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Pollock, Jackson: Number 1A, 1948Number 1A, 1948, oil and enamel on canvas by Jackson Pollock, 1948; in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City

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Modern day art historians are still using iconography to bring meaning to paintings and this essay considers two such analyses, one comparing Pollock’s painting Man and Women with Chavin art, and the other looking at interpretations of his painting, Stenographic Figure, particularly from the Jungian perspective.

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A year later in 1943, Pollock produced the painting, Guardians of the Secret. This work appears to combine both Male and Female (having two mythic symbols representing human figures), and Stenographic Figure (by showing tablet covered in figures). However here the symbols have deliberately no Jungian significance, Pollock has stated his autonomy. As Kuspit writes, the artists despairing ‘sense of meaningless becomes dominant and overt in the all-over paintings, which is what makes them truly untranslatable and uninterpretable’ ,which Taylor goes on to add is ‘a frightening prospect to art historians’.


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Even if we accept the literal Jungian interpretation of the symbols, how can we be sure that Pollock was not consciously manipulating them: the symbols lose their meaning if they are not unconscious acts? Varnedow notes : whether Pollock’s works, ‘contain consciously coded references to doctrine or involuntary exhumations of predictable symbolic structures.’ Taylor adds doubt to the symbols interpretation by suggesting that Stenographic Figure is an allegory for Pollock’s relationship with his psychotherapist and his apparent lack of autonomy in his artistic work: his work is suggested as being just a derivative of his unconscious.

Doyon-Bernard’s article analyzes a work by Jackson Pollock, Male and Female, that has proven somewhat enigmatic in its interpretation, particularly as Pollock himself was reluctant to ‘explain’ his work: for example there is still discussion over the identity of the male and female figure (see below). The work has attracted a number of approaches to its explanation: Pollock’s interest in Jungian principles offering a possible psycho-analytical stance, or a feminist approach could be offered by the possibility that the figures represent surrogates for Lee Krasner (who he had recently met), and Pollock himself.

The Art Story: Art Critic - Leo Steinberg

Some time later De Kooning, too, discovered that his abstract paintings were still inhabited by an obsessive reality, the human figure of an earlier phase, or more exactly, "The Woman." A highly charged atmosphere survived in Pollock's freest abstract transpositions from Picasso, and these paintings often ended, as if he were powerless to prevent it, by looking like fantasias of the unconscious.

WSJ Life, Style & Arts: Weekend News and Reads

While New York and the world were yet unfamiliar with the New York avant-garde by the late 1940s, most of the artists who have become household names today had their well established patron critics: Clement Greenberg advocated Jackson Pollock and the color field painters like Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and Hans Hofmann.

The Art Story: Clement Greenberg vs Harold Rosenberg

This essay will consider two recent texts on Jackson Pollock, by Sue Taylor, (2003), and Suzette Doyon-Bernard (1997). The latter article offers us a detailed iconographic analysis of one of his earlier works, Male and Female (1942), comparing the various motifs and symbols with Peruvian Chavin art, and in particular the Tello Obelisk. The former article analyzes the motifs and symbols in Pollock’s, Stenographic Figure, (1942).