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Jackson Pollock:An American Saga Hardcover – December 24, 1989

4.5 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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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.

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 934 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; 1st edition (December 24, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517560844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517560846
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #743,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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