Two fun stories about two odd paintings

Everyone was out on Friday evening so instead of going home to an empty house I walked over to MoMA. There’s a modest Jackson Pollock exhibit.

Jackson Pollock
Full Fathom Five 1947


This is considered to be one of his first ‘drip’ paintings. What a mess! But I like it. I wonder what possessed him to take his canvas off the easel and lay it on the floor? He used traditional oil paint but he also used house paint. He threw a lot of other junk in, too. You have to get close to see the other stuff. So close that you’ll be yelled at by the museum guard. Take it from me. It’s like a treasure hunt. Within the folds of paint you can find:

A skeleton key.


Paint tube caps.




Some nails.


A cigarette and another coin.


Pushpins and thumbtacks.


The title was suggested by Pollock’s neighbor. It’s a quote about a shipwreck from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

“Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes.”

Isn’t that beautiful? People stopped paying attention to him after the drip paintings. It’s as if Led Zeppelin sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and nothing else. Poor Jackson. It drove him mad. He wrapped his car around a tree in a drunken fit. Is it better to have known greatness, only to have it snatched away? Or are you better off never knowing?

Robert Rauschenberg
Canyon 1959


He used a little bit of everything. Oil, paper, metal, photos, fabric, wood, canvas, buttons, a mirror, a pillow, cardboard and, yes, a taxidermied bald eagle. It’s a combination of painting, collage and sculpture all balled into one using found objects. He called these pieces Combines. He’d walk around downtown New York (we’re talking 1959 downtown) and pick up items that inspired him. Clearly, the centerpiece is that bald eagle.


It was given to him by fellow artist Sari Dienes. She found it in a hallway of the Carnegie Hall studio building. The rumor is it was killed and stuffed by one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. I wonder how it got to Carnegie Hall?

Bald eagles are a protected species, so selling this would be a felony. Consequently, when the owner passed away and bequeathed it to her children, the appraisers valued it at $0. The IRS disagreed and said it’s worth $65 million and they wanted $29.2 million in inheritance taxes, thank you very much. To get the IRS off their backs, they agreed to donate it to MoMA and MoMA agreed to always have it on display for the public to enjoy.

Four people sitting on a bench texting.


And where is this bench? In front of this:


Why bother to let one of Monet’s most vibrant tryptics wash over you when social media beckons? I wish I could report that they were absorbed MoMA’s museum app but, sadly, they were not. They were texting.

The bigger question here is: What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I in their lives? They’re not blocking my view of the painting. Why do I give a damn what they’re doing? This is the opposite of Zen detachment. I feel like a bitchy old man complaining about those damn kids and their newfangled technologies.

It is a shame, though. If I could un-invent mobile phones I’d do it in a second.

It was the last weekend for the monumental Picasso sculpture exhibit so it was pretty crowded. I’d like to propose a new rule: If you have a stroller, you can’t come into an art museum. They banned selfie sticks. Why wouldn’t the ban strollers?

Pablo’s clever guitars on a table.


Picasso guitar2


Picasso guitar1

Mixed media

Picasso guitar3

79 thoughts on “Two fun stories about two odd paintings

  1. But what if the people on the bench are texting someone that the Water Lilies are awesome and the other person should come see it?
    Also, what was the painting on the wall opposite of the Monet? Because the people looking that way are obviously paying attention to it.

    • See…you have a healthy attitude. I’m not kidding. It’s commendable and admirable. I wish I had a little of that optimism. Why am I so beaten down? Who did it to me?

      On the opposite wall is another of Monet’s water lily paintings, but just a single-paneled one. Not part of a triptych.

      • I am honestly not bothered by people staring at their phones, except when they’re supposed to be listening or talking to me.
        (And I’m shouldn’t be the one to complain about the phones, since it’s pretty much my only way to read other blogs. )

  2. I was always too terrified that my kids in the stroller would start pitching a fit and bring down the wrath of the stern looking docents to ever try a trip to an art museum. PLUS their grabby little hands and priceless weird of art? A disaster waiting to happen.

    • Parents were pushing strollers around the Picasso sculpture exhibit! Multimillion dollar sculptures perched precariously on pedestals. It was madness. I asked one of the guards if anyone bumped into a sculpture and he said, “Not yet.”

  3. I like Pollock.
    Do you think that texting will lead to chronic neck problems for this generation? This is something that worries me. When they are old they will have no choice but to look at their shoes.

    • I think the texting will lead to chronic anti-social behavio(u)r. They don’t talk to each other anymore. They won’t even phone. They just text. I think it’s ironic that it’s called social media because people are becoming less socially adept as a result.

      • I see what you did there! What a gentleman you are!

        Already there are kids with very muscular thumbs.I like to imagine the phone towers all went down and all these phone-clones had to queue for a coin-in-the-slot phone box.

        Thanks for some Picasso.

      • I like to cater to my global audience.

        You’d laugh if you saw the phone towers in New Jersey. They desguise them as trees. They paint them green and stick fake branches on them. They look so ridiculous that instead of blending in, they call attention to themselves.

  4. Every time I think of Jackson Pollock, I imagine Ed Harris. I had to write an essay on Pollock for my art appreciation class a few years ago, and man was that a tragic story! Geniuses often have one. I’m very content to be typical. But I have to wonder if that cigarette and other junk were an accident, though. Maybe he was so into dripping the paint, he tripped?

    Also, about the texting, wouldn’t THAT make a great art exhibit? Just a vast empty room with various people sitting around like zombies on their phones.

    • When I got married I took my wife’s name. Before that, my last name was Pollock, although with a slightly different spelling. The best part of that movie was Marcia Gay Harden screaming, “Pollock! You’re a genius!” Yes, that’s true.

      Was all that stuff accidentally knocked into the painting or did he do it on purpose? That’s a good question. Thanks to the internet, I’ll have the answer in a short while.

      Please don’t gussy-up the act of texting by calling it art. Heaven help us.

  5. Those are smart phones. It’s very possible those kids are doing internet research about the painting in front of them.

    The Jackson Pollock reminds me of the hidden object video games I like to play. I’d probably stand there all day trying to find and identify each object inside that painting, and the guard would yell at me for try to touch it.

    • I’m such a nosy interloper that I walked behind them to see what was on the screens. I’m sorry to say it was texting. Nothing as heady as research.

      The painting description said there were also buttons and matches embedded but I couldn’t find any. It’s like Where’s Waldo?

  6. My feelings toward greatness are mixed — I will always strive for it, but do I really want to achieve it? I’m not sure. Then again, can I really be striving for it, If I never hope to achieve it?
    A friend and I were talking about Harper Lee and she thought it was oh-so-tragic how she never wrote another book. Well sure, but if you only write one book, To Kill a Mockingbird is a damn fine book, right? I think I could live with that.

  7. I kind of dig all of these, including the drip painting, maybe especially the drip painting. Finding hidden objects in artwork? Now that’s pretty cool.

    “Why do I give a damn what they’re doing?”—Ha, that made me laugh. Smartphones are a tricky thing. The advantages of them are so many, it’s hard to think about not having it. On the other hand, like you, I sometimes yearn for the simplicity of life before them, and were they to disappear completely, my grumbling over their loss might only be half-hearted.

    • You should see this Pollock in person. It’s thick and juicy. Like one of Van Gogh’s. Nice color scheme, too. You want to just reach out and pick a piece off of it. Or the key.

      When it boils down to it I’m probably glad I have a smartphone rather than not. But I do see them have a negative impact on our poor young’uns.

      • I’m lucky in that neither of my sons is into social media. Their generation is learning how digital footprints can get young people into trouble when it comes to future jobs and other things. I think more and more teens are becoming aware of this. Of course, my youngest texts his friends and my oldest buries his nose in games on his phone, but at least they’re not sending out tweets. Like their mother.

      • You’re right. My daughters are being read the riot act about social media and too much sharing. I feel sorry for the first wave who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Now, it’s all out there and they’ll never get it back.

  8. I suppose trying to strum one of those guitars would get you arrested. Maybe the kids would be more interested if they could interact with the exhibits. I don’t think mobile phones would be so engaging if you couldn’t poke them with your fingers.

    • Those guitars are spectacular but, yes, you’d get a whoopin’ if you put your hands on them. They’re in a Plexiglas box, anyway. You couldn’t if you wanted to. The phones should deliver a mild shock if being used inappropriately.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! The funny thing about that Pollock painting is that if you’re just three or four paces away, you don’t see ANY of the bits and pieces dropped in. You have to get close and look hard. As I stated above, I still couldn’t find the matches. The Rauschenberg is considered a seminal piece. There’s all kinds of stuff going on there. A very interesting assemblage.

  9. This post makes me want to tell Milton we have to visit MoMA again, but you know why we’ve been so MIA, it’s because I was so MIA. I feel like I should get combat pay for the last year and a half of my life. I’m glad that you subjected yourself to setting off a guard so we could see those details in JP’s painting. Last Christmas, i gave my best friend from college a MoMA silk scarf based on one of his paintings. don’t ask me which one: I’ve been borderline brain-dead for months. I realize it might sound kitschy, but she really dug it and that’s what counts most. She thought it was cool and her kids approved. Maybe that counts even more, eh?

    Last night, Milton, The Boss and me saw “The Humans” at the Helen Hayes. It was jam packed and we had fourth row dead center seats. We also had a great time. Have you seen it? The cast is wonderful and the writing was top notch. As Milton said, “Not a single false word.” Milton thinks that Jayne Houdyshell should own the Best Actress Tony. Reed Birney was spot on, too. Are you familiar with the playwright, Stephen Karam? Did you see his earlier work, “Sons of the Prophet”? I missed that one.

    • Wow, is it nice to see you! Sorry you’re in the weeds but there’s no WAY it can go on forever, right? Don’t let New York slip through your fingers! People come from all over the world to see this stuff and all you’ve got to do is take a stupid subway. If you like Pollock, it’s a small but really, really good exhibit. And now that the Picasso exhibit is over, the museum will be much easier to navigate.

      I saw “The Humans” when it was at the Laura Pels. I see EVERYTHING at the Laura Pels because the productions are usually top-shelf and it’s one of my favorite venues in the city. I saw “Sons of the Prophet” there and thought it was even better than “The Humans,” if you can believe that. I loved The Humans and would like to see it again. I agree about Jayne Houdyshell but I’ll see Sarah Steele in anything she does. She did a couple of things at LTC3 and the Signature that were dynamite. I’m seeing “Hughie” with Forrest Whitaker tonight. Rumor is that he can’t remember any of his lines and you can hear a woman yell prompts offstage. I hope that’s not true. Next week I’ve got “Smokfall” and “Robber Bridegroom.” Here comes the spring theater season!

      Welcome back.

      • Milton and I might take advantage of the $25 lousy seat tickets to see “Hughie”. Some years back he saw it with Al Pacino. I think he thought Al was good, but he wasn’t wild about the play. As for ” The Humans” didn’t they transfer the production you saw from the LP to the HH? If so, as fine a play as it is, maybe you can invest your shekels elsewhere?

        I’m out of the weeds, but the transition was EXHAUSTING. Because this weekend is going to be colder than my chronically angry second grade teacher’s left tit, I might stay in and do the uthinkable: write a blog post. Milton and I have postponed all our plans, so he’s staying parked in his hovel. We’ll see what I’m up to …

      • “The Humans” was, indeed, a transfer from the Laura Pels. Same cast and everything. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a play twice. Mark Rylance in “Twelfth Night” and Rylance, again, in “Jerusalem” come to mind. But, sometimes, if the production is good enough, I’ll consider it. Theater is ephemeral. It’s not like a movie or an album that can be revisited over and over. Once that run ends, you’ll never see it again.

        EXHAUSTING but worth it, I presume. My friend is very happy in the co-op you almost bought, btw.

      • “Hughie” was fine. He went up on his lines once which really takes you out of the story. Very unprofessional. The show was really short. Only about one hour long. Typically, it’s presented as the first of two one-acts. A++ for stage design and lighting. Stunning.

  10. Thought about you today somehow, in Berlin, walking through a holocaust memorial that’s out of this world and thinking how I’ll try to write about it on my blog, and hating the fucks wandering through it with selfie sticks in front of them, and trying to grasp why I think I’m different from them blogging about it while they’re there and not there with their fucking sticks, and well, I don’t know what else to say. You said it, here. Look closer for the nails and the caps and then wrap your car around a pole, or a stick.

  11. Interesting to say the least. Pollack was a nut in my humble opinion. Texting is a bitch from hell. Why can’t people just talk anymore? I’m with you and the fancy phone crap. An app for this and an app for that. How about an app for an app? My phone is a simple one with a slide out keyboard. I love the simplicity.

    • Would you trade your sanity for a touch of genius? You could leave your mark on the world with a historic piece of art but your soul would be tormented. Is that a fair exchange? I think I’m better off wallowing in mediocrity. At least I have fleeting moments of happiness and serenity.

      • No, I’m like you. I would not trade my so called sanity for any amount of genius. So many of those artist were immensely troubled individuals.

        And yes, happiness is often fleeting. I can not remember ever being truly happy. There must be something very wrong with me. Or maybe that is how life is for many people.

  12. Now don’t turn into Victor Meldrew on us will you!

    I would spend ages looking at the Pollock trying to find all those hidden things, how cool.

    I don’t mind the young folk being on their devices as long as it’s interspersed by being present too.

    • I had to Google Victor Meldrew. God, is that me?! I hope not. I’m going to count on you to keep me in check.

      The Pollock is really is mesmerizing. I looked long and hard and couldn’t find any matches or buttons but, supposedly, they’re in there.

      The more people get involved with their phones, the less present they are. It’s a slippery slope.

      What do your friends call you? Vanessa? Vanessa-Jane? VJ?

      • No, you’re not really a Victor Meldrew, but it’s a jokey comment we make over here for when someone is being grumpy about things other people are doing!

        Friends call me Vanessa, V, Van, Ness. Never Vanessa-Jane though because Jane is just my middle name, I only hyphened it for my acting/writing/online stuff.

  13. I like it too! Lots of texture and imagination. I think it’s better to have known greatness than not. Like living or existing.

    Why are they texting in front of Monet? Honestly… they should be lost in the beauty; mesmerised by the palette. I give up.

    Pablo’s mixed media is my favourite. Maybe he could make a stroller.

    • I wish you could go to MoMA and see this painting in person. It’s thicker and juicer that it appears in these pics. Have you clicked on them for a magnified view? I’d like to know greatness only if it’s not taken away. Otherwise, I’ll pass. That’s too painful. I like Pablo’s cardboard guitar. It’s really fragile. I wonder how it survived all these years? It doesn’t look like it’d take much to crush it, which is probably why it’s in Plexiglas.

  14. The Sioux City Art center hosted Jackson Pollack’s “Mural,” 20 wide, eight high, feet, that is. It was on loan from the University of Iowa. I got a chance to gawk and found myself walking all over the room, looking from all angles at a work that showed 26 colors flung everywhere on the canvas. I imagined the work involved in slinging paint (mostly house paint) across that vast a space. It was mesmerizing. I’m not even sure If I can tell you if there were others with me, although there had to be. That kind of artistic scale is eerie, wonderful, even scary, given the knowledge of Pollack’s last days. I wonder if genius requires imbalance…

    • The Pollock paintings are divisive. Some people look and say “Oh, how childish. My 5-year old could do that.” Other people look and see what you and I see; movement, color, texture, violence, emotional turmoil, etc. Both reactions are equally valid, by the way. And you can’t force an opinion. You look and feel what you feel. Okay. Scramble two.

  15. Pingback: Fasten Your Seatbelts | FiftyFourandAHalf

  16. Art is art.
    People are cunts.
    Singing in a hospice kicks you in the hole.
    I ended my day a better man than the one that started.
    Drip/Splash paintings are my favourite.
    Jimmy is still MIA.
    I miss him.
    Happy Valentines Day to you and your bride.
    And love to the beautiful daughters.

  17. I like Pollack. Thanks for sharing him. 🙂

    The daughter of a good friend of mine almost lost her job -as a first year teacher – because of social media stuff she posted as a teenager. A parent found it and shared it with other parents and then they all made a fuss. There might not be another job next year because of this.

    Happy Valentine’s to you and your bride. 🙂

    • Glad you liked it. Stick around. There’s plenty more where that came from.

      People like your friend’s daughter are learning the hard lesson of over-sharing on social media. Thankfully, it’s being taught to kids now. Let’s hope the lesson sticks. There’s an interesting piece in the NY Times this morning about the epidemic of narcissism. Thanks, Internet.

  18. Just think of texting as a different form of art… perhaps not as visceral as some of these pieces you’ve shared with us, but a creation nevertheless: strokes on little keys that lead to new words, a completely reshaped language, an evolution that otherwise would have taken centuries, being slapped together in a few short years until voila! A new language. A piece of art.

    • Honesty, I don’t know why I allow texting to aggravate me so much. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me. All I have to do is look in the other direction and it’s gone. But I allow it go get under my skin and fester. I don’t know if I could ever consider it an art form, per your suggestion, but maybe I can put some distance between the act and my flash point. The first step is admitting the problem.

      • One day, people will look back and marvel on this new language that was created spontaneously by people all over the world, incorporating emojii and acronyms, and stylized spellings of old worlds… and there will be museum exhibits showing how it all happened, and our kids will take theirs there, to show it all to them. As for us… meh.

  19. Not sure what tune you could get out of any of those guitars. But Picasso’s works inspired the great album by Juan Martin Picasso Portraits which I still have on vinyl. I got to see him a couple of years back solo and he still plays pieces from it in his live set – and so he should… fantastic album.

    The modern world is funny – I saw a great painting of a couple in an intimate embrace both looking over the others shoulder to look at their mobile phone. But in the end you can stand and breath in Monet they can’t… just let it go…

    • Yeah, I’ll bet the action on those guitars are terrible. There are only four strings on each so, technically, they’re basses. Still, I would take them to a studio session.

      Mobile phones are the thing that finally convinced me I’m old. I never wanted to be that guy who was mad at new technologies or didn’t understand new music but that’s exactly what I’ve become. I walk past Radio City Music Hall, look at the marquee and have no idea who any of the bands are who’re selling out the place. Sad.

  20. I read an ecard earlier that said, “You know you’re a writer when you have an opinion on the Oxford comma.” I thought of you, so I came over to read your latest post. I have an opinion on the Oxford post, but after this post (and so many others), I know I am not. Thank you again, sweetpea! 😉 xox

    • There’s a band named Vampire Weekend. Ever hear of them? They have a song called ‘Oxford Comma.’ It goes…

      Who gives a f* about an Oxford comma?
      I’ve seen those English dramas too
      They’re cruel
      So if there’s any other way
      To spell the word
      It’s fine with me, with me

      It’s a snappy song but I don’t think they needed the vulgarity. I bleeped it out. Thanks for your visit.


      • LOL yes, I’ve heard of them, and the censorship wasn’t necessary, but I understand. I, once again, totally missed by not commenting on your post, and instead, I rambled on about my own failings. Someone said it earlier about seeing Ed Harris whenever Jackson Pollack was mentioned and I must admit that is my fall back image of the man as well. I’ve seen his work in L.A. and have always been alternately confused and mesmerized by it. *shrug* As to texting, I find that my fingers are too fat for texting on my phone and tend to write things like, “dat dingers” when apologizing for weird typos on my iPhone.

        (I really do need to start blogging again.)


  21. I think it’s commendable that you care that they’re texting. At the very least, you’re aware of your surroundings. I tend to tune those people out and that’s turning out tone a lot of people. I think social media should be called something else entirely!

    I love all the pieces on display today and even a quote by Shakespeare. The Pollock is something else. A unique experience.

  22. I’ve always been quite fond of Jackson (no need to discuss my love for Pablo, hell i named my first male cat after him, another crazy cat lady comment), i’ve always laughed when people looked at his drip paintings and exclaimed “I could do that!”, it ain’t easy, a friend and i fucked about making some in college and most were unmitigated disasters, one or two were decent enough to be hung in the bathroom, and i like how he added/kept whatever fell into them.

    • Hey! You’re a new guy! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated.

      I heard that Pollock would routinely smoke while he worked. Cigarette ashes and butts wold rain down on the canvas. Take a close look but if you get too close, the security guard will do what he’s paid to do. And some of those guys love a cause.

  23. So much depth for an entry with so few words. Thanks for the experience! I learned some things today and enjoyed the pieces. I also laughed about the millennia’s texting. As one myself, I was truly inspired to go forward looking at less screens and observing more of our beautiful universe (and the art therein).

    • First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I’m much obliged. Nobody checks their cell phone more frequently than me. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And I’m not even a millennial! What’s my excuse?!

  24. Pingback: Gracious Manhattan living on taxpayer dollars | Exile on Pain Street

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