Benton and Pollock

Visitors to the Swope admiring Thomas Hart Benton’s painting Threshing Wheat may be surprised to learn that the realist Benton was an influential mentor to abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. An article in the Smithsonian describes their relationship a bit and brings up some interesting points about Pollock’s work.

The author of the article, Henry Adams, suggests that Pollock hid his name in the momentous 1943 work, Mural. Whether Mural is in fact based around Pollock’s name remains up for debate (I’m not sure I buy it myself), but the inherent structure and harmony Adams is honing in on does neatly illustrate a feature that many people, particularly those who are not fans of modern art, often overlook when considering Pollock’s work: it is, like Benton’s, highly structured and very carefully composed. Pollock himself said as much, “When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident.”

Pollock has said that Benton gave him something to rebel against, but he also acknowledged Benton’s importance and role in the art world. As Adams states, “[Pollock] once told a friend that he wanted Mural to be comparable to a Benton work, though he didn’t have the technical ability to make a great realistic mural and needed to do something different.”

3 thoughts on “Benton and Pollock

  1. As decades go by, Benton seems to be looking better and better. Pollock served a useful purpose if he got everyone to stop and re-think what it takes for a painting to be truly great. For some, Pollock seems a one-note-wonder, able to build up a rich, layered surface with his big gestural strokes, but unable to go anywhere else. Maybe that’s too harsh, but I can understand why some thoughtful people (I’m thinking of my wife Alice) can feel this.

    Any way, if you’re thinking of de-accessioning your Benton, please call me first.

  2. Alas, Pollack died just when he was beginning to change his work. Who knows what might have developed had his life not been cut short at the age of 44.

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