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Jackson Pollock Drip Paintings: Fractals or Folly

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 reduced-size 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
Jackson Pollock Drip Paintings 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 re-work 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 Avant-Garde
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.


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