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Monthly Book Challenge > Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock

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message 1: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments February Book Read

A groundbreaking portrait of the intense personal and artistic relationship between Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, revealing how their friendship changed American art.

The drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, trailblazing Abstract Expressionist, appear to be the polar opposite of Thomas Hart Benton’s highly figurative Americana. Yet the two men had a close and highly charged relationship dating from Pollock’s days as a student under Benton. Pollock’s first and only formal training came from Benton, and the older man soon became a surrogate father to Pollock. In true Oedipal fashion, Pollock even fell in love with Benton’s wife.

Pollock later broke away from his mentor artistically, rocketing to superstardom with his stunning drip compositions. But he never lost touch with Benton or his ideas—in fact, his breakthrough abstractions reveal a strong debt to Benton’s teachings. I n an epic story that ranges from the cafés and salons of Gertrude Stein’s Paris to the highways of the American West, Henry Adams, acclaimed author of Eakins Revealed, unfolds a poignant personal drama that provides new insights into two of the greatest artists of the twentieth century.

message 2: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Since this book has about 416 pages, I was thinking that we could read about 50 pages/week for the next eight weeks or two months finishing the book at the end of March. How does that sound? Does anyone have any suggestions regarding the reading of this book?

We can wait until the end of the first week of the read to make comments about the first 50 pages. After that, we can continue to comment on that which we have already read.

If anyone has any recommended adjustments to these guideline, please let me know. Hope this book will be a reading success!

message 3: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments That sounds about right for me -- looks like an interesting book and I look forward to giving it a spin.

message 4: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Sounds like a good plan Heather.

I hope I get the book by February. I did an inter-library loan (statewide) request about 10 days ago and haven't received a "hold" yet. It must be a popular read.

message 5: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I got my book today, finally! Glad I got it before February. I'm looking forward to reading it! Can anyone else join me in celebrating the arrival/possession of this intriguing book? lol!

message 6: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Woohoo. I got mine.

message 7: by Ed (last edited Feb 20, 2011 08:27PM) (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments A couple of interesting links.

Pollock said "I am nature."

Richard Taylor, a physicist with an art degree has done analysis (somewhat controversial) of fractals in Pollock's painting. Fractals are forms that are self similar (similarly rough at all scales).

Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, as in nature, certain patterns are repeated again and again at various levels of magnification. Such fractals have varying degrees of complexity (or fractal dimension, called D), ranked by mathematicians on a series of scales of 0 to 3. A straight line (fig. D=1) or a flat horizon, rank at the bottom of a scale, whereas densely interwoven drips (fig. D=1.8) or tree branches rank higher up. Fractal patterns may account for some of the lasting appeal of Pollock's work. They also enable physicist Richard Taylor to separate true Pollocks from the drip paintings created by imitators and forgers.... a>

Here's an NPR interview:

message 8: by AC (new)

AC | 151 comments Given the element of randomness necessarily present in dripping, this is not all that surprising

message 9: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Carol just PM'ed me to remind me about the discussion of this book. I've been somewhat remiss in participating recently--mountains of work (as well as snow) of late; sorry--but I hope to get back into the swing. Last year, I read Tom and Jack around the time it came out, enjoyed it, and learned a lot from it. I really look forward to revisiting it with all of you.

message 10: by Ed (last edited Feb 20, 2011 08:27PM) (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments AC wrote: "Given the element of randomness necessarily present in dripping, this is not all that surprising"

Actually, really random dripping, such as happens on dropcloths etc. is actually less self similar as it usually is one viscosity and a simple range of motion.

Pollock manipulated his paint's viscosity quite a bit and used a variety of motions.

In fact, Taylor found that the fractal dimensionality increased through the series, and that this seems to correspond really well with completion dates. On some level, it looks like he was trying to manipulate scale, and intuited how much to fill at every scale.

message 11: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments I did a project on Pollock as an undergrad, which included doing a "Pollock" painting. Whatever people may think, it's not easy. You need to do really graceful moves that go right down to your toes.

message 12: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Just because we are talking about Pollock, I found this new entry on the Met website:

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From 1942, when he had his first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim's New York gallery, Art of This Century, until his death in an automobile crash at age forty-four in 1956, Jackson Pollock's volatile art and personality made him a dominant and revolutionary figure in the art world. Even long dead, his celebrity survives in the large body of work that is disseminated around the globe. One cannot speak about Pollock's late work-especially his famous mural-size paintings, such as Autumn Rhythm-without acknowledging his reinvention and appropriation of drawing processes.

In the mid-1940s, when he became dissatisfied with representational art, Pollock began to conceive of a way to render things imagined, rather than things that were seen. In 1947, he devised a radically new technique whereby paint was dripped and poured (as well as spattered, flung, and pooled) over canvas or paper using a variety of unconventional tools (e.g., sticks, brush handles, cans, etc). Although such works employed paint media, his means of applying this media and his reliance on line as his primary means of expression brought these works into the realm of drawing. They redefined the parameters of traditional painting and drawing, and proposed instead a new and innovative direction for modern art. As Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife and fellow Abstract Expressionist painter, noted, his work "seemed like monumental drawing, or maybe painting with the immediacy of drawing-some new category" (quoted in B. H. Friedman, Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible, New York, 1972, p. 182).

This large untitled work on paper displays the great control and facility that Pollock also applied to his considerably larger canvases. Dripping skeins of bright red enamel over a linear understructure of black ink, his hand moved like a virtuoso around the sheet. Lines thicken and thin, punctuate and envelop, with poetic grace. The dynamic abstract composition that results embodies a sense of harnessed energy and rapid motion.

message 13: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Today is the day!!! We can begin reading our book today (if we haven't already). As we've discussed, we should be able to read about 50 pages this week and we can discuss those first pages by next Tuesday. I hope everyone got a chance to find the book. I look forward to everyone's comments!

message 14: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments I got about 80 pages into it.
Enjoying it a lot so far.

I am holding off until folks get caught up.

message 15: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Thanks Heather. I am grateful that we will discuss it next Tuesday because once again we are in the midst of another snow storm (already have 3 feet from the previous 4 storms). It is snowing as I write this and the forecast for tomorrow is ice (which usually brings power outages.) The storm should end Friday am.

So many buildings have lost roofs due to the weight of the snow. There are actually signs posted where paid help will shovel your roof. The mayor said this morning to shovel all decks so that the weight of the snow will not cause the deck to pull away from the house and compromise the structure.

Anyway, I look forward to the book discussion next week!

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) Ah, I found the group. I just received the book and thought I would take a 21 pages into it and it calls me. I can do 50 pages easily. Great selection everyone!

message 17: by Ed (last edited Feb 20, 2011 08:28PM) (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments The opening, on the winter scene in Pollock's icy studio.... It makes me think of de Kooning's remark that "Jackson broke the ice for all of us."

So maybe January is the ideal time to read about the making of Jackson Pollock, and how he came to be the ice breaker.

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) I am really enjoying this book. The reason I joined this group was to enlarge my world outlook through the medium of Art. This book being a lesson in art mediums and also a duo-biography is fascinating to me. I was so interested in realizing how close a 'community' the art world was back in the 20's-40's. I just never thought I would read the names Emerson next to Pollack. I'm off to learn about making an abstract painting!

message 19: by Ruth (last edited Feb 08, 2011 09:42AM) (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments I can't stand it. My copyediting, nitpicking soul is writhing. My right hand is out of control, raising itself in a Dr. Strangelovian fit.

PollOck is the artist. PollAck is a fish.

message 20: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) lol @ Jackson Pollack. Isn't that a sushi roll?

Jeannie and Louis Rigod (opalbeach) Sorry for the Typo.

message 22: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1948 comments You're not the only one, Jeanne. :)

message 23: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I find it interesting how all three brothers in the Pollock family were artists who went to study with Benton. And Jackson, it seemed at first, had the least talent. But he had the drive and motivation to excel and that he did!

message 24: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments The Pollock/Pollack misspelling even appeared in the press early in Pollock's career--exhibition reviews, profile articles, etc.

And it's really a very easy mistake to make, as "Pollack" is a legitimate surname--for instance the film director Sydney Pollack--but just doesn't happen to be the artist's.

message 25: by Divvy (last edited Feb 08, 2011 02:26PM) (new)

Divvy | 70 comments I'll admit I'm not a fan of Jackson Pollock's work.-- This is one reasons I want to read along this time. Usually the more I learn about an artist, the more respect I gain for his/her work. -- I always though he owed his fame to Clement Greenberg's championship and his ability to develop a fresh artistic gimmick (drippings.) I have to admit, I felt a little bit of smug justification when I read the detail of Rita's portrait looking like a potato.

message 26: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments I know nothing about Benton's life, but only a little about Pollock's later life. It's sad that the happiest years for his family happened when he was 2-6 years old. His father's childhood was just awful -- to be given away to a poor farm couple who never loved him and made him work for others and pocket the money he made. And then legally adopting him at 20 so they could continue exploiting him which drove him to drink. Just tragic.

What do you think about Benton's wife, Rita?

message 27: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments That is very sad about Pollock, Carol. His early life definitely left him with permanent emotional scars.

As for Rita Benton, I don't much about her aside from what's said in "Tom and Jack," but Henry Adams makes her seem pretty sultry...

message 28: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Ed wrote: "A couple of interesting links.

Pollack said "I am nature."

Richard Taylor, a physicist with an art degree has done analysis (somewhat controversial) of fractals in Pollock's painting. Fractals..."

I thought this article was interesting. In fact, I feel the same as Divvy when she said, "I'll admit I'm not a fan of Jackson Pollock's work...Usually the more I learn about an artist, the more respect I gain for his/her work. I didn't understand Pollock for a long time, but after reading the article that Ed found about the mathematics of his work and learning more about his life and background, I am appreciating Pollock more and more. Even if I'm not a big fan of his work, I do feel that he is a type of genius.

message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments [image error]
Self portrait with Rita, 1922, Smithsonian

Rita Piacenza immigrated from Italy, became one of his students and married Benton in 1922. At first I thought that she was being motherly to Pollock, but at times, she seemed to be flirting with him.

message 30: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I thought she seemed to flirt with all men. There were several examples of various moments that she seemed to 'come on' to even married men. I wouldn't be surprised if she was the same way with Jackson.

message 31: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments

Painter Jackson Pollock (seated R) sitting on the steps of painter Thomas Hart Benton's summer home with Rita Benton (sitting, in white hat) and author Coburn Gilman (standing).

message 32: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Benton's "Hollows and Bumps -- rhythmic energy."

Jackson Pollock, Going West, c. 1934-1935, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian Institution

Pollock's 1934 painting of a frontier journey connects his teacher's energetic style to his own roots in the American West: the scene may have come from a family photo of a bridge in Cody, Wyoming, where Pollock was born. The abstract swirling patterns evident in this landscape help illustrate why Benton boasted that with him Pollock had found "the essential rhythms" of art.

Thomas Hart Benton, Approaching Storm, 1937, National Gallery of Art

message 33: by Divvy (new)

Divvy | 70 comments Good juxtaposition of images Carol. I've see Going West several times, but now I really see the connection with Benton.

message 34: by Jonathan (last edited Feb 09, 2011 11:25AM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments It is a good juxtaposition. And I think that Benton's claim about the "basic rhythms" of Pollock's art--the sinuous, whip-crack line that can be picked up at any point in the composition, carrying through the whole--is basically valid. In "Tom and Jack," Henry Adams discusses how Benton's teaching methods reinforced this basic concept of composition and drawing, and makes a good case that it remained as an organizing principle in Pollock's later drip paintings--which I personally think is an impressive insight and one of the best things about the book.

message 35: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Carol wrote: "Benton's "Hollows and Bumps -- rhythmic energy."

Jackson Pollock, Going West, c. 1934-1935, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian Institution

Pollock's 1934 painting of a frontier journey connects his t..."

And another of his early influences was Ryder, you see that in the dark palette and surface
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message 36: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Pollock's painting below shows how Albert Pinkham Ryder’s seascapes influenced his work-- especially the drama in his Flying Dutchman (top image on Ed's post).

T. P.’s Boat in Menemsh Pond, c. 1934, oil on canvas, New Britain Museum of American Art

message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments sorry . . . if there is no image, check this out --

message 38: by Caryl (new)

Caryl (cdahn) | 32 comments Here is a painting by Thomas Hart Benton that I see quite frequently at the MacNider Art Museum in Mason City, Iowa. They have a nice collection of regional artist work. I think the cloud pattern in the work "Spring Tryout" especially assimilates the movement of a Jackson Pollock. I guess the movement; the physical sensation of wind and air is where I sense the Tom and Jack connection. I am enjoying the book.

message 39: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments I just got a message from the Save the Jackson Pollock Facebook group. They are still trying to sell it off.

That's the amazing mural he did for Peggy Guggenheim which UI has.

message 40: by Ed (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments Jonathan wrote: "The Pollock/Pollack misspelling even appeared in the press early in Pollock's career--exhibition reviews, profile articles, etc.

And it's really a very easy mistake to make, as "Pollack" is a leg..."

That's nothing. The early reviewers got Monet and Manet confused, or thought they were the same painter, and finally, when they got figured out, made fun of them for having the nerve to have similar names!

message 41: by Jonathan (last edited Feb 10, 2011 10:03AM) (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Yes, I've read that too. Manet, who was slightly older and more established as an artist (also very wealthy, but not because of his art) apparently found the confusion extremely irritating at first, before he met Monet, whom he later grew to like.

message 42: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments I thought I read somewhere that because Manet felt that the confusion was 'irritating', he didn't want to associate with the impressionists. He never considered himself an impressionist although he is thought to be part of them.

message 43: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 257 comments Manet was certainly a rebel, and some of his later works do show an interest in the type of light effects generally associated with Impressionist landscape work. But this wasn't really his primary preoccupation as an artist, and he never exhibited in any of the group shows of independent artists that are now known as the Impressionist exhibitions.

Manet had already established a reputation for himself by the time of the first of these shows and therefore had little to gain, from a career standpoint, by associating himself with a group of lesser-known artists. (And they, for their part, didn't necessarily want to be seen merely as his followers.)

Manet preferred to challenge the practices of academic art in the context of the "salon," the official juried exhibition held each year in Paris which tended to favor more conservative trends.

That said, Manet was personally on very good terms with Degas, Caillebotte, Monet, and eventually Renoir (whom he initially thought untalented). Of these, only Degas and Caillebotte were from the same elevated social circle as Manet. Monet's family was from the lower middle class and Renoir came from a truly underprivileged working-class background. It's actually quite interesting, in the context of the times, that all of these people found common ground in art and managed, more or less, to get along.

message 44: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Carol wrote: "sorry . . . if there is no image, check this out --"

I saw this painting tonight. It is tiny -- 4" x 6" max. Honestly if I didn't know it was by Pollock, I don't think I would have spent much time looking at it.

message 45: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments The New Britain Museum of American Art has one room devoted to Benton. According to a docent the museum purchased all the artwork from The Whitney for $500.

Indian Arts, 1932, Tempera with oil glaze, 96 x 84 in.

Arts of the South, 1932, Tempera with oil glaze

Arts of the City, 1932. Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). Tempera with oil glaze, 96 x 264 in., the openings are for the doors

Arts of the City detail

Arts of the West, 1932. Tempera with oil glaze, 96 x 156 in.

They had 5 black and white studies by Benton. And paintings of Benton --

Thomas Hart Benton by Denys Wortman

another portrait by Denys Wortman

The room is small and intimate. There are 2 benches so you can sit and really take in his work. I discovered that I like his use of strong colors and his figures have great movement.

message 46: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments Especially the movement in this one. People are dancing and playing music; the cowboys with the horses on the right.
[image error]

message 47: by Caryl (new)

Caryl (cdahn) | 32 comments I came across this great photo of Jackson Pollock in the Archives of American Art. Reminded me of Carol's painting she listed of the cowboys.

Archives of American Art

message 48: by Heather (new)

Heather | 4 comments Those are great paintings by Benton. I, too, like his way with color and the fluidity of his movements.

message 49: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 1140 comments I never really thought much about him or his artwork. But then, I only viewed his work in slides, photos or online. Being in the presence of a work of art makes all the difference.

message 50: by Ed (last edited Feb 20, 2011 08:29PM) (new)

Ed Smiley | 871 comments One of the interesting terms about Pollock's painting is that it is called "drip" painting, even though a lot of critics call it "poured" painting. Maybe "flung" paint is more like it.

Of course that is the popular term but it is "dripped onto" not "dripped and running" paint, and that affects the look of the painting.

Because he worked on a horizontal surface he could use much runnier paint. If he had worked vertically, his paint would have "dripped" and created strong vertical stripes. The "vertical" direction when working flat becomes a third dimension into the surface.

By the way, because the ribbons of paint interlace, if you have ever seen a good Pollock, there is a paradoxical deep space in many of them, that is very rich and complex. It's not flat, and the paint has a definite dimension. I think it is partly his way of looping the paint in the air that does it. Even though the paint lies flat it seems to "remember" the third dimension it was in.

Maybe this connects up with Benson's modeling of his flat surfaces in three dimensions. The sharp focus keeps the space very flat, Cubistic in Benson, but the rhythms create an almost unbearable tension with the two dimensionality, because all the shapes are curvy.

Pollock puts in gestures that try to "pop out" but he then puts another gesture on top, so there is a lot of rhythm and tension. Another trick Pollock uses is going back in with the same color as an earlier layer so that there is a tension between the way the colors of the paint form space, and the physical nature of the ribbons of paint which are clearly in different layers.

Anyway, if you have never seen a Pollock in person, you may not get a good sense of how sensuous and startling the physicality of the paint actually is.

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