Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock's
"Psychoanalytic Drawings" Paintings"

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Until recently the psychoanalysis of art was restricted to dead artists. In the hands of Freud, retrospective analysis was an extension of the 19th-century idea of art as a means of contact with great minds. For all the distressing symptoms that he detected in Leonardo, Freud's view of artists was essentially old-fashioned and ennobling. Subsequent psychoanalysts possessed neither Freud's tact nor his sense of the continuum of culture, with the result that crude post-mortems on absent heads flourished. One victim, Vincent van Gogh, was analyzed at different times in terms of syphilitic dementia and schizophrenia, of "affective epilepsy" and "epileptic psychosis," aggravated respectively by Oedipal conflict and addiction. No wonder Artaud was driven to proclaim "the good mental health of Van Gogh who, during his whole life in this world we live in, burnt only one hand in addition to cutting off his left ear." Later psychoanalysts have shown themselves to be more sophisticated in terms of art and more sensitive to the human pain of illness.
In the United States, though not in Europe, we have a situation in which attendance on a psychologist, of one school or another, is common, not to say statistically normal. With such an input of patients, artists must be showing up regularly and, as it happens, the general level of art appreciation has risen, including that of doctors. We ought, therefore, to have the beginning of a literature on the psychoanalysis of live artists, or artists personally known to the analysts who write about them. One sign of this are the so-called "Psychoanalytic Drawings" by Jackson Pollock.
The drawings are from a single source, a doctor whom Pollock consulted for eighteen months in 1939-40. The propriety of this event, a doctor selling a patient's work, is not clear, but it is thirty years since the sessions and fourteen since the artist's death [Pollock died in 1956]. It certainly constitutes a financial gain for the vendor, but it hardly counts as a breach of confidence. Lee Krasner Pollock, the artist's widow, communicated with The New York Times (October 16, 1970) about this. "Whether Dr. Henderson has acted properly in disclosing Jackson's communications with him and making his personal psychoanalytic judgment public is a matter about which he must search his own conscience." It must be said that the catalogue is perfectly circumspect, staying well within public knowledge of Pollock's troubles. In a book by Bryan Robertson, countenanced by Mrs. Pollock, there are several references to Pollock's alcoholism, for example, including this sinister apologia: "when he was drunk and unhappy, and involved in trivial bar squabbles, weapons were sometimes thrust into his hand by avid onlookers."
The drawings originally were used to facilitate communication between Pollock and Henderson. Apparently by discussing the drawings with the doctor Pollock could reveal what he had trouble saying straight out. It is a serious shortcoming of the catalogue by C. L. Wysuph that, though he is introducing us to the drawings, he is, at the same time, screening us from their original interpretation. There is a tantalizing reference to "Joseph Henderson, M.D., 'Jackson Pollock: A Psychological Commentary.' Unpublished essay," but only Section II of Mr. Wysuph's essay goes into clinical detail, including five quotes, no more, from the doctor.
According to Wysuph, Henderson diagnosed schizophrenia and the drawings are said to indicate alternations of "violent agitation" and "withdrawal." He is quoted as interpreting a specific drawing (No. 57 in the show) as follows: "these pathetic upper limbs reaching upward toward an unfeeling, purely schematic, female torso, must denote a problem left unsolved and perhaps insoluble, a frustrated longing for the all-giving mother." This is hardly a reduction of Pollock's privacy; it is cliché, not revelation. Mr. Wysuph proposes that Pollock's move, in the late thirties, from an imagery influenced by Midwest and Mexican social art styles toward Surrealism shows that "he must have felt the need to express a more interior reality." However, it is more as if Pollock switched from one set of simple public symbols to another set, equally simple and no less public. Pollock seems to have been familiar with analytical psychology before he went to Henderson, so we have a self-sustaining rapport of Jungian doctor and a predisposed Jungian patient. Indeed, Dr. Henderson admits to a "counter-transference to the symbolic material."
I don't mean that analysis may not have been good for Pollock, but I doubt that the drawings done for his analyst are in any sense more expressive, more authentic, than his other work. The weakness of the psychoanalysis of art is that its literature consists of a heap of unrelated and untestable guesses about artists in crisis. Art is assumed to be a source of secret knowledge, an idea related to the 19th-century view of art as self-expression. What Jungian psychology gave to Pollock was an iconography; not a mode of involuntary revelation but a set of mythical figures to use knowingly. Except for his best period, 1948-50, the figures and the animals always inhabit Pollock's paintings as public property of the analyzed generation.
The drawings themselves are interesting as they fill in the outline that was indicated by the previously known sketches of the period belonging to the Pollock estate. The main style is the Mexican version of Cubism, a ponderous meshing of mechanical, totemic and organic form sources, heavily contoured and greasily shaded in crayon. When a lighter scattering of images occurs, there are frequent shreds of Arp, Miró, Henry Moore and Picasso. The drawings are mostly heavy- handed and banal, the work of a man who did not get going as an artist until 1942, at the age of 30. He was, if not exactly a late starter, an awkward one, like other Americans of his generation working in the absence of the support systems now abundant in the art scene.
The future of the psychoanalysis of art seems to lie in work with artists who are nonpatients. Only then will the problem of how an artist views his own work, what his satisfactions are in working, be documented with any precision. Then the aberrant cases usually discussed will have a meaningful field of reference. An example of such work is the series of sessions of Robert Indiana and Dr. Arthur C. Carr, in which the artist provided his free associations to his own paintings. Indiana is an articulate artist and Dr. Carr is a collector (owning a good many early Indianas), as well as a psychiatrist. The match was exceptional and the results illuminating though, at the present time, unpublished. It is clear, however, that discussions of this kind, with nonpatient artists, will reveal more about art than the infatuation with breakdown ever did. In any case, it seems that Pollock, for one, made art that conformed to his doctor's requirements. This is the reason that makes one wish for a fuller use of Henderson's original material, not as news from Pollock's archaic past but as a guide to the artist's later conscious intentions.
Abstract Art
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