Jessica Sheridan Jalbert
Masculinity and the Search for an American Ideal
It was not until after World War I that the United States established an art movement that the country could claim as its own. The uniquely American style became known as Abstract Expressionism. In the U.S. post WWII, Abstract Expressionism stood for certain kind of frontier heroism that supported the country’s new ideals of universalism, individualism and freedom. Of the artists whose work was instrumental in the establishment of Abstract Expressionism, the individuals who rendered the most fame and success was a homogenous group of white heterosexual males. Of this group, Jackson Pollock, most famous for his splattered drip paintings, would emerge as the paradigm of the Abstract Expressionist. Referred to as “Action Paintings,” the artist’s large and abstract pieces were meant as acts of self discovery. Pollock disregarded conventional ideas about painting and for him, the real art was in the method in which he created a painting. The chaos present in his paintings parallels the chaos in Jackson Pollock’s own life. Pollock was an intense figure who suffered from depression, and who for most of his life, struggled with alcoholism and addiction. In this thesis, I will examine the themes of gender and sexuality and violence and aggression for their presence in Pollock’s life and work. I will investigate the political and social climate of the United States during the period between 1930 and the mid 1950s, and what it was about Pollock as a man and as an artist that allowed him to experience such success at the time. I will also examine the work of Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, and look at the differences in the way that her work was received compared to her husband and his peers, because she was a female, and how this was a testament to the times. I will conclude by examining Pollock’s legacy and how interpretations of his work have changed in recent years.