Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31, 1950. 1950 12

Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8' 10" x 17' 5 5/8" (269.5 x 530.8 cm). Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2023 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Narrator: Sometimes people see a painting by Jackson Pollock and think, “I could do that!” It looks kind of messy at first. But take a few steps back.

Farther. There does seem to be some kind of plan.

Pollock invented a new way to paint. Instead of standing in front of an easel, he laid big pieces of canvas on the floor. And he didn’t brush paint onto them. He dripped, poured, and flung it around.

He listened to jazz music as he swooped around dripping, pouring, and flinging. Some people think this looks like the pattern of a crazy dance!

This way of working changed people’s idea of what a painting could be. Instead of showing a person, a place, or a thing, Pollock used paint and canvas to make pictures of paint and canvas! He showed us patterns and shapes that paint could make. And in places he let the bare canvas show through.

Take a few more steps back.

Now look at the most important part of the painting. What? You can’t see one? In most paintings the artist shows us what’s important. But here, the colors and paint are spread all around so your eyes roam all over.

Okay, now walk up closer and choose one thread of paint. Don’t get too near, but use your finger in the air to trace where your thread is going. Follow it as far as you can. Can you keep track of it under all those layers? Or do you get lost in the tangle?

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