How Jackson Pollock became so overrated

How Jackson Pollock became so overrated

There’s an overlooked reason for Pollock’s fame. Even if you love him, you might not know the name of the man who made him famous.

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Jackson Pollock is one of the 20th century’s most famous artists. But do you know the critic who made his reputation?

Clement Greenberg is a well-known name in the art world, but not necessarily to art fans. However, he earned a reputation as one of the most influential art critics in the 20th century, whose legacy included the canonization of Jackson Pollock.

Abstract expressionist art needed vocal champions to support challenging, unique work, and Greenberg was the most powerful and vocal in his defense of the art and, in particular, Jackson Pollock. Greenberg went from tie salesman to intellectual in less than a decade, thanks to strongly worded arguments for a new artform. Jackson Pollock was one of his favorite artists, and the two spent time together socially as they simultaneously climbed in the art world.

Is Clement Greenberg the reason that Jackson Pollock is so famous? He’s definitely a part of it — and understanding the role of Greenberg and critics like him can be a useful tool to understanding art in the 20th century.

Overrated is a series that takes a look at the things we all know — the books, the trends, and the ideas that have become iconic — and answers the question: “Why is this so famous”?

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74 Responses

  1. E says:

    Expressionism is sometimes great, but names and connections are all that matters in the art world these days. Some of the world’s best modern artists will never be known, because the “high art” world is exclusive to those in the right location and connections.

    • LancesArmorStriking says:

      That’s the way it’s been since the 1800’s. Ever since the standard of realism has been thrown out in favor of perceived value, artists can be thrown into the spotlight at someone’s whim, instead of proving it with skill and years of experience.

    • J L says:

      Could say the same thing for many artistic professions, especially music.

    • Hans Mahr says:

      “That’s the way it’s been since the 1800’s. Ever since the standard of realism has been thrown out in favor of perceived value, artists can be thrown into the spotlight at someone’s whim, instead of proving it with skill and years of experience.”

      That’s bullshit. If you think that people like Picasso, Kandinsky or Gerhard Richter (to name a more contemporary figure) don’t have talent or skills just because they don’t care about realism, you clearly know nothing about art. Most modern artists, even the really far-out avant-garde ones, were trained, they learned how to draw and paint in classical styles. Picasso produced incredible realistic drawings when he was still a child and Gerhard Richter has made some photorealistic paintings. Another painter that’s often called talentless is Mondrian, the guy who painted all those squares. Well, just google ‘Mondrian early work’ and you will see his realist landscapes from the beginning of the 20th century.

      Painters didn’t decide to do abstract art because of a lack of skill but because they wanted to do abstract art, it interested them more than realism. For a skilled painter, producing a realist landscape or a realist portrait with perfect technique is not a great challenge, just like it isn’t a big challenge for a great pianist to play a piece without mistakes. The challenge comes when you want to produce something that’s original, something that the world has never seen before. That’s what art is all about, that’s what art has always been about, even back in those periods when realism was the only painting style that was accepted.

      Also, the idea that only realist art is good art is not universal and it certainly hasn’t been around forever. Medieval art for example was mostly not tied to realism, they cared more about color, form and composition (which is why some early abstract painters took inspiration from medieval art). And then there are of course a lot of other traditions from all around the world, some of them adhering to realism while others don’t. You might not like these non-realist traditions but that doesn’t mean they are not art and it certainly doesn’t mean that it takes no skill to produce these works.

  2. Emco 14 says:

    Plz do one more vox atlas video pls

  3. Avery Lopez-Baines says:

    So you’re telling me my messy paintings that I made when I was 4 could be worth a fortune? *MIND BLOWN*

  4. Rowe Productions says:

    I’m the second kind of person. I really don’t get why abstraction is so revered. They may be cathartic to make but otherwise it’s justa talking shop for what it could be about rather than is.

    • Kim Kardashian Un says:

      +art garfunkel I saw one in Montreal or Ottawa and I still hate it…

    • it's everyday 風呂 says:

      because it was a new form of expression, at the time; and it broke creative boundaries.

    • Gary Allen says:

      +art garfunkel : I used to live close enough to Rothko Chapel to go in there frequently. Close acquaintance didn’t enhance my assessment one bit. Butcher paper, floor mop, can of house paint, all displayed in a room so dark it was hard to say what was painting and what was shadows.

    • Old Raf says:

      Rowe Productions I disagree, because ideas can be really distinct, they obviously vary pretty drastically, so the expression of the ideas will vary too, so I don’t think it’s really talking ship for what it could be, it just is what it is

  5. Udah Vektorin Aja says:

    because of marketing…

  6. Amelia Carneiro Zhu says:

    2:32 Because he’s Jackson Pollucky

  7. Zeyon says:

    To me art has always been about skill more or less. If you could pick anyone from the street and asked them to recreate a pollock painting and then asked others if they think it’s a pollock painting or not, chances are they couldn’t tell the difference. However if you did the same test again but with a renaissance painting, or the statue of david, chances are they wouldn’t be able to recreate it.

    Just my two cents.

    • Gary Allen says:

      +Moxtrox : If you can’t see it, how can it be art? If you can’t hear it, how can it be music?

    • Steven Contreras says:

      +Zonofv 1 I’ve seen one live, not knowing there was one at the Museum so I wasn’t expecting to see one, and it was the most beautiful and mesmerizing piece at the museum in my honest opinion.

    • Oscar Nilsson says:

      That an appreciation of skill and not art.

    • Bob Berendsen says:

      Zeyon the thing is, because information is so much more available in these times, there are millions upon millions of people who can paint a portret of someone just as realistic as an renaissance painter, thats why art you need abstractism

  8. Arell Moors says:

    He sucks honestly

    • huh? says:

      I never got haters of abstract art. It makes no sense. Art is art, doesn’t have to be Michelangelo or Rembrandt or Picasso to be something of importance. Pollock is at one end of the abstract range. There’s another range, hyper-realism, which gets the same response. Most people definitely can’t paint hyper-realism, but people complain about how it doesn’t express anything.

      What’s art to you guys? Does it have to be old, and what you think art is? Does it have to be painterly? Why does art have to be pretty? There’s just as many art pieces which are photos of a chair, placed in a museum next to another chair. What makes that art any less than any other piece of art? Art is expression, not expectation.

    • huh? says:

      +Adam_NPB You’re gonna hate Marcel Duchamp. He made “The Fountain” in 1917.

    • Gary Allen says:

      +huh? : Duchamp made nothing. He set a urinal down in an art museum. Plumbers place urinals every day–right side up and rendered functional. Therefore, plumbers are greater artists than Duchamp.

    • huh? says:

      +Gary Allen It’s what it stood for, to push the limits of what we call art. I love it. Early 20th century trolling.

  9. Jake Gordon says:

    Just know that if you take a blacklight to Star-Lord’s ship you’ll get the same experience as a Jackson Pollock painting.

  10. Captain Deadpool says:

    My bed is a Jackson Pollock painting

  11. Luke Davis says:

    Fun fact about pollock being overrated, Australia bought a painting of his in the early 70’s and it was so expensive it literally became a political issue (and is still brought up in debates today) can’t get much more overrated than that

  12. Lolo Solo says:

    Like other artforms, sometimes it’s about who made it not what he/she made.

  13. Princess Espiritu says:

    I dont hate him. I just sincerely think he’s overrated, too.

  14. Robby Huang says:

    So once again it seems that marketing is a big reason for somethings success.

    • Paulo Cuento says:

      How Jackson Pollock became so overrated?
      Answer: PR and Money Laundering
      the salesman paid magazines to “critique” Pollock’s work, and drive its market value up… NY Art Mafia sold these paintings to gullible “collectors” who see it as a work of genius— ever so afraid to sound uneducated or lacked culture, refused to use common sense and hopped in the bandwagon.. Painters, Magazines, Auction houses banked, while collectors go home with $1.00 garbage

      the real art here, is making money out of trash… and that is pure genius

    • K Shum says:

      Donaldo Mac Eachen heres your explaination mr know it all 2:39

    • K Shum says:

      and yet this subject of how abstract expressionism being stupid and rigged in the market ended years ago, artists/people who actually knows art criticize them like their life depended on it. After all, it doesnt mean it has no value thought, its a monument of how stupid people once were, and still are

    • Donaldo Mac Eachen says:

      +Kim Kardashian Un Sure, women used to be in a pretty shitty social condition. I was just stating that men being generally more successful doesn’t mean they have it easier, even if it’s a possibility. That reasoning is no different from “the light went off, which means electricity got cut off”, and it’s wrong because even if the electricity actually went off, it ignores the possibility of a faulty light bulb and others.

    • Ike Okereke says:

      +Liam Davis
      Well buddy, that take was trash.

  15. Elijah Logan says:

    people ike to make jokes about nutting as a reference to pollack

  16. Jomer Tomale says:

    The argument of many abstract expressionism “fans” is that “Why don’t you make it yourself if it’s that easy?” when this video clearly shows that you need “connections” more than talent, creativity, and passion. Many great artists are already in the graveyard, literally.

    PS: I get what abstract expressionism is and Pollock’s works appeal to me. But that’s it.

    • Hans Mahr says:

      The point of the video isn’t that you need connections more than you need talent, creativity and passion. You need connections AND talent, creativity and passion, at least if you want to become big in your lifetime. Of course that’s not really a revolutionary statement: if you’re the greatest artist of all times but you never get out and don’t show your paintings to other people or only to people who don’t have any influence in the art world, you probably will die before you get any sort of recognition.

      ‘Why don’t you make it yourself’ is a perfectly good reply to people who believe that they could do what great abstract artists do because a) creating great abstract art actually does take skill even though it’s less obvious to the uninitiated than the skill it takes to paint a hyperrealist portrait and b) coming up with something that’s truly original is the hardest thing in the world. Yeah, maybe you’re skilled enough to recreate a Pollock, but it’s still just a copy, it’s not original, it’s not a real creative achievement. How about you come up with something that’s never been there before, something innovative? How about you come up with something about which the next generation will say ‘pff, I could do that’? That’s the gist of the question ‘why don’t you make it yourself’.

  17. Marko says:

    One thing hasn’t appeared in the video, which is that a big part of Pollock’s success was due to his art being promoted as the first truly american art, being pushed forward by entities likes the MoMA (paid by the CIA) to impose american culture over the then hegemonic european culture, otherwise known as propaganda. It’s important to note that Jackson Pollock’s art, and more generally, American Expressionism, was not a particularily new form of art, nor was it very popular (it was considered as degenerate art by many), but it had a lot of help from people who wanted to develop an American culture. In a way, it shows that there is a certain american bias in Vox, or a lack of access to critical scientific litterature.
    (I borrowed what I’ve learned from a course about americanisation)

    • Winston Lee says:

      +Marko That’s actually pretty interesting stuff. Mind sharing your sources?

    • potbotra says:

      ah so u meant it literally. fair enough, i see what you mean. though i don’t think OP meant it literally so much as was trying to find the words that us embedded in the field (im doing my masters in digital media and art i hate it lol) are more exposed to.

    • potbotra says:

      +Winston Lee https://frieze.com/article/cold-warrior this was one that came in mind immediately. it’s really interesting to see how politics instrumentalize art and always have, really sobers u up on the sentimental vision of art that we are sold

    • Marko says:

      Winston Lee i did my studies in french and i don’t remember whether sources are in english or not. I’ll try and find solething

    • Harrison Gay says:

      Marko around 6 minutes in he does mention his art bring advertised as “radically American”

  18. Thomas von Delft says:

    Would be cool to see an Overrated series on architecture. Maybe Frank Loyd Wright’s Falling Waters or Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye

    • Bartolo Vids says:

      Thomas von Delft I stayed in falling waters for spring break

    • Brandon Kirk says:

      How are Frank Loyd Wright’s Falling Waters or Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye overrated?! These two structures are the elemental basis for modernist architecture.
      Falling water is far from FLW’s best work, many other buildings are far more practical and elegant, but are less known… What Falling Water did do is open people’s eyes to naturalist architecture and the Prairie Style bungalow movement which millions of homes were based off… Its a huge deal for huge reasons –and yes, it was structurally unsound, but keep in mind the building as at the cusp of steel beam skeleton engineering and this technique was commonly used for vertical structures like skyscrapers, not horizontal cantilevers in houses… it was an experiment that paid off.

      As for the esteemed Le Corbusier, he is nothing less than a genius in modern architecture and urban design… His Brutalist movement whilst now unpopular (such as the Le Corbusier inspired Boston city hall) was groundbreaking, without it, we would not have post-war housing sub-cities such as the Brutalist ‘Barbican’, a miniature garden city in the center of London’s financial district, said by Queen Elisabeth to be the, “8th wonder of the world”. Villa Savoye is no different in its impact, inspiring others such as Phillip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe.
      Villa Savoye created the International Style, and architecture so foreign and groundbreaking, it was adopted for most of the financial towers in Chicago and elsewhere. Le Corbusier would later team up with Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer to create the United Nations building in NYC. The ‘villa’, though seemingly insignificant was an early bases for half the architectural modernist movements of the 20th cen.

      Also don’t forget that Villa Savoye was built in 1931, for that era the building looked like it was from another world… nowadays it looks modern, but not unusual –see the shift. Architecture has just recently has caught up with this building and it’s style (being that it did not catch on until the 1970s). Lastly as a side note, this building does have a deep history being that it was built for a wealthy French-Jewish family who later died in the Holocaust and the Nazis used the building during the liberation of Paris to stockpile ammunition… we are lucky it was not destroyed like the Parthenon. He also met with Einstein many times who supported his ‘utopian’ city planning design: ‘The Radiant City’ which like Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Broadacre City’ urban design was unrealized. These buildings and the architects who built them are far from overrated.

    • LancesArmorStriking says:

      1000 times YES! Did you see Facebook’s new headquarters? There are literally parts of the wall’s inner structure exposed, the whole damn hallway looks like the interior of a Home Depot

    • Paulo Cuento says:

      How Jackson Pollock became so overrated?
      Answer: PR and Money Laundering
      the salesman paid magazines to “critique” Pollock’s work, and drive its market value up… NY Art Mafia sold these paintings to gullible “collectors” who see it as a work of genius— ever so afraid to sound uneducated or lacked culture refused to use common sense and hopped in the bandwagon.. Painters, Magazines, Auction houses banked, while collectors go home with $1.00 garbage

      the real art here, is making money out of trash… and that is pure genius

  19. John Orozco says:

    We need to see an Overrated series on Fashion. Maybe Balenciaga, Dior, or Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.

    • Paulo Cuento says:

      How Jackson Pollock became so overrated?
      Answer: PR and Money Laundering
      the salesman paid magazines to “critique” Pollock’s work, and drive its market value up… NY Art Mafia sold these paintings to gullible “collectors” who see it as a work of genius— ever so afraid to sound uneducated or lacked culture refused to use common sense and hopped in the bandwagon.. Painters, Magazines, Auction houses banked, while collectors go home with $1.00 garbage

      the real art here, is making money out of trash… and that is pure genius.

    • Paulo Cuento says:

      lilhyun…if you spend money on those things, youre a victim of marketing

    • Cache Media says:

      we couldn’t agree more

    • TARDISbyCandlelight says:

      John Orozco versache too

    • CaptainTiffin says:

      Supreme definitely

  20. Hannah Rosario says:

    I’m so so so happy this series is back!!! I’ve watched season one a billion times!

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