Revisiting Pollock: Engaging Art Through Attribution and History

by G. James Daichendt

Setting the Stage

Set in the shadow of Los Angeles, Azusa Pacific University serves as the host of the exhibition Revisiting Pollock, a collection of paintings thought to be the work of Jackson Pollock, one of the 20th century’s most scrutinized and mythologized artists.

In 1949, Life magazine published a story asking if Pollock was America’s greatest living artist. Mid-century critics hailed Pollock’s potential to become one of the elite, as detractors claimed his paintings were degenerate and as unpalatable as yesterday’s macaroni. Since that time, generations of historians and artists have devoted a substantial amount of scholarship toward his works, while the most powerful museums and galleries in the world hope to acquire and display his art. I invite you–the reader–to engage with these images and investigate for yourself, while learning about attribution and Pollock himself, not only to gain insight into this artist, but also to further your understanding of why we engage with great works of art.

Pollock was both revered and sneered at for his dripped paintings. Since his rise to fame during the postwar period, admirers eager to learn, in addition to con artists hoping to make a quick dollar, have duplicated his work. Scientists, art historians, conservators, and aficionados are involved in many attribution cases that have surfaced after the artist’s death. It is a curious turn of events. Anything of value is often imitated. However, because Pollock’s style is difficult to comprehend, novice collectors often materialize, wondering if the look-a-like painting they acquired is worth millions. Frustrating to both sides, most of these cases are easily dismissed and miss the central aspect of why art is important.