When I was a kid, I was strangely drawn to Jackson Pollock’s paintings. I didn’t really understand them, but I loved the energy, the color, and the movement.
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I also loved the fact that I could work with the method! Art is something I love, but I can barely draw a respectable stick figure. I can drip and splatter paint for hours, though!
Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912. He was the son of a farmer and land surveyor. Pollock grew up in California and Arizona, but because his father traveled a lot for work, Jackson got to travel too. He spent a lot of time as a child around Native American tribal land, and this later influenced a lot of his work.
Pollock studied art in New York in the late 1920s and early 1930s. There, he learned from regionalist and surrealist artists and began to experiment with his own style.
During this decade, the Great Depression had overtaken not only America, but the western world. Soon after this era, more chaos came with World War II. Much of the world had moved, very rapidly, from an era of growth and prosperity to one of fear and anxiety.
These changes rallied many people to join in deeper community and patriotism. After the war, it caused many people to want a stable, safe, suburban life.
The emotions were still there, though, and this is what many authors and artists of this period portrayed. Jackson Pollock was one of them.
Pollock’s Early Works
In the 1930s and 1940s, Pollock’s work was strongly influenced by Regionalist artists such as Digo Rivera. He painted people, objects, and places with methods that were often used on murals.
In 1939, Pollock attended a Picasso exhibition in New York and viewed Picasso’s anti-war mural, Guernica. It was this exhibit that convinced Pollock that he could communicate deeper ideas through his art than if he painted in a realistic manner.
Moving Into Abstract
In the 1940s, Pollock began to move into the Abstract Art movement. In fact, he became one of the most famous artists of this genre! He started to experiment with color, space, and movement to express ideas.
He is most well-known for his uncommon methods. Instead of using a paintbrush to put paint on the canvas, he would use tools like sticks and palette knives – or no tools at all! He often splattered paint on a canvas and dripped it straight from the bucket.
At times he would stand still while doing this, and at other times he would move around or dance. By getting involved with his full body, he was able to put a lot of movement and energy into his paintings. In turn, this helped express the emotions he wanted to portray.
Pollock’s work was very well-accepted by the art community during his lifetime; Vogue even did a couture photo shoot with his paintings as backdrops! This helped open the door to many other Abstract artists.
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Like some of the other recent artists we’ve studied, Pollock lived during a time of great change. He was born in 1912, shortly before the outbreak of World War I; he died in 1956, shortly before the Space Race. When he was born, Edwardian clothing (like that seen on Downtown Abbey) was in fashion. When he died, mini-skirts and bikinis were about to hit the scene.
Be sure to record Jackson Pollock on your Timeline of the Arts. If you haven’t downloaded your copy yet, you can do so here!
Jackson Pollock was born a few decades later than Cubist painter Frank Kupka, but they died about the same time. Some famous artists and authors of this time include:
- James Joyce
- Virginia Woolf
- Scott Fitzgerald
- Ernest Hemingway
- Igor Stravinsky
- Aaron Copland
- Dmitri Shostakovich
Hands-On Activity: Splatter and Drip Painting!
This one is actually really fun…and the great part is, there’s no “wrong” way to do it! It’s also pretty messy though, so be sure to cover your work surface with something like a split-open trash bag or a plastic tarp.
For this project, decide how big you want the project to be. Also, decide whether you want to make an individual or a group piece. For an individual piece, you get the final say over your masterpiece. For a group piece, you get to work with your friends or siblings!
Lay out your cover tarp and then place all your supplies in ready reach. This is also a good project for paint smocks. If your dad has an old button down shirt he doesn’t mind you using, it will work well to cover your clothes.
If you’re doing your own piece, a canvas or piece of watercolor paper will work well. For a group project, a flat bed sheet is perfect!
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When you’re ready to work, try out some techniques on a paper plate or piece of scratch paper to see what you like best. Here are some options:
- Dip a stick into your paint and drizzle it on.
- Dip your paintbrush bristles in and then hit them lightly against a stick or pencil to make splatters.
- Lower the bristles of a toothbrush into the paint and then run your finger across them to make small splatters, like “snow.” (You might want to wear gloves for this technique.)
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Drizzle, splatter, and drip your paint in different directions and patterns. You might find it easiest to work with one color at a time and add layers, or you might want to work with several colors at once. Just be sure to use separate tools for each color!
Note that dripping thick layers will take a long time to dry. Plan accordingly!
Khan Academy lessons on Jackson Pollock and other Abstract artists
Edgar Degas (+ Free Art Visuals!)
Claude Monet (+ Free Art Study Cards!)