Lavender Mist, No. 1, 1950, Oil on canvas, 221 x 300cm (7’3” x 9’10”), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
There are two writers who live within me. One is an erudite fellow who understands exactly how language works and can almost always communicate with a minimum of fuss. His paragraphs are meticulously structured and break with such natural grace the reader scarcely ever feels a bump. His pride is precision and technique learned through years of application, study and practice. He is a boring git and, sadly, you are reading him now.
The second is a rambunctious, playful child. He guts you with a turn of phrase; jabs your eyes and assaults your senses. He works from a visceral, uncanny point of view that doesn’t care if it is understood so long as it is alive and vibrant and compelling. He wields language that cares nothing for design or outline or form so long as it rocks the reader. This second writer comes only when I am “in the zone” and he is a far, far better writer than I. When he shows up for work things literally fly so fast that I am completely unconscious of how much I have written or even what it says. I have to go back sometimes just to read it and find out. He never shows up for journeyman work like this. He comes, if I am lucky, in the middle of creative work. I want to be perfectly clear that I am not speaking metaphorically. This summoning of my other more creative self is a profound sensual and spiritual rush for me, perhaps the holiest thing that ever happens to me. I relish it. I cherish it. And when I do not have it in my life, I am diminished.
Feeling the way I do about this it would not be too big a stretch to imagine that I am insane.
I know for a fact that other artists and creators go through the exact same thing all the time. I have spoken to others about it and there is often that shared oh-my-god-thank- goodness-I’m-not-crazy wash of relief across their face that simply cannot be faked, and so I know that I have met a fellow slave to art.
You have to believe yourself to be an artist to become one. You have to advance beyond the idea that you are simply telling a story, or painting a picture, or composing a melody: you have to believe from the soles of your feet to the aura around your ears that you are bearing the waters of revelation to the world; you have to be prepared to look foolish and pompous and deluded. It’s all part of the package. Sometimes the burden of that belief destroys you. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I have no facile explanation of the miracle that is this picture. I have seen film of Pollock at work, have read descriptions from others who watched him within his process and I can assure you he was on fire with discovery. People called it action painting. In the early days he did fairly ordinary modern styles. And toward the end of his days he changed again. But this is certainly representative of his most famous technique. This is what came to him when he was in the zone. This is what he got from God.
He is one of two painters (Mondrian is the other) that the skeptical point to and go “Really? Are you kidding me?” And he and Mondrian are at opposite ends of the scale. I have no means by which to convince you of his worth. Of all artists he is certainly one that must be seen in person to be appreciated. You have an idea in your head, but trust me, when you come upon Pollock’s work in person you will be surprised. I promise you his pieces have power that will connect with you almost at once. Don’t be astonished if you find yourself sitting in front of his art getting lost in time, getting lost in yourself, while that second, better art critic who hides inside you comes forward that you might see at last.
To me that is Pollock’s greatest gift: that he can put you in the zone.