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Jackson Pollock: An American Saga [Paperback]

Steven Naifeh , Gregory Smith
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1, 1998 9780913391198 978-0913391198 3rd
Jackson Pollock was more than a great artist, he was a creative force of nature. He changed not only the course of Western art, but our very definition of "art." He was the quintessential tortured genius, an American Vincent van Gogh, cut from the same unconforming cloth as his contemporaries Ernest Hemingway and James Dean--and tormented by the same demons; a "cowboy artist" who rose from obscurity to take his place among the titans of modern art, and whose paintings now command millions of dollars.

Here, for the first time, is the life behind that extraordinary achievement--the disjointed childhood, the sibling rivalry, the sexual ambiguity, and the artistic frustration out of which both artist and art developed.

Based on more than 2,000 interviews with 850 people, Jackson Pollock is the first book to explore the life of a great artist with the psychological depth that marks the best biographies of literary and political figures. In eight years of research the authors have uncovered previously unknown letters and documents, gained access to medical and psychiatric records, and interviewed scores of the artist's friends and acquaintances whose stories had never been told. They were also the first biographers in twenty years to benefit from the cooperation of Pollock's widow, Lee Krasner.

The results of these unprecedented efforts lie before you: a rich, sprawling, landmark biography of one of the most compelling figures in all of American culture; a brilliant, explosive "portrait of the artist," intimately detailed, abundantly illustrated (with more than 200 photographs from Pollock's life and work, many of them never before published), and filled with new information and new insights.

In a style as richly textured, engrossing, and poignant as the best of contemporary literature, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith give us the family crucible out of which the artist and his art emerged. Beginning with Jackson's birth on a sheep ranch in Wyoming, we follow the Pollock family on a relentless trek across the American West, as their dreams of a better life somewhere else are repeatedly frustrated. We see the young Jack Pollock as a struggling art student in New York, escaping into drunken rages or throwing himself into the Hudson River in one of several attempts at suicide.

Later, we see Pollock, by turns, gently affectionate and outrageously cruel, creatively bankrupt and heroically productive. We see him alternately fascinated and intimidated by his contemporaries: Clement Greenberg, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Harold Rosenberg, Clyfford Still, Tennessee Williams. We see him enter into a tumultuous marriage with the painter Lee Krasner, creating a powerful alliance that will lead first to triumph, then to decline, and finally to death when, with his mistress at his side, Pollock smashes his car into a tree.

But Jackson Pollock is more than the epic story of a tormented man and his sublime art, it is also a compulsively readable, sweeping saga of America's cultural coming of age. From frontier Iowa to the dust bowl of Arizona, from the twilight of the Wild West to the desolation of Depression-era New York, from the excitement and experimentation of the Mexican muralists to the fanfare of the Surrealists' visit to America, from the arts projects of the WPA to the explosion of interest and money that marked the beginning of the modern art world, Pollock's story unfolds against the dramatic landscape of American history.

Here then is a definitive record of the journey of an artist, filled with piercing psychological insights, that brings us to a truer understanding of the power and pathos of creative genius.


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reading this massive, richly satisfying biography of the expressionist painter, one is awestruck that so much creativity flowed from such self-destructive havoc. Pollock (1912-1956) is presented as an artist driven by private demons, nursing psychic wounds inflicted by a rigidly controlling mother and a father who abandoned the family when Jackson was nine. We are shown that Pollock's week-long drunken binges, violent outbursts and possible homosexuality drove away most women, but painter Lee Krasner, his wife, provided the devotion and sexual fulfillment that allowed him to confront on canvas the inner struggle between his masculine and feminine halves. Naifeh and Smith, whose coauthored books include Culture Making , provide new information on his peripatetic childhood and on his relationships with surrealists, Jungian analysts, mentor Thomas Hart Benton, Mexican muralist David Siqueiros and Polish refugee artist John Graham. This is both a definitive portrait and an intimate, selective history of a quarter-century of modern art. Illustrations not seen by PW. 35,000 first printing; first serial to Mirabella; film rights to Keith Barish Productions.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pollock's life, one of anger and depression, alcoholism and suicide attempts, was also full of vitality and imagination; despite bruised feelings, spurned generosity, and disruption to their lives, his friends acknowledged his need both to provoke and to be forgiven. This study, the result of seven years' research and 2000 interviews, is a strange combination of biographical research, art historical analysis, and pop psychology, with a touch of "soon to be a major motion picture" thrown in for good measure. Although events and conversations are substantially annotated, this enormous body of facts fails to go beneath the first layer in the life of this complex artist; the novellike prose seems to duplicate Pollock's familiar style of "show and conceal." Still, this work--a cultural history as well as a biography--makes for interesting reading.
- Paula Frosch, Metropolitan Museum Lib., New York
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 934 pages
  • Publisher: Woodward/White, Incorporated; 3rd edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780913391198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0913391198
  • ASIN: 0913391190
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-Researched March 18, 2001
Excellent index and thorough, chronological coverage of events in the life of this important American artist.
It is a huge book but moves fairly quickly, since Pollock's life was really very interesting. Any art history student studying Pollock and the New York abstract expressionist movement will find plenty of insight here. Includes wonderful collection of black and white photos from all phases of the man's life.
Pollock had a tough time dealing with the fame and notoriety foisted upon him as a genius of the New York school, and for many years Pollock has often been dismissed as the phony he himself feared he was. It certainly is refreshing to see Pollock as a whole man (talented, wise, adventurous, flawed, tenacious, alcoholic), not just as an overrated art star. (The recent Kurt Varnadoe book on his art is also excellent in this way). Self doubting artists may find some degree of comfort in this book, actually.
Detailed, unbiased writing. One of the best artist biographies I've ever read.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, informative, biased, overly Freudian January 24, 1999
Absolutely essential for the serious Pollock scholar. It should be kept in mind, however, that Naifeh and Smith are journalists and not art historians. This becomes painfully evident when the two authors delve into art criticism and interpretation. Example: Naifeh and Smith would have us believe that Pollock's use of a screaming horses in drawings from the late 30s- early 40s has to do with his memory of an accident from his childhood years and is not a response to Picasso's Guernica, then on veiw in NYC. Guardians of the Secret in thier interpretation becomes an abstract family portrait instead of part of the discourse of modern art. To be sure,a Freudian approach can be overdone.
Also, why all the facination with Pollock's may-be sort-of homosexual urges/practices? Possibly to sell more books? They are the only biographers to mention it, and they infact harp on the subject endlessly. In short, being homosexaul is important to understanding Andy Warhol's work, but not so Pollock.
Finally, the authors make a big deal about getting Krasner's cooperation for this biography, but fail to mention that she spoke at length to many other interviewers. Her possible biases are never touched on. Also, was it just good fortune that Krasner died before the publication, or was it a prerequisite? I think she would have sued if she had ever read the book.
I can not deny that this book is essential, but be warned, it has major flaws. History will rememember the contribution that Naifeh and Smith made, but we should remember their shortcomings as well.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography about a difficult man April 18, 2001
The Jackson Pollock as presented in this fast reading, well researched and impassioned (it is most obvious that the authors are devoted to placing Pollock rightfully amoung the giants of Art) biography, comes across as a sullen, abusive, self-hating, inarticulate, drunken visionary who, despite his many great personality flaws, changed the course of modern art forever.
The subtitle of "An American Saga" is most appropriate considering the vast expanses of geographical and historical space Pollock journeyed in his short life. The authors wisely build a living frame of reference for Pollock to exist. There is absolutely no way a rule breaker can develop in a vacum and Pollock was no exception. The supporting cast of characters (including America's rich landscapes- so vividly captured here!) stands as a virtual who's who of American Art. Thomas Hart Benton, Peggy Guggenhiem and others recieve detailed sketches as do the WPA and other organizations that helped to shape Pollock's path.
Pollock may not have been a "good man" in a moral sense. He comes across as boorish and self-centered, and tragically in many cases, the world's great artists frequently share Pollocks flaws. I seriously doubt that I would have enjoyed spending any time with Pollock the man. Luckily we don't have to, but we do have Pollock's rich legacy of Art in which we can all share.
A must read for any lover or student of American Culture, Art or History.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How long could you have stood this man? February 29, 2008
By MydaRay
Monstrous, pathetic, sexually dysfunctional, violent, coarse, demanding, uncommunicative and, most famously, a terrible, terrible drunk - all the bad boy stuff is here. Read it for that and also for the background which includes generous looks at the early 20th century American West, Depression era New York City, Abstract Expressionism and the artistic infighting it occasioned. I don't start 800 plus pages of reading lightly any more given my age and the books that demand my attention but this biography got its hooks into me and wouldn't let go.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This is a well researched and written biography. Pollock was alcoholic, abusive and not someone I would have wanted to know. He hurt the woman he loved- or at least loved him. This biography travels through the world of art and money as well as the bowels of self-hatred and Hell. Was he an artist or just lucky (drip painting)? Do some brilliant moments in creativity justify such abuse toward others? Was his confusion about his sexual identity at the core of his artistic and abusive self? This biography goes into the psychological and creative mind and life of an extremely complex though not so interesting individual. Given the right circumstances just about anyone can appear interesting and brilliant. Good connections and lucky breaks can pave the way to painting a brilliant illusion. Maybe that was his greatest masterpiece. With that all said, the biography is brilliant, and that's no illusion. One of the most insightful reads on the art world during the middle of the twentieth century. You'll read about famous people, and find a new and enlightening perspective of how it evolved and the stuff it was made of. Highly enjoyable and recommended!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZINGLY WELL-TOLD ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE OF THIS GENIUS!!! (LOVED IT).
This bio is thorough and those who love art, Pollock, and/or Jungian psychology will be greatly rewarded. I can't say enough great things about the book... Read more
Published 3 months ago by MG
1.0 out of 5 stars Not much of a biography....
As someone who has studied Pollock and the art milieu of the 30s-50s, this biography is most notable for the incredibly irritatingly personally negative approach it takes to... Read more
Published 6 months ago by John Sheridan
4.0 out of 5 stars An American Painter
My son has a Pollock drip painting (reproduction of course) hanging in his front room. I found my eyes drawn to it and decided to do some research on Pollock. Read more
Published 13 months ago by BrokenArrow
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing childhood
This is such an interesting book. It not only goes far back in Pollack history but also includes sections on other artists like Thomas Hart Benton who were a big part of Jackson's... Read more
Published 17 months ago by J. Painter
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange, but interesting character.
Book is huge and I'm not done, but learning much about Pollock and his personality. Saw the movie and had to know more about him.
Published 22 months ago by Cynthia Ferrese
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insights
I can't say for certain how accurate all the information presented is, but there is no doubt Pollock had a very rough go psychologically. Read more
Published on January 30, 2012 by Thomas Hawking
5.0 out of 5 stars A WONDERFUL ACHIEVEMENT IN PUBLISHING
This book offers a detailed and complex portrait of a complicated person. Richly illustrated and packed with a critical and insightful text it offers a wonderful overview of... Read more
Published on November 9, 2011 by William J. Havlicek, PhD
4.0 out of 5 stars 1950s Paris Hilton
I agree with a previous scathing reviewer regarding the authors' sins of biography. However, the book is very readable, it covers all the facts of Pollock's life, and provides... Read more
Published on March 15, 2011 by disco75
5.0 out of 5 stars Jackson Pollock
Anyone who is interested in Jackson Pollock, should read this book. The movie, "Pollock" is based on this book. Read more
Published on February 11, 2011 by Blaze
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable
This superb book ranks among the finest biographies; not by coincidence did it win the Pulitzer Prize. Read more
Published on November 18, 2009 by Suzy Tee
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