It seems the art world all but missed the dart
Hurled ‘cross the continent when Hassel Smith
Called Jackson Pollock’s paintings “restaurant art”;
Or else it put it out of mind forthwith.
We learn, “It’s not that Pollock dripped, but how.”
How patrons prize his mast’ry of technique—
The practiced toss, the paint mixed to allow
The epic play of line here bold, there sleek.
And yet, Smith’s salvo’s not to be ignored.
What was the thing that so displeased his eye?
Did Pollock’s energy just leave him bored,
Reacting not with “Wow!,” but rather, “Why?”?
I wonder whether Smith felt in his gut,
“Monumental? Then, monument to what?”

 

 

Julian D. Woodruff was a teacher, orchestral musician, and librarian. He served for several years as librarian at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. He now resides in the area of Rochester, NY, where he writes poetry and fiction, much of it for children. His work has appeared in Frostfire Worlds and on the websites of Carmina, Parody Poetry, and Reedsy. His GPS poem placed tenth in the last riddle contest of The Society of Classical Poets.


Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.”

18 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    The only thing to which Pollock’s art is a monument is the power of hype, insider influence, and publicity. A coterie of modernist painters and art critics labored mightily to talk up the man’s work, and the heiress Peggy Guggenheim provided him with financial support and lots of entree to the Manhattan art world. Pollock was sleeping with Peggy (a shrewd career move), and she got a befuddled Clement Greenberg to call Pollock “the greatest living American painter.”

    That’s how things work in any establishment, whether in art or politics or poetry or academia or big business or popular entertainment. If you think otherwise, you are a naif.

    Reply
  2. Sally Cook

    To Mr. Smith and Mr. Woodruff –

    A monument to nothing, it turns out
    Except perhaps that Pollock took the lead
    In doing little; turning things about
    So that a random act, a foolish screed
    Turned on its head; the art world on its snout.
    We suffer still from all the chaos since;
    At SCP we act out penitence.

    I was there.

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    The artist Hassle Smith’s critique was true. But I don’t think he should felt so smug. ‘Though restaurants were not his first purview, His “art” would look nice on a coffee mug.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Let me try this again:

      The artist Hassle Smith’s critique was true.
      But I don’t think he should have felt so smug.
      Though restaurants were not his first purview,
      His “art” would look nice on a coffee mug.

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    I dropped a bottle of ketchup on my kitchen tiles today. I think I should be considered the greatest living American artist for that alone.

    Reply
  5. Red Was Iceblue

    In my younger years, I was ever altering how I wrote. I can remember for over two years, I wrote cahier after cahier in a language, which I would call American, but with additional letters and unusual spellings (That is not an excuse for my frequent typos, but it is noteworthy, at least to Me.). Today I would not call, those notebooks I wrote in Germany, poetry, or prose, or free verse, etc.; it was simply writing; and two years ago I threw most of the pages away. In addition, there were many other experiments. It is from the visual-arts world, for example, that I created the bilding, which I do still like (though it has gained no interest here at SCP). Like Ms. Cook, I too was there; and Jackson Pollack (1912-1956) informed various verbal presentations of mine, like the following verbal concoction, partly to move the mind in different ways.

    a a W o m i t p
    r n e u a n i e
    e d t y s m r
    m l t e h
    a m a o b e a
    l o y o e a g p
    s r k d o s
    o e i s m i
    n o o n b
    m n d r r f g e
    o e e a e c
    r g e t f f a
    e a d h h r r u
    t e o o o s
    c i b r r m m e
    o v e i
    n e t z u l W
    s . l h o p e e
    e e a n f
    r p s n t t t a
    v e s a o r
    a r v l t e
    t h p e d o
    i a o r i o a
    v p s t n w r l
    e s i i n i l
    . t c o , g
    W i a u h t
    e v l r W t h
    e ! e e

    I have written other poems on Pollack paintings and his life; but, like Ms. Cook, I have no desire to dredge them back up, nor share them @ SCP. But I would say to younger poets, the World is huge. There are so many possibilities for English. Find what works for You, and what helps You flourish as a poet (as You can see in the above “poem”, I used to capitalize some of my pronouns, partly as a counter-reaction to E. E. Cummings.).

    Reply
  6. Red Was Iceblue

    The poem did not look like this when I typed it. It should have been eight slender lines. Obviously the comment section does its own thing.

    Reply
  7. David Watt

    Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” hangs in the National Gallery of Australia, here in Canberra. Purchased in 1973 for $1.3 million AUD, it could be considered a successful investment, as it is today valued in the hundreds of millions.
    Having said that, it was always a controversial purchase, for the price at the time, and the fact that the then Prime Minister was required to give the final purchase approval.
    Personally, I’ve never considered tossed and dripped ‘abstract expressionism’ artistically valuable. Ketchup on canvas (with glass shards included) would serve equally as well.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      A great deal of the hype and hoopla surrounding modernist art is largely driven by financial motives. If you can get the academic and critical establishment to say that some piece of garbage is “momentous” and “groundbreaking,” you immediately set the stage for its future value as an investment. This has happened within living memory to the work of talentless poseurs like Keith Haring and Basquiat. And if you have limitless funds like the revolting Yoko Ono, you can generate your own tidal wave of critical acclaim.

      Reply
  8. Monty

    1/ As has always been the case, there are those who admire ‘surrealistic art’, and consider it to be a vital form . . . and there are those vehemently opposed to it, who like their art ‘straight’, lifelike and safe. This can lead to futile exchanges in which the former ask the latter: “In a painting, do you really feel more stimulated by seeing a bowl of fruit or a row of houses . . than you do by seeing something from Ernst or Breton?” And the latter have to say “Yes”, for fear of contradicting themselves. And the former will ask: “But for how long can one stare at such a familiar image as a row of houses before deciding they’ve seen all there is to see; and does one really need to see yet another row of houses, from trillions of other paintings of a row of houses . . in a painting which has only been lauded ‘coz of the artist’s renown?” And the latter will blandly say: “Yeah, but at least we can make sense of it.” And there we have it: Those who lack the curiosity and imagination to allow their perceptions to be challenged . . need to be able to make sense of art. They don’t wanna be discomforted.

    And they should just leave it at that: horses for courses. But they don’t; they grow resentful at their lack of curiosity and imagination . . which naturally leads to their dismissal of challengeable art. And the same lack of imagination prevents them from seeing the indubitable truth that each and every form of art is valid, if not to one person, then to another. Those who don’t recognise the term ‘horses for courses’ are those with the narrowest of narrow minds. It really is that simple.

    2/ If anyone cared to read the fascinating biography of Guggenheim: ‘Shock of the Modern’ . . they’d soon see that it’s not a case of who she slept with, but who didn’t she sleep with! She wasn’t shy, old Peggy. And, given that she was one of the most influential figures in the rise of the whole ‘surrealistic’ movement, who can begrudge her possessing a high sex-drive? At least she was honest about it. For her unswerving and determined patronage of such a vital and ground-breaking movement . . she may well be the most important person in the history of art who never actually painted.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Pollock was not a “surrealist.” His chosen style was a form of abstract expressionism called “action-painting.” Before you comment on art, perhaps you should know something about it.

      No one blames Peggy Guggenheim for her kaleidoscopic sex life. She was an admitted nymphomaniac, and made no bones about it. My point was that Pollock bedded her as a means of advancing his career, and it seems to have paid off quite handsomely. As he revealed much later to a friend, he had to do it with his eyes closed, and with Peggy covered by towels.

      The notion that simply because houses and landscapes and still-life paintings have been done many times means that such subject matter is exhausted or dated is absurd. We have thousands of excellent portraits — does that mean portrait-painting should cease? We have a similarly large number of Annunciations and Crucifixions and Nativities — are painters disallowed to continue making them? Before modernism came along, no one would presume to think that human ingenuity had been drained by past achievements, and that we had to come up with absurdities, stupidity, and ugliness to fill the gap.

      Your attitude seems to be that of the typical art-world denizen: “It’s art if an artist says that it’s art.” So if some phony pounds a nail into a gallery floor (I have seen that here in New York) and insists that it’s “art,” we all have to go along with the fraud. Ever since Marcel Duchamp took a urinal off the street and put it in a gallery, we’ve been fed this line of bullshit.

      Recently at a major gallery, an “artist” displayed some kind of stupid installation that was made up of cigarette butts, used napkins, empty wine bottles, half-eaten canapes and sandwiches, and general filth and trash. After the exhibit was over and the gallery was closed, the cleaning crew came in, assumed it was the detritus of some cocktail party, and swept all of it into the trash. The next day the “artist” was enraged at this destruction of his work, and the gallery owners were deeply embarrassed.

      You want to defend that kind of crap? Fine, go ahead. But don’t tell the rest of us that we lack imagination or are “narrow.”

      By the way, you never answered my main point — namely, that reputations in the modern art world are frequently cooked up by hype and publicity and money, and this is done to sell “masterpieces” for a huge prices to gullible collectors, or to cynical investors who are looking to flip the works for a heavy profit in the future.

      Reply
      • Monty

        How many times did you see the name Pollock in my last comment . . . yeah, exactly. So, whatever possessed you to start your last missive with: “Pollock wasn’t a surrealist”? Pay attention to what’s actually being said instead of leaping to conclusions.

        I’ve no affinity whatsoever with Pollock; that’s why he wasn’t mentioned in my last comment. For most of my life, I knew only his name; and none of his art. But, about 10 years ago, I went to the Guggenheim Gallery in Venice, where I happened to see for the first time Pollock’s ‘Mural’ . . in its full size (6mts long): and I confess I was totally mesmerised . . staring agape for 20-30 minutes.

        But to this day, that’s the only piece of his work that I’m aware of. He’s never been under my radar. My avid interest in the surrealistic movement – since its inception early in the last century – is solely from a European standpoint. Apart from him, I couldn’t name one other American artist; and will probably never be able to do so.

        Again, where in my last comment did I say that still-lifes and landscapes were “exhausted”? Where did I even IMPLY that they were exhausted? WHERE? It’s a pure lie. Can’t you see that your habit of distorting what others say is only indicative of a lack of confidence in what you say yourself; there can be no other reason for it. I don’t believe that you tell these lies just for the sake of lying; you tell them for that reason. Still-lifes and landscapes will never be exhausted, ‘coz there will always be people who want the art they view to be safe and lifelike; who don’t want their perceptions challenged. Like I said: horses for courses.

        D’you think I’m unaware of the farce and bullshit that passes for the modern-day art-world? That’s why I’m intentionally unaware of it. My only interest is in art from around 1910 till about 1970. I don’t care what came before then, or what has come since. That 60-year period contains everything I need in my relationship with art, and I’ve researched it thoroughly, having been to umpteen exhibitions around Europe; watched maybe hundreds of documentaries on telly; and read 30-40 (auto)biographies. And there’s still so much more to discover! That 60-year period will keep me occupied for the rest of my days. I trust your now aware that modern art doesn’t exist in my psyche.

        You started your last paragraph with: “By the way, you never answered my main point..” . . but you never asked me to! Your “main point” was in your earlier comment, which you made before I even joined this thread. So how is it that you expected me to “answer” it? See? You just rush headstrong into things, and you get yourself all mixed-up.

        So, you know for sure that Pollock had Peggy with his eyes shut, and her covered in blankets . . ‘coz “he told a friend”! Oh, so it MUST be true, then. What a waste of space on the page. That’s the oldest trick in the tabloid-journalism book: the sheer epitome of the gossip pages: “A friend revealed..”
        I’m mildly shocked that a man of your genuine and undeniable literary standing would resort to such inanities.

    • Lannie David Brockstein

      Hey Monty,

      Regarding the argument which you put forth for “civil and fruitful discussion” in this thread, because you are not an insincere coward that resorts to posting verbal suckerpunches against others, about paintings that depict bowls of fruit or rows of houses, can the same argument not be applied to Pollock’s paintings—that they all look the same?

      My opinion of Modernism is that it is to art what Atheism is to religion, and what 0 is to mathematics.

      Something new to many art galleries are 3D printer renderings that accompany the paintings on canvas they exhibit, so that those whom are blind or visually impaired can enjoy those paintings, too.

      They accomplish that by means of their “seeing” those paintings with their hands, much the same way that the blind or visually impaired can “see” a person’s face, by means of their using their hands to gently touch that other person’s face.

      What moral right does any seeing person have to judge a person that is blind or visually impaired, if that blind or visually impaired person does enjoy synesthesia-seeing (by means of their sense of touch) 3D renderings of paintings by Pollock, more than 3D renderings of paintings by Bouguereau?

      It was William Blake who wrote:

      “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
      Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”

      From Lannie.

      Reply
    • David Whippman

      With respect, this piece was about Pollock, and I don’t understand why you connect him with surrealism. Many surrealists, such as Dali, were undeniably highly skilled artists. I would question whether the same could be said of Pollock. Of course it’s all a matter of personal opinion, but I think there’s an element of the emperor’s new clothes in much of the praise heaped on Pollock et al.

      Reply
  9. Joseph S. Salemi

    You call people who prefer realist and figurative art “lacking in curiosity and imagination.” You suggest that they are dull persons who “don’t want to be challenged,” and who “don’t want to be discomforted.” And you don’t consider that to be insulting to those of us here who have commented on Mr. Woodruff’s poem?

    You’re the one who is a liar. You said, in speaking of someone talking to those who prefer figurative art, the following:

    “But for how long can one stare at such a familiar image as a row of houses before deciding they’ve seen all there is to see, and does one really need to see yet another row of houses, from trillions of other paintings of a row of houses…”

    Then later you say “there will always be people who want the art they view to be safe and lifelike; who don’t want their perceptions challenged.”

    What does that suggest or imply about the modernist attitude (your attitude!) towards traditional subject matter? You’re not just a liar, Monty — you’re a STUPID liar, because you don’t even remember what you have written. Both of the above quotes are dripping with contempt for anyone who prefers realism to modernist dreck. And now you’re trying to back away from the clear implication contained in those quotes about your personal attitudes about art, by pretending to be a disinterested connoisseur of surrealism. I suggest laying off the marijuana for a while.

    And once again, you proudly trumpet your basic ignorance. You are only interested in art from 1910 to 1970? You know nothing about the great masters, about the Renaissance, about the Italian pre-Raphaelites, about the Flemish and Dutch greats, about Neo-Classical painting? And then you come here and have the cheek to lecture the rest of us about how we are “lacking in imagination”? I guess this is all of a piece with your proud claim that you don’t read (nor care to read) any poetry earlier than 1750.

    In the long course of my life I’ve read a lot of books, so I don’t recall where I read about Pollock’s letter to his friend about his sexual flings with Peggy Guggenheim. Apparently you won’t accept anything as true unless you have a videotape. We’re not in a courtroom here, buddy. We can mention whatever the hell we want to mention.

    By the way — you saw the Pollock mural in Venezia at the Guggenheim Gallery? And you went into ecstasy before it? Really? At that piece of Greek-diner restaurant art? As they say in social media, LMAO.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      As anyone who has studied the philosophy of art must know, there ARE objective standards of what constitutes art. One such standard is density of meaning, and random squiggles from a bottle of pigment do not live up to that. Crap is crap, and can be recognized immediately. Anyone who considers crap as art is aesthetically challenged, to put it politely. To call such persons cretins would be a disservice to the many sound and reasonable inhabitants of Crete.

      Reply
      • David Whippman

        C. B., you just said what a hell of a lot of people think. In my opinion, they are right. Of course, Monty is entitled to his opinion. But he seems to claim some sort of intellectual high ground, and I think his admiration of Pollock’s work does not support such a claim.

  10. Red Was Iceblue

    I appreciate Mr. Woodruff pointing out Hassel Smith calling Pollock’s painting “restaurant art”. The sad news is that in the New Millennium there is art that doesn’t even rise to the level of restaurant/hotel-room art, as in the following:

    Banana Art
    “bonana fana fo…”
    —Shirley Ellis

    When a banana duct-taped to a wall was decently
    sold for $120,000! recently,
    a Georgia artist, Dave Datuna, peel’d it on the spot,
    and then he ate it, while onlookers watched him swallow it.
    The said banana was part of an art exhibit by
    Italian artist Cattelan, the Coxes had to buy.

    Although it’s only a cheap piece of produce from the store
    connected by gray duct tape—only this and nothing more—
    and though the Hunger Artist wasn’t in black leotards
    with ribs protruding, sitting on spread straw before a crowd,
    he gobbled up the wall fruit unapologetic’lly.
    Art Basel, then, removed the fruit piece energetic’lly.

    “The Hunger Artist” is a short story by German writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924).

    Reply

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