Unlike The Agony and the Ecstasy, where the artist Michelangelo is portrayed as a near-infallible hero, Ed Harris’s 2000 Pollock goes in different direction, not afraid of showing Jackson Pollock ‘s most negative moments, including his alcoholism, adultery, anger and domestic abuse.
Pollock was not afraid to expel the negative myths associated with Jackson Pollock the artist. William Rubin explains that, while a whole spectrum of emotion existed in Pollock’s paintings, from joy to delight, to ecstasy (17), it is the violence that appeared most prominent in Pollock’s art to viewers, since unconsciously, viewers associated most with Pollock’s violent persona and therefore unconsciously it appeared the most obvious in his art. This is no surprise; while Rubin states that Pollock’s art was not a form abstract Expressionism, and unfairly critiqued by a a method of “action-painting” (15-16) many viewers resonated with it as such, and Carolyn Jones states abstract Expressionist art is “completely dependent” upon human response and reconstruction (60). There are several examples of Pollock’s less than enthusiastic approach to his art. In one scene, Pollock is lackluster when he walks to his barn to begin his painting. He does not appear to be excited with his craft as Michelangelo or Caravaggio would. In another scene, when Pollock is being filmed for the documentary, he doesn’t appear thrilled by the honor he has been given but rather looks like he can’t wait for it to end. In the film, Pollock is given very little opportunity to express happiness, and when he does, he doesn’t.
Adding to Pollock’s naturally gloom demeanor, the film often doesn’t shy away from more severe material. Pollock’s alcoholism is a common theme throughout the film, which leads him to doing more severe incidents such as throwing a table and verbally abusing his wife. Before this incident, when Lee Krasner sees Pollock pouring a shot of whiskey, she tells him “don’t do this…” as if, disturbingly, she already knows what Pollock will inevitably do. The film certainly portrayed Pollock as not only a tragic artist, but a violent one. It’s no wonder one critic called him “Jack the Dripper” (16).
Rubin also points out that Pollock is associated with the myth of the faultless painter (17). This is a myth Vasari certainly didn’t adopt for his interpretation of Michelangelo, whom he portrayed as an infallible, if not divine, artist. Like Van Gough, Pollock is a represented as a tragic artist who has to overcome several obstacles. Throughout the film, he perpetually struggles with negativity. For example, in one scene, he struggles with the decision of courting with Krasner. As Krasner begins removing her garments, Pollock stands in a separate room, appearing as if he is questioning whether to go through with what has bestowed upon him. He doesn’t crack a smile as a man would in a usual circumstance when a woman comes on to him, but he appears dreary, then proceeds to walk toward the bedroom as if he feels this is something he has to do.
Several examples of Pollock’s fallibility are witnessed in the film. In one barn scene, Pollock inadvertently spills a drop of paint onto the floor while painting a canvas. Pollock looks at the mistake, studies it, and then inspired to paint his abstract drip paints. Here, a mistake leads to Pollock’s signature paintings, contrary to Vasari’s interpretation of Michelangelo, who was already born divine. Although the mistake of a spilled can of paint led to Pollock’s signature style, he never admits to any mistake when painting his art. “There is no mistake, because I deny the mistake,” Pollock said while filming his documentary. One would think, if he can spill paint on the floor, certainly there have been a few moments in his career where a drip on his canvas didn’t go the way the wanted.
Krasner has always put forth the effort in their relationship, even from the beginning. Krasner first was the one to walk up to Pollock’s apartment and invited Pollock over. Pollock’s only pseudo-effort into their relationship was taking Krasner up on her offer, which he took three weeks to do. It was then Krasner’s idea to get coffee, and then finally, consummate the relationship. Pollock put little-to-no effort into beginning a relationship with Krasner; it was entirely her idea and he just went along for the ride.
Even when together, Pollock and Krasner rarely share any scenes of happiness. Pollock seemed just as controlling of her as she did passive of him. In one scene, for example, he corrected one of her paintings by adding his own spin, without asking of course, assuming she would be fine with this. She at first was taken aback, but then figured Pollock knew what was best. This scene not only describes the bitter relationship the two were having, but also the role of female artists at the time. Krasner put her career on hold she Pollock could have his and often submitted to his decisions. Even Hans Nameth’s portrait of Krasner features her viewing her husband’s art rather than her own (Wagner 426).