When we were at the Museum of Fine Arts, I took some pictures of drawings by Jackson Pollock. It was only later that Kendrick, who had read the signs underneath them, explained to me what they actually were.
The first item I saw was not a drawing but a ceramic plate decorated by Pollock:
How strange, I thought, that a serious artist would decorate a plate. But then, at one point Picasso had painted jugs. Perhaps those sorts of things, decorator items, paid well. No, Kendrick said. When he painted that plate, Pollock already had serious mental problems, as well as problems with alcoholism, and a friend told him to try painting on ceramic. So that plate was an attempt to deal with his problems, to get better.
And the drawings, well, they were actually made after he entered a mental institution and started Jungian psychotherapy. They were a part of his therapy. Here they are:
I’m not entirely sure why these struck me so much. I suppose because they made me think about what it’s like being an artist of a certain sort. (I make no claim that every artist is like this, only that some are.) There are certain artists whose underlying sensitivity, vulnerability, instability allow them to access certain ideas in a particularly direct way. I think of Van Gogh and Lovecraft, different as they are, as both being in this category. Paradoxically, it’s the art that also helps them deal with those particular aspects of their personality. So the temperament of the artist poses a problem that the art itself helps with. There is something in Van Gogh, Lovecraft, Pollock: their work seems to expose an underlying darkness, and a dark order, at the center of the universe. Even Van Gogh’s sunflowers are touched by that darkness. It’s as though these artists intuited something. In Lovecraft it comes out as shuggoths, which can seem silly. But the sense he has of the universe, of the way it works, the way it’s founded on a sort of chaotic order – I relate that to Pollock’s paintings.
Again, not all artists are like this. Many of them are perfectly sensible, cheerful, productive people. But there is a place, for certain artists I think, where art both causes the pain and is a rescue from pain. It’s profoundly paradoxical, and difficult to deal with I would imagine. Because I can only imagine myself a little way into Pollock’s world, or Van Gogh’s world. I can imagine myself better into Lovecraft’s, perhaps because I’m a writer myself. But Pollock’s plate and drawings really struck me, and I thought about them long after we left the museum.