|"In reality opposites are one; art shows this." - Eli Siegel|
Jackson Pollock's Number One 1948; or,
How Can We Be Abandoned and Accurate at the Same Time?
By Lore Mariano
From the moment I first saw them, I felt Jackson Pollock's action paintings had something I was yearning for-something deeply composing and satisfying to me. I learned from Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 and taught in New York City, that these paintings have something every person is looking for. Mr. Siegel, the person who understood beauty and the human self, stated: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."1
I learned from this principle why I was so taken with the paintings of Jackson Pollock: they put together opposites I desperately wanted to put together in myself.In his landmark broadside, "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites," Mr. Siegel writes about Freedom and Order:
Jackson Pollock's Number One, 1948 shows how much paint can be "unrestricted, unexpected, uncontrolled" as we see it poured onto a canvas making lines that are assertive, and we also see a complexity of shapes, globs, pools of paint layered one on top of another. Lines interweave, while remaining individually perceptible, distinct and free.
There is a tremendous speed in black and white lines laid over areas of paint; and there is the airiness of space in the bare canvas. Yet there is also strictness and economy in this work. One restriction Pollock imposed on himself was his use of colors that are restrained, even dignified—such as black, white, tan, and aluminum gray-and he shows by the way these dignified colors are poured and dripped that they can be wild. And all this he does within the borders of a large rectangular canvas 5'8" by 8'8". I think what Jackson Pollock did with paint is great.
I. I Wanted Freedom and Order
In an Aesthetic Realism class, Mr. Siegel spoke to my mother, Shirley Jones, a consultant with the trio The Later Surprise, about the opposites of freedom and order in me. He asked her, "Is your daughter [both] systematic and untamed?" This described me. In high school, I liked the strict orderliness of boarding school and having every hour planned. But I went wild on the weekends—driving down the highway with blasting rock music on the radio. When I graduated, I felt at last all restrictions were lifted. But soon I was terrified of the way I was driven to feel "free", including through using drugs. The wilder I was, the more desperate I was for order. At my wildest, I still spent summer afternoons and nights working double shifts as a nurse's aid, where there was a routine and order I loved. I didn't know how these opposites could be together in myself, and so I shuttled from one to the other.
In an Aesthetic Realism consultation, when my consultants asked me this kind question, first asked by Mr. Siegel: "What do you have most against yourself?," I said "I'm impulsive sometimes—a lot of times." I was very ashamed of this, and my consultants asked me:
Aesthetic Realism teaches that the deepest desire of every person is to like the world—to want to know it and be just to it. And as I saw more meaning in the world, I stopped trying to get away from it. I felt more truly free—at ease in the whole world because I was learning to see it fairly—and I stopped using drugs. We can learn from art that true freedom always arises from justice to reality!
II. Jackson Pollock's Number One,1948 Is Accurately Free
Jackson Pollock's work has been seen as the epitome of freedom. Yet with all this great tumult, there is form. Look at the way the painting is held together by the four corners; there are black masses in each corner that contain everything in the painting, while the motion within is still pushing out.
Look at the vertical shape Jackson Pollock has made at the far left—almost a column composed of black paint and the space of the canvas. Our eyes go from left to right across the canvas and follow the shapes of the large curves. Our eyes are also taken across the canvas by a diagonal that begins at the lower left-hand corner and goes through the center to the upper right. There is a tightness and expansion, exactitude and width in the actions of the paint. Jackson Pollock's Number One shows we don't have to shuttle back and forth between order and freedom—in this painting they are one.
Throughout the painting, there are tiny, thick drips of brighter colors—red, yellow, orange and blue. There is a red dot just right of the center of the painting. I remember cynically thinking before studying Aesthetic Realism, I was just a small dot in a vast, confusing world. But I also felt, like this dot, I was the one bright point in my family's life. Aesthetic Realism taught me that the world outside of me is deeply my friend because it has an aesthetic structure we can honestly see as beautiful.
In his action paintings Jackson Pollock used paint in a completely new way. He put aside conventional methods and invented a new art form. Pollock said:
The tragedy of Jackson Pollock's life is in this statement of his: "Painting is no problem; the problem is what to do when you're not painting." He could have learned from Aesthetic Realism how to have the art way of seeing the world all the time. When he was painting he was happiest because, as Aesthetic Realism has described, he was "trying to get after what reality was like."
Pollock said, "The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through." What beautifully comes through in Number One 1948 is a sense of the force of reality as tremendously free, and yet having subtle and mysterious order, accuracy and logic, too.
"The depths, the real depths of self are the world," writes Mr. Siegel. And one of the things I love in this painting is how we see self and world as one in the way Jackson Pollock stamped his own hand prints in the upper right-hand corner of the painting-and we see something resembling two pink footprints in the lower left corner. The warmly touchable and the vast infinite are made one.
In "Beauty—and Jackson Pollock, Too," Mr. Siegel writes: