The modern artist… is working and expressing an inner world – in other words – expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces. -Jackson Pollock
Cultural icon and American painter Paul Jackson Pollock was a major founding father of the abstract expressionist movement, and he stands as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. His radically abstract works evoked passionate admiration and scorn in equal measure, and he was derisively nicknamed “Jack the Dripper” by his detractors, a slight that did not go unnoticed by the sensitive painter.
Despite the considerable fame he achieved during his lifetime, Pollock regularly suffered from severe bouts of depression and alcohol abuse, and his friends eventually pressed him to enter psychotherapy to help him get his drinking under control. While therapy appeared to be of little assistance in helping the troubled artist curb his self-destructive impulses, Pollock became fascinated with Jungian concepts that he was exposed to in treatment.
Pollock embraced Jung’s theory that art originates from the unconscious and seeks expression through concrete representations of cultural symbols and archetypes. Pollock’s interest in these concepts occurred at a time when psychoanalysis was beginning to have a major impact on people’s understanding of the human psyche and the construction of the self.
Jungian symbols and archetypes can be seen in Pollock’s pioneering “action paintings,” which he worked on during the late 1940’s. These “action paintings” represented a radical deviation from the norms of classical European art, as they were not intended to portray specific objects or elicit specific emotions in the observer. Instead, these paintings were intended to penetrate the subconscious of the observer and tap into the primal drives that motivate the creation of universal archetypal symbols. Pollock strove to create these paintings “unconsciously” and spontaneously, so that he could better evoke a sense of raw emotion and primal action in the observer.
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