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Jackson Pollock: An American Saga
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 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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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 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
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2008
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
on March 7, 2001
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2000
I'm half way through, and enjoying every chapter. Stick with the first chapters on Pollock's childhood in the West, they do seem to explain something of his later psychology. The authors don't quite get to the bottom of the riddle of his mother, and her influence on his later trauma, although they do their best. Roy Pollock, his father, emerges as a truly tragic figure - in many ways an heroic figure, but a man doomed from the start by his own childhood history of neglect. The story will make a great movie one day.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 1999
This book is entitled Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, not Jackson Pollock: Only What You Need To Understand His Work. It is a biography and it should be read like one. The only trouble is that I found it necessary to purchase another book that analyzed his paintings better. Still though, this book is essential for anyone interested in Pollock.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2001
The beginning of this book is hard to get through but once Jackson moved to New York, I was totally absorbed in his story. I'm sorry that the movie based on this book did not sweep the Oscars. By the time you finish the book, you feel like you know this man, but of course, he didn't even know himself. I recommend not only the book, but the movie, and the soundtrack, too.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Whenever I hear the phrase "exhaustively researched," I will think of this book. The authors interviewed over 800 people! The notes section is extensive and detailed, so if you wonder where they (Naifeh/Smith) got a quote, go to the back of the book and find out. I have been lugging this book around for about three weeks (the hardcover copy is over 800 pages and must weigh over 5 lbs), ever since I saw the movie "Pollock" with Ed Harris and decided to read the book it was based on. This is a thorough biography of Jackson Pollock. It starts with his grandparents to give you a good idea of how Jackson came to be. I am not an artsy person (at least, I don't pay much attention to artwork) and don't know much about artists (aside from the music appreciation class I took in college, which I enjoyed), so this was an eye-opener for me. The only Pollock painting I had ever seen before reading this book was the one briefly shown an episode of "Sex and the City." I very much enjoyed this book. It clearly showed the connection between Pollock's art and his life. His childhood deeply affected him and the trauma he still felt (along with repressed homosexuality) came out in his art--when he would let it. Although I didn't enjoy the overview of Jungian psychology, it was necessary to know the basics to understand how Pollock's interaction with a Jungian psychologist helped his art, if not his emotional trauma. The book is competently written, which is good considering its length and complexity. A few things I found somewhat irritating and distracting from the main focus of the book was the embellished or fictionalized accounts of Pollock and what he may have been thinking or thought. How do they (writers) know? They should have stuck to the research, and not included how they imagined something happened or how Pollock thought--that takes away from the seriousness of the book. The end of the book, when Pollock is driving drunk and crashes the car, is a good example of that. It reads like a novel: "For an instant, everything was silent--except the air rushing by. Escape velocity: he had finally reached it." Although I like the imagery, I am not sure if an extensively researched biography is the place for it. Also, that sentence (and ones preceding and following it) seem to imply that Jackson knew what he was doing and killed himself. This could be true, since Pollock had a fascination for driving fast (and drunk) and not caring about the consequences, but whether it was accident or he meant to die is unknown, and the writers shouldn't imply one over the other. The other thing that bugged me was the extent of the information. That is, not only do we get mini-biographies of people who influenced Pollock, but we get mini-biographies of the people who influenced the people who influenced Pollock! It got to be a little crazy, trying to digest (and remember) all this information. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book. It was an intellectually stimulating and sad story of misunderstood artist. I wish I had read this book before seeing the Pollock painting (one of his big "drip" ones)at Ontario Museum of Arts (I think that is what it was) in Toronto. I would have appreciated it more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 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 Kirk 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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