Several lifetimes ago in Southern California, I found myself listening to a lecture on abstract expressionism. My professor was a painter from west Africa. He wore colorful dashikis with large bone necklaces, spoke with a musical cadence that combined with the droning summer fans and aromatic paints made his class enchanting. He pushed us- he could tell if we were playing it safe. Most of us students were accustomed to praise, and the first time he threw one of my works in the trash and told me to leave if I wasn’t serious, I was stung, umbraged, offended- and deep down, under the pride, I knew he was right. He didn’t want art from privileged kids who had been petted for their talent all their lives- everyone at that school was talented- he wanted to teach us to be fearless. How to examine our motives, to tear away our safety nets, and build our own wings as we were falling.
Which brings me to Jackson Pollock. If a person knows nothing about modern art, they know Jackson Pollock. And almost everyone has heard someone exclaim, as they look at a Pollock: “My [small child of various bladder control ability] could paint that.” One day a student in Mr. West Africa’s class made the mistake of making just such a statement. Fury sparked, and he turned on the student. Paraphrasing, because this was nearly 20 years ago, he said: [Read more…]