I last wrote of Michael Fried’s scribblings on this ultra-famous painter. In 1961, Harold Rosenberg, too, wrote an article titled “The Search for Jackson Pollock” for Art Newsdeemed the oldest and most widely circulated art magazine in the world, with a readership that includes collectors, dealers, historians, artists, museum directors, curators, connoisseurs and enthusiasts.
As an art critic, Rosenberg is regarded as having an existentialist method for discussing Abstract Expressionism. Existentialism is the psychoanalysis of the human subject and its actions, emotions and lifestyle. The language within Rosenberg’s article follows the theory of existentialism and biographical speech, making it difficult, albeit thoughtful, for most readers to consume.

Harold Rosenberg

So it begins with Rosenberg’s preliminary description of Pollock — “He (Pollock), shouted as though he was intoxicated by shouting. He wore the high boots, the blue jeans and the “neckercher”; he crouched on his heels and pulled blades of grass when he spoke.” Rosenberg goes on to pick apart the artist’s outward persona and visible habits.
Then comes the existentialism: “The work of art itself is a mask, one produces out of motives generated in a person who has no other way of revealing himself.” Rosenberg’s intentions are to look past the paintings of Pollock, to discuss Pollock, not as your average human specimen, but as an artist whose gestures and emotions were the real subject. He even notes that upon Pollock’s violent, abrupt death, the search for the real Jackson Pollock would be ever increasingly difficult.
Rosenberg then launches into something of a review of a book by a Mr. Roberston, who wrote a tome dedicated to “Pollock’s legend of primitive creation on an international scale.” Some research taught me that the mysterious Mr. Robertson is Bryan Robertson, an English curator and arts manager who devised a show for Pollock and a handful of other artists in 1956.
Rosenberg doesn’t hesitate to express that “Robertson was a very poor writer, at once vaguely theoretical, redundant and lacking in judgement.” And from excerpts pulled from his book to Rosenberg’s essay, there is also a similar method of existentialist questioning in Robertson’s writing, particularly in his speculation that Pollock was deep into alcoholism.

Jackson Pollock

This is where it can be argued that Rosenberg is also applying a biographical method to Pollock. This could also explain why Rosenberg decided to introduce Robertson’s book in his article, why he critiqued it as having “the minimum to say about Pollock’s life and character and the influences that played upon him.” For Rosenberg saw no evidence of the intellectualisation of Pollock.
There is a lack of structure in the final parts of Rosenberg’s article, as he writes in-between his own theories and those of poor Robertson, which makes it difficult to follow the author’s meaning. In comparing both Fried’s and Rosenberg’s articles, what becomes clear is the many approaches to Pollock not only as a painter but as a character.
Fried used more accessible language and detailing to analyse Pollock’s work and its development, while Rosenberg worked to critique writing about Pollock along with Pollock’s demeanor. Fried argued successfully in his Art Forum article, while Rosenberg, in my opinion, jumped back and forth from the harangued Mr. Robertson and his attempts at reviewing the action painter.
Though I found that Rosenberg’s use of his own interview with Pollock within his article validated the points he wished to make and should have been utilised more heavily. It would be appropriate to say that the formalist method favoured by Fried proved more successful in interpreting Jackson Pollock’s works than others’ attempts to dissect his personality for a glimpse at his artistic methods.
Sean Steadman
Sources: Artnews.com, 2014,
Rosenberg, Harold. 1961, ‘The Search for Jackson Pollock’, Art News (10) 35, 58-60

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