Jackson Pollock Drip Paintings: Fractals or Folly
Fractals?
Famous artist Jackson Pollock was one of the
most influential abstract painters of the 20th
century. Jackson Pollock drip paintings were
developed during the late 1940’s and early
1950’s, and they are believed to contain
a mathematical, yet natural, concept called
a fractal. The word fractal is derived from
the Latin term “fractus” meaning
broken or fractured. It is a rough, geometric
object that can be subdivided into parts, each
of which looks like a reducedsize copy of the
whole. In a fractal pattern, each smaller configuration
is a miniature, though not necessarily identical,
version of the larger pattern. Fractals are
referred to as nature’s fingerprint as
they are heavily present in nature. Scientists
claim that the juts and slopes of a specific
crater in a mountain will mimic the approximate
outline of a whole mountain. Therefore, what
looks like Pollock randomly dripping paint onto
a canvas is now speculated to be a truly complex
process.
You do the Math
Instead of using traditional painting techniques
with brushes on a vertical canvas, Pollock preferred
to produce a constant stream of paint splattered
onto a large, horizontal canvas. A typical Jackson
Pollock drip piece could take months to complete
as he would constantly rework canvases, building
up dense webs of patterns. By using this “continuous
dynamic” technique, Pollock was able to
simulate patterns that were similar to those
that evolve in nature. Fractals are essentially
remnants or leftovers of the chaos theory in
nature; for example, if a tropical storm was
the chaos theory, the wreckage left after the
storm is the fractal. The belief is that nature
does not demonstrate a stable pattern, yet it
does possess systems with elements of randomness
that are able to organize themselves into some
semblance of order. Mathematicians believe that
it was through the mastery of the chaos theory
that Pollock was able to create fractals in
his works long before their inception into modern
thought.
Abstract and AvantGarde
Mathematicians claim that fractals are the reason so many people find
Pollock’s work so aesthetically pleasing. They claim that a fractal
pattern, whether in a Jackson Pollock drip painting or in nature, is subconsciously
pleasing to the eye. Researchers studying Jackson Pollock drip paintings
are mystified and delighted at the fact that fractals are present in his
work, as he was employing it decades before Benoit Mandelbrot came up
with the concept in 1975 while studying fluctuations in the cotton market.
It is further claimed that artists of all media, whether it is painting,
literature, or music, instinctively employ fractal patterns found in nature
when they create. Studies indicate that people prefer recurring patterns
that are neither too random nor too regular. Of particular interest is
the possibility that humanity’s preoccupation with fractals may
be linked to survival more than aesthetics. On an African savannah, by
tuning into fractal dimensions, people could tell if the tall grass was
being ruffled simply by the wind or by a predator.
When Jackson Pollock drip paintings
are meticulously deconstructed, the fractal
patterns are so complex that mathematicians
claim that they can determine a fake Pollock
piece from an authentic one. In fact, Pollock’s
fractal expressionism has been studied so closely
that scientists say they can use fractal analysis
to not only validate Pollock’s work, but
also to date it. Apparently, changes in the
fractal dimensions denote an evolution in Pollock’s
style.
