primarily abstract paintings,

  • all-over compositions without clear focal points,

  • and sweeping swaths of paint embodying and eliciting emotions.

  • The group of artists who are considered Abstract Expressionists

  • includes Barnett Newman with his existential zips,

  • Willem de Kooning, famous for his travestied women,

  • Helen Frankenthaler, who created soak-stains,

  • and others.

  • But perhaps the most famous, influential, and head-scratching one

  • was Jackson Pollock.

  • Most of his paintings are immediately recognizable.

  • They feature tangled messes of lines of paint

  • bouncing around in every direction on the canvas.

  • And sure, these fields of chaos are big and impressive,

  • but what's so great about them?

  • Didn't he just drip the paint at random?

  • Can't anyone do that?

  • Well, the answer to these questions is both yes and no.

  • While Pollock implemented a technique anyone is technically capable of

  • regardless of artistic training,

  • only he could have made his paintings.

  • This paradox relates to his work's roots

  • in the Surrealist automatic drawings of André Masson and others.

  • These Surrealists supposedly drew directly from the unconscious

  • to reveal truths hidden within their minds.

  • Occasionally, instead of picturing something and then drawing it,

  • they let their hands move automatically

  • and would later tease out familiar figures that appeared in the scribbles.

  • And after Pollock moved away from representation,

  • he made drip, or action, paintings following a similar premise,

  • though he developed a signature technique

  • and never looked for images or messages hidden in the works.

  • First, he took the canvas off of the easel and laid it on the floor,

  • a subversive act in itself.

  • Then, in a controlled dance, he stepped all around the canvas,

  • dripping industrial paint onto it from stirrers and other tools,

  • changing speed and direction

  • to control how the paint made contact with the surface.

  • These movements, like the Surrealist scribbles,

  • were supposedly born out of Pollock's subconscious.

  • But unlike the Surrealists,

  • whose pictures represented the mind's hidden contents,

  • Pollock's supposedly made physical manifestations of his psyche.

  • His paintings are themselves signatures of his mind.

  • In theory, anyone could make a painting that is an imprint of their mind.

  • So why is Pollock so special?

  • Well, it's important to remember that while anyone could have done what he did,

  • he and the rest of the New York School were the ones who actually did it.

  • They destroyed conventions of painting that had stood for centuries,

  • forcing the art world to rethink them entirely.

  • But one last reason why Jackson Pollock's work has stayed prominent

  • stems from the specific objects he made, which embody fascinating contradictions.

  • For instance, while Pollock's process

  • resulted in radically flat painted surfaces,

  • the web of painted lines can create the illusion of an infinite layered depth

  • when examined up close.

  • And the chaos of this tangled mess seems to defy all control,

  • but it's actually the product of a deliberate,

  • though not pre-planned, process.

  • These characteristics made Pollock into a celebrity,

  • and within art history,

  • they also elevated him to the mythified status

  • of the genius artist as hero.

  • So rather than evening the playing field for all creative minds,

  • his work unfortunately reinforced a long-standing elitist aspect of art.

  • Elitist,

  • innovative,

  • whatever you choose to call it,

  • the history embedded in Abstract Expressionism

  • is one that no cat, however talented, can claim.

If you visit a museum with a collection of modern and contemporary art,

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B2 TED-Ed pollock abstract paint art canvas

【TED-Ed】What is abstract expressionism? - Sarah Rosenthal

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    VoiceTube posted on 2016/07/22
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