Monday, March 06, 2006

Did Pollock Intelligently Design His Paintings?

I recently read that some art experts had verified the authenticity of some 50 paintings by Jackson Pollock, whose trademark works all involve canvases spattered with different colors of paint. Presumably because he didn't have the talent to make the dogs playing poker look lifelike. Anyway, these paintings were willed to the daughters of some photographer that used to be a friend of Pollock. Contra the art experts who have verified their authenticity, there is a physicist in Oregon, with a degree in art history, who claims they are frauds.

His basis? In the known body of Pollock's paint splatters, he has shown that the paintings exhibit fractal geometry (, and he claims the newly discovered paintings do not. This means that if you were to look at one small piece of one of his authentic paintings, you would discern a pattern in the size and the placement of the paint splatters, and the small piece you are looking at, if viewed as part of the whole, would itself be like one splatter in the larger pattern of the painting, with that larger pattern being very similar to the smaller pattern.

The physicist, having discovered the fractal pattern, has asserted that Pollock must have had an intuitive understanding of nature. He seems to think that Pollock at least sub-consciously intelligently designed his paintings. But I think that interpretation is not the only interpretation of the facts - the fractal pattern may have been the result of a natural process. If fractals are common in nature, where structure is determined by certain rules of interaction, then a simple rule for throwing paint at a canvas could conceivably produce the fractal pattern.

Picture Pollock in his studio, moments after painting another unrecognizable dog with a straight flush, knowing that no one will know what the hell it is, and knowing that it will never sell. The other artists are teasing him - "you might as well just blindfold yourself and throw paint at the canvas from a distance of three feet or so, and you'll probably get a more life like depiction of a poker playing dog." And just like Steve Martin in the Jerk, when he is about to name his dog hero but changes it to sh#*head at the snide suggestion of a cynic, Pollock proceeds to take a few steps back from the canvas to start hurling paint.

I think this would be a great project for Professor Vic when he gets tenure - try to discover the "rule" that produces a Pollock. My bet is that it involves a few varying motions of simulated throwing with brush in hand, repeated over and over, with shots of Chartreuse in between hurls. It has to be more fun than his current research.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pollock's work looks like my bathroom floor after a Chartreuse bender. I perfer poker playing dogs any day.

4:28 AM  
Anonymous G Hindsley said...

Let's get a group together and throw Chartreuse against a canvas, add in some food coloring, and voila! Good times.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Professor Vic said...

Considering that the referee for my last paper said, "This paper reads like it was written by someone drunk on Chartreuse," your research suggestion isn't a bad one.

In all fairness to Pollock, you've got to admit that his nickname, "Jack the Dripper", is probably the coolest among any artist. Modern art would probably have a lot more fans if only more artists had SportsCenter style nicknames.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The correct title of the poker playing dogs is "Looks Like Four of a Kind" and was painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. His art nickname was "Cass the Three Leg Pisser".

Now, that's a nickname.

1:08 PM  

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