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I’d furthermore like to suggest that the demarcation facilitated by Pollock’s blue thread between the actual and the representational—the literal and the pictorial—is analogous to another important distinction: namely, between the empirical viewer’s experience and the artist’s meaning.
Although formalist criticism provides the strongest account of how Pollock’s works achieve their independence from the viewer, the implications of that independence for interpretation remain underdeveloped. Greenberg’s criticism of Pollock is scattered over a twenty-five year period, and rarely takes the form of sustained analysis.
Pollock’s “impact” depended on the degree of control he exhibits over the play between literal surface and illusionistic depth, between the material and the pictorial. Braque’s solution to the problem of preserving illusion is to “spell out” or make explicit the literal flatness of the physical canvas. To the degree that painters accomplish this transformation, they give pictorial form “an autonomy like that hitherto obtained through illusion alone” (“Pasted-Paper,” 66). In his comparison of Pollock’s all-over pictures to those of Picasso and Braque, Greenberg noticed something else about drip, pour, and spatter technique—an observation which bears directly on the issue of the painting’s framed independence from the world and the viewer.
Here I take “bind[ing]” the canvas rectangle to be intimately related to “holding” the surface with inevitability. Greenberg’s terms for what Pollock’s surfaces achieve—binding, integrating, holding, concentrating, asserting, and controlling the painting’s ambiguous flatness, its shape, and its imagistic unity—are similar to those he uses in regard to cubism’s re-created flatness.
Tautness is not just a useful word to describe the way a canvas is stretched around and tacked to its frame; it is meant to designate expressive content. It was the drip, pour, and spatter paintings of just over a year later that more fully satisfied Greenberg’s wish for an art that conveyed valid feeling. Given his recent assessment of the deleterious effects materialism and societal rationalization had on a healthy sense of life, Greenberg’s description of a style of painting that “corresponds” to contemporary sensibility would seem, on the face of things, to imply a negative judgment.
Fried, like Greenberg, stressed that feeling, the “all-or-nothing urgency of [Pollock’s] desire” is paramount in assessing the painter’s works (“Allusions,” 97). Greenberg’s comment about Pollock’s ability to hold the surface with inevitability was directly connected to an observation he made about the way dripped lines, which “resulted from the falling or flowing of paint,” allowed Pollock to abandon the use of “marked lines or contours” (“Inspiration,” 248). Pollock’s works, by radically inhibiting our ability to discriminate figure from ground, achieve a new kind of space, “if it still makes sense to call it a space,” Fried cautions (Three American Painters, 224). Fried stresses another important basis of the virtual autonomy achieved by the all-over, optical field. The skeins of paint appear on the canvas as a continuous, allover line which… [creates] a kind of space-filling curve of immense complexity….
Despite his disagreement with Greenberg on the legacy of analytic cubism in Pollock’s work, I take Fried’s description of the painter’s autonomization of line and color as parallel to Greenberg’s suggestion that Pollock, like Picasso and Braque, isolated plasticity—thereby liberating it from conventional, three-dimensional representational means and re-creating flatness in the drama of oscillation between the literal surface of the support and the illusion of shallow depth.
Arguably, in each case the pursuit of a paradoxical project was neither arbitrary nor merely a formal exercise, but motivated by a demand to discover new means by which the work of art and its pictorial meaning—the artist’s meaning—could be secured as something separate from and independent of the viewer’s experience.
The most detailed formal account of Pollock’s all-over style remains William Rubin’s “Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition,” a four-part series published in Artforum in 1967.23 He followed Fried in suggesting that Pollock’s signal achievement was the unprecedented degree to which the artist established the independence of his formal means from conventional description. Monet’s advances beyond classic Impressionist pictorial structure, Rubin argued, had to do with maintaining pictorial cohesiveness in the face of an extreme increase in the size of his paintings.
The very shallow optical space of [Pollock’s] pictures is not a matter of illusion but of the actual overlapping of different color skeins and the tendency of certain colors to ‘recede’ or ‘advance.’ Pollock worked to minimize any sense of spatial illusion by locking the warm colors literally inside the skeins of the non-hues, of which the aluminum in particular was used to dissolve any sense of discreteness the space of the web might have—in effect to ‘confuse’ it into a unified mass of light sensations.
The oscillation Greenberg noticed in Pollock’s works between an emphatic physical surface and the suggestion of illusionistic depth beneath it—an oscillation that was the chief means of connecting Pollock’s drip, pour, and spatter paintings to cubism—has been abandoned by Rubin in favor of a shuffling of colored layers that tend to recede or advance in visual perception. At the outset of this essay, I suggested that the blue thread along the right edge of Number 27, 1950 helped us distinguish between two kinds of frames.
It’s not hard to agree (as did Fried and Rubin) with Greenberg in seeing a cubist logic in Pollock’s pre-drip paintings, such as Gothic (1944) (fig. If we see in Gothic an instance of autonomization of pictorial elements—of line being freed from the role of contouring shape, and light-dark contrasts being separated from the role of shading volume—that liberation is not unqualified. The suggestion that Picasso’s handling of the contours of objects and bodies in relation to the framed space of the picture allegorizes the problem of painting’s autonomy strikes me as a useful way to think about Gothic. I have been suggesting that Pollock’s literal framing edges do not automatically function to divide the world of the picture from the world outside of the picture. It has become standard procedure to assert that Pollock’s all-over style, characterized by a seeming uniformity and lack of hierarchy, challenges the power of the painting’s internal structure and external boundaries to establish pictorial coherence.
Recalling Greenberg’s analysis of the cubist’s effort to re-create flatness by controlling the oscillation between literal flatness and illusioned depth, it would not be difficult to see the handprints along the upper right framing edge of Number 1A, 1948 as functioning analogously to Braque’s stenciled letters. Establishing those limits, as I have hoped to explain, does everything to separate Pollock’s painting from the world at large and from our experience at large. I would like to thank Todd Cronan, Charles Palermo, and Ken Walker for discussing with me some of the ideas expressed in this essay.
I also think that considering some points Riegl made about the optical and the tactile (what he called the “haptic”) might be useful in approaching Fried’s comments about Pollock’s line—although I am not prepared to suggest that Fried was thinking of Riegl when he developed his account.
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Along with tutorials and articles, we also do round ups, how-to guides, tips, tricks and cheats on all of the hot topics in the design world. 1-2), will notice a blue thread running almost parallel to the right framing edge until it meets the edge about half way up the picture. What we might call the validity of the artist’s expression—its truth, at least insofar as the viewer is compelled to feel or understand it—depends largely upon how effectively he convinces the viewer that the experience to be derived from the framed work of art is independent of the viewer’s experience at large, unframed as it is likely to be.
Why does it matter if we see Pollock’s works as continuous with or separate from the viewer? 5) and Eyes in the Heat (1946), the critic noted the “consistency and power of surface” the artist’s pictures exhibited. Applying stenciled letters and numbers to his surfaces allowed him to specify literal flatness to the degree that other pictorial elements were “pushed into illusioned space by force of contrast” (“Pasted-Paper,” 62) (fig. Cubism “re-constructs” or “re-creates” flatness, “endowing self-confessedly flat configurations with a pictorial content” (“Pasted-Paper,” 66).13 For Greenberg, that content derived from the way cubism “isolated” plasticity, preserving generalized illusion—illusion as such—independently of conventional, three-dimensional representational means (“Collage,” 77). If plasticity, “isolated,” now sustains pictorial content, my inclination would be to construe this content as self-grounded by the artist in painting as a medium. The continuously dripped or poured line, creating meshes or skeins that contained bold oppositions of dark and light, allowed Pollock, as he later put it, to “hold [his] surface[s] with inevitability” (“Inspiration,” 248). But it is important to recall that these terms do more than just describe a formal achievement.


The need to vouch for the certainty of one’s feeling, the critic explains, is a reaction to living in an urban world where every field of human activity is organized for profit, which flattens and empties human endeavor until nothing is left except, as he memorably phrased it in 1947, the “dull horror of our lives” (“Prospects,” 163). Still, that style also “answer[ed]” sensibility, flattened as it was, yet still seeking the “immediate.” There was something to be gained from the new polyphonic painting, in which the artist’s expression took the form of “sheer sensation” experienced by the viewer.
Similarly, proclaiming the validity or certainty of one’s own feeling necessarily must be a self-grounded judgment. So powerfully could that feeling be conveyed as a picture that it “leave[s] the viewer with no choice other than to accept it or reject it in its entirety” (perhaps we might say: to vouch for it or not).
The critic did not elaborate on why he singled out contour as impediment to Pollock’s vision, but just a couple of years earlier, Fried had pursued the same issue in Three American Painters. The critic’s hesitation prompts me to think that rather than facilitating a viewer’s imaginative entry into this space, it thwarts such effects—as if sealing pictorial space against the projections of a viewer and thus holding itself apart from her (this impression is not unqualified). Classic Impressionist structure had depended on the juxtaposition of a variety of pure colors, held at an approximately even value. Rubin was more amenable than Fried was to the cubism connection, and made a particular effort to track how cubist space was modified by Pollock via Mondrian. The first was connected to the literal boundaries of the canvas—its actual edges, a physical limit beyond which the representation could not extend.
For that emancipation generates the problem of representing the “body” within pictorial space. In fact, I find the schematic suggestion of a body to share something, by way of reversal, with Three Women.
That is, Pollock intends to signify something about the relation of his mark-making procedures to both figuration and abstraction. The manner in which they tack the right-side and upper framing edges, as if pushing or spreading parts of the webbed field towards the corner in an effort to secure it there (notice the oblong passage of heavy black that further anchors the web to the corner), serves to express something about the painter’s approach to a limit. Number 1A, 1948 is the meaningful expression of an artist, and our evaluation of the validity of that expression—its truth, insofar as we think we understand or feel it—is not an act that consummates the meaning. Elements essentially decorative in themselves were used not to adorn but to identify, locate, construct; and in being so used, to create works of art in which decorativeness was transcended or transfigured in a monumental unity. Writing in 1946, Greenberg suggested that modern abstract art’s tendency to assert the specificity of the medium “expresses our society’s growing impotence to organize experience in any other terms than those of the concrete sensation, immediate return, [and] tangible datum” (Greenberg, “Henri Rousseau and Modern Art” [1946], CEC, 2: 94). Considered as indexes, Pollock’s signs are thus converted into marks that transcribe their cause. To their “fashionable metaphysics of despair,” he saw Pollock’s work as engaged with encountering, engaging, and solving problems of form and content that had preoccupied the best modernist painters since Manet (Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella [exh.
Indeed, there seems to be some fundamental confusion at the heart of the postmodernist criticism that Fried’s “opticality,” as a mode of the visual perception of pictures, is somehow antithetical to an “embodied” experience of art. A central concern of his work is the phenomenology of perception, insofar as it bears on interpreting the meaning of works of art. The basic simplicity of a Life Death Tattoo design is the key to its great power as the lines flow in strong arches and clean sweeps.
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Maintaining a sense of separateness between the artist and the empirical viewer also helps ensure the independence of the meaning of the work of art from the viewer’s meaning. In what follows, I suggest an answer to this question, first by reviewing key aspects of formalist accounts of Pollock, and second by pursuing the theme of self-grounded meaning those accounts imply.
A crucial point of Greenberg’s account is that in order to achieve pictorial content under the conditions he attributes to the Cubist project (that is, under the charge of retaining illusion without resorting to the conventional representation of three-dimensional space and of avoiding mere surface pattern or decoration), literal flatness must be continually “re-created” or “reconstruct[ed]” (“Collage,” 77 and “Pasted-Paper,” 65). Given the theoretical weight Greenberg gave to re-created flatness, I hazard to guess at least something like this conception of the artist’s self-validated meaning was at stake. While “bind[ing]” might certainly convey the gist of the painting’s confinement by a literal frame, I think it also points to Pollock’s achievement of an “unambiguous shape” that is more than just the “canvas rectangle.”14 Yet in both these cases, the sense of the word is tied to a demarcation of the painting’s area (its proper zone) from the world which laterally surrounds it, beyond all four of its edges.
Richard Shiff has suggested that in calling Pollock’s surfaces “emphatic,” “positivist,” and “concrete” (“Prospects,” 166), Greenberg seemed to reason that the artist’s work confronted modern materialism on material terms—as if his paintings could provide the culture with a pictorial intensification of its own matter-of-factness, inoculating its viewers against the shocks of modern urban experience by conveying ever more “naked” sensations.
It is important to distinguish, however, between the “tautness of feeling” the artist presents—something “he can vouch for with complete certainty,” as Greenberg reminds us—and the viewer’s response. That suggestion came in 1999, in a review for Pollock’s Museum of Modern Art retrospective.
A main concern of the critic’s unsurpassed formal analysis of Pollock is the character of Pollock’s line in relation to contouring shapes.
In his later articulation of Pollock’s pictorial intensity, Fried suggests as much when finds the artist’s pursuit of pictorial intensity to be “from the outset correlated with the essential facingness” of his paintings, a facingness I construe to be predicated on a sense of the independence of the work of art from the beholder (“Allusions,” 144). For Rubin, it was Impressionism—and specifically of the late Monet—that was key to understanding Pollock’s pictorial space. Rubin argues that Mondrian’s plus-and-minus pictures of 1913-14 rendered cubism’s conception of a shallow, illusionistic, atmospheric space more absolute, and, as a consequence, isolated it so that it could be “discarded” (or “drained off” [III, 31 n. Still, because Rubin found the sensational effects of Pollock’s scintillating webs to be rooted in cubism at one remove, through Mondrian, his account also owes something to Greenberg. The other kind of frame, I claimed, was of a pictorial nature, and was generated through the activity of painting itself. Part of that logic, as I’ve recounted, is prizing apart the means of representation from their conventional functions, rendering them increasingly autonomous.
Pollock had grappled with the problem throughout his career: viewers of Gothic might be reminded of the lessons the artist took from his mentor Thomas Hart Benton, whose 1924 “Mechanics of Form Organization” rehearsed a technique of dynamically controlling a body’s centrifugal and centripetal forces (fig. In Picasso’s painting, the division enacted by the literal edges between the space of the painting and the world outside it is internalized by the represented body. The allover visual field, in its total array, is a means by which Pollock accomplishes this task. Taking Pollock’s handprints as indexes of a vertical, figural, “schema” lying below the dripped, poured, and spattered skein, Krauss contended that the web not only struck at and “cancel[led]” that figural schema, but “operate[d] instead on the very idea of the organic, on the way the composition can make the wholeness of the human form and the architectural coherence of the painting into analogues of one another.”28 Krauss’s “organic” seems to refer to a correspondence between the painting’s “capacity to cohere” and the unity of the human form we expect figuration to produce.
As indexical signs of Pollock’s palms, they make the literal flatness of the support explicit, helping to differentiate the physical nature of the canvas from the pictorial field.
Counter to what may be our initial impression that the painting was made without traditional techniques or implements, it is important to note that Pollock utilized a brush to create a diagrammatic figure just emerging from or sinking into the web at the upper left corner. Consider the fact that as he painted, the framed edge as a literal limit was not yet in place.
The implication is that his work must be taken to consist entirely of its physical features, which reveals Krauss’ commitment to the materiality of the signifier.
That is a false opposition, one based on a misunderstanding of the “tactile” insofar as it pertains to looking at paintings.
He has published essays on Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and is author of Cy Twombly for Phaidon (spring 2014).
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Such blue selvage threads—which indicate the upper and lower limits of a bolt of canvas, while protecting it against fraying—are sometimes noticeable in other paintings by Pollock, especially along the top and bottom edges of his classic 1950 drip, pour, and spatter paintings, which utilize the full vertical dimension of a standard nine foot bolt of canvas and extend laterally to over seventeen feet. In Pollock’s case, formalist criticism—especially that of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, but also by William Rubin—provides a crucial platform for interpreting the meaning of the work of art, because it provides the most compelling accounts of how Pollock’s paintings achieve that independence. The significance of that thought-provoking term may perhaps be illuminated by turning to Greenberg’s later account of cubism, where he most fully pursues the concept of re-created flatness in relation to pictorial meaning.
Once the “brute, undepicted flatness” of the literal surface was in view, Braque’s paintings could preserve the illusion of a very shallow—but still salient—fictive depth between that literal flatness and what Greenberg now called “depicted flatness.” (These points might recall to the reader’s mind Pollock’s decision to leave the selvage thread visible in Number 27, 1950. That is, Pollock’s allover drip paintings refuse to bring one’s attention to a focus anywhere. As Monet dramatically increased the size of his pictures (Rubin reproduces three of the Orangerie’s Nympheas paintings [1916-1926]), he began to reverse this proposition. 20]) in favor of the “non-illusionistic optically spatial scintillating web of sensations” that “coalesce[s]” in Pollock. The nuances of each account are instructive, but even more important in the present context is to note the formalists’ collective targeting of some specific ways Pollock’s paintings achieve their independence from the viewer. The second kind of frame is thus intimately connected with intention (the artist’s meaning), insofar as it finds pictorial expression.
Yet the elements that comprise the compositional array, independent of conventional description as they might be, appear strongly related to each other and to the framing edges of the canvas. The contour of the human figure—its limit—urges us to identify it with the limits of both the depicted as well as the literal framing edges within which it is set. Consequently, the painting’s autonomy can be understood as allegorized by the represented body’s containment within or openness to the pictorial space surrounding it. And, as I hope to have suggested in my summary of the formalist positions on Pollock, expression—the artist’s meaning—plays a crucial role in this regard.
It is this distinction, I have been arguing, that conditions our apprehension of the painting as a medium of expression.
Given the artist’s tendency to bracket the interior space of his pictures on either side with standing figures like this one, we might reasonably assume it to have a mate. Pollock made Number 1A, 1948 while the canvas was on the floor of his studio, only framing it after its composition was complete.
But I tend to think that Pollock’s project of separateness is not motivated by a radical renunciation of communicability.
21-May 30, 1965], reprinted in Art and Objecthood, 213-265; 222 [hereafter, Three American Painters]. As Alois Riegl made clear, both the optical and the tactile are modes of visual perception. Since Pollock’s line doesn’t bound anything (he “freed at last [line] from the job of describing contours and bounding shapes” [Three American Painters, 224]), he undermines the viewer’s sense of self-contained things.


He is currently at work on his book, Jackson Pollock and the Perception of Abstract Expressionism. Number 27, 1950 is four by nine feet, which orients the threads to the left and right edges, rather than to the top and bottom. It is perhaps needless to point out that the formalist insistence on the independence or separateness of Pollock’s work from the viewer runs counter to the pervasive tendency to see Pollock’s visual fields as absorbing or engulfing the viewer, creating an immersive effect in which the viewer loses a sense of herself. He could just as easily hidden it in the tacking margin, as he did on the left side of the painting. I find a resonance between Fried’s observation of what he called a “layered impactedness, mobile intensiveness, and experiential density of the painted surface” (“Allusions,” 97) in the painter’s works of 1947-50 and Greenberg’s description of Pollock’s ability to “hold” a surface with “inevitability.” To my mind, what connects the remarks is their mutual relation to the problem of bounding figures and shapes with contour lines, an issue Fried has done the most to explicate. Because the sheer size of the multi-panel works threatened their compositional unity and cohesiveness, Monet’s solution was to hold them together by varying value within a dominant hue. And, it serves to make that meaning independent of the viewer by asserting the separateness of the work of art from the viewer’s experience at large.
In Gothic, I see the bold black arcs in orbit around an implied yet insistent central vertical to suggest the symmetrical massing of a body. Rather than shoring up a sense of the body’s integrity, though, the radical schematization of the body (or bodies) in Gothic seems to suggest a kind of uncontainment of the figure. The expanding effect of Gothic’s isolated figure, though, meets the edge from the other direction. Now I want to claim that the expressive meaning of Pollock’s works, whether we understand it as “pictorial intensity” (Fried) or “tautness of feeling” (Greenberg), is intimately bound up with the problem of formatting the work of art and establishing its independence from the viewer’s experience. I mention Krauss’s views at this juncture merely to point out that in rejecting the capacity of Pollock’s paintings to cohere, Krauss does more than strike at unconventional techniques of composing paintings.
In using his palm—the limit of a body’s reach and touch—to create a sequence of prints, Pollock pairs the iconic figure with indexical marks. He was thus at liberty to choose how his handprints—as well as other marks on the surface, including the overall web—would exist in relation to the edges, the frame.
Rather, it originates in the desire to insist that one’s own meaning, and its expression, is not contingent upon a viewer’s interpretation. They become meaningful only because of their difference from other signifiers and by virtue of their syntactical placement.
It is true that in Riegl’s scheme, the optical mode of vision opposes the tactile mode of vision, but neither of them necessarily opposes embodied perception.
The absence of circumscribed shapes or figures has the additional effect of eliminating one of the main cues of spatial depth, namely secure figure-ground oppositions. In addition to being differently placed in relation to the pictorial field, the thread in Number 27, 1950 appears to be more conspicuous here than in the larger works.
Which is to say that the effects of binding and holding contribute to establishing what I referred to above as its format (I’ll soon elaborate on the special meaning I give to this word). Nor is he saying we should see Pollock’s marks as literal traces either of his presence or his procedure. Because it was only in the context of a style entirely homogenous, allover in nature, and resistant to ultimate focus that the different elements in the painting—most important, line and color—could be made, for the first time in Western painting, to function as wholly autonomous pictorial elements. This all-over tonal quality prefigures Pollock’s similar tendency to absorb color into a tonal framework of blacks, whites, and middle-value aluminum, and to avoid strong, saturated colors.
Despite the titular reference to cathedrals and stained glass windows, the arcs more convincingly suggest the presence of hips, shoulders, possibly breasts, a head, and legs (possible in multiple sets).
The drift of this uncontainment appears to proceed laterally from a mesial vertical with which the spread of the arcs maintains an increasingly attenuated, but still salient, compositional relationship, to finally be braced by the picture’s right and left framing edges.
10), the figures are “engage[d] in a drama of mutual definition,” in which the contours of bodily form function not as limits to a thing, but as the beginning of another thing, as if, Palermo writes, “there were no negative spaces, only saliences” (“Wholeness,” 30).
Instead of internalizing the division, the all-over field swells to meet the framing edges. She also implicitly rejects the idea that Pollock’s paintings can establish their independence from the viewer, because apprehending a sense of the painting’s integrity is directly related to perceiving it as a discrete, contained, framed work of art. The commitment with which Pollock pursues pictorial intensity and tautness of feeling asserts his expression, and his meaning, as his own. So the meaning of Pollock’s signifiers—his indexical marks—depends upon the beholder’s judgments regarding competing possibilities of signification.
Still, it is obvious that Pollock’s works often convey a sense of atmospheric, if not strictly spatial, depth—effects that compete with the simultaneous impression of the physical flatness of the surface (a flatness that is achieved, in part through the “layered impactedness” mentioned by Fried [“Allusions,” 97]).
It is not that it is conspicuously used as an element in the overall composition: standing a few feet away, the thread is difficult to see.
Some version of this latter account can be found, most obviously, in the writings of Harold Rosenberg and Allan Kaprow, who take his characteristic webbed field to be nothing more than a kind of map of action. But unlike Monet, whose use of light and dark—despite what we may see as the nascent abstraction of the motif—was still associated with a model in nature, Pollock renders such modeling autonomous by disengaging line from contouring, and by implication, from shading. The first depends upon the degree to which the elements within a composition are seen to be adjusted to each other and to an external limit, specifically to the literal frame. Smaller bulbs outlined in red near the upper left framing edge, and a series of short, black marks along the lower edge, resemble the crude toes and fingers Pollock often attached to his figures around this time, and might indicate the ends of otherwise difficult to discern arms and legs. Or rather, not exactly braced: I want to say that the way field meets the edges establishes those edges as comprising a pictorial frame. The effect imparts to those edges a role of containment, transforming the literal edge—where the picture has to end—into a pictorial limit—where the represented body finds its end. In failing to see the integrity or coherence of Number 1A, 1948, Krauss denies its ability to achieve an ontological status of separateness from the viewer.
By convention, it’s easier to take the painted figure as part of the representational world of the painting, since we rarely take paint strokes that define an object or a figure—however schematic—as indexical signs.
In the difference between the indexical and iconic interpretations of Pollock’s paintings is the difference between the literal and the re-created framing edge, between the shape of the canvas and its format, between limits that are actual constraints and limits that are created—paradoxical as it may sound—as the condition of expression.
Riegl’s complementary term, the “optical,” refers to representations in which such bounded forms, and the integrity they convey, is compromised (e.g. Rather, at close range it seems meant to indicate the edge as a limit beyond which the representation cannot, literally, extend. The second is a matter of how the total array, the allover visual field—which is something more than just the accumulation of separate marks—creates its own frame, achieving independence from the literal frame. Passages of a bright green-yellow and a rusty but vivid orange conform themselves to the black arcs and suggest modeling, but the cool blue-violet Pollock used to fill in the areas defined by the arcs fails to contribute to the illusion of volume. In attempting to explain exactly what I think occurs in Gothic as regards to this claim, I’ll turn to a recent account of how cubism handled a related problem. The division between the space of the painting and the visible world outside it, including the viewer’s space, is enacted by the uncontained body seeking its limit. Which is to say that she “cancels” Pollock’s meaning, converting it into a matter of a viewer’s experience.
They are often invisible to us, supplementary to the object or figure we behold and identify.
Clark explained the relevance of such an adjustment to the top framing edge in Number 1A, 1948 (fig. In reducing signs to indexes, Krauss transforms Pollock’s paintings into just marked surfaces, objects to be encountered—not artworks to be interpreted.
Obviously, the material surface of the canvas is framed by actual limits, as all painted surfaces ultimately are. Pollock’s marks, she says, are not to be understood “representationally,” but as literal indexes of the “horizontal” which “invad[e] and undermin[e]” the “optical axis” of the finished painting.
As I mentioned above, he too had noticed that the light-dark oppositions of Pollock’s skeins and meshes work to “hold the surface with inevitability” without capitulating to conventions of chiaroscuro.
Instead, the blue-violet reads as a background glimpsed, as it were, through the interstices of the diagrammatic or stenographic anatomy.
The net effect is to remove all sense of continuity between our space as viewers and the painting’s space, rendering it radically independent of us. Her position thus entails abandoning the idea that paintings can serve as means of expression. This point is derived from my reading of Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), and from discussions with Todd Cronan and Charles Palermo. Which is to say that even though Greenberg did not make it an explicit theme of his analysis, he implicitly recognized Pollock’s autonomization of the elements of pictorial convention. Focusing our attention on the marks that comprise an object or figure—detaching those marks from the iconic image they collectively make—we can see that they index the angle of a brush, the pressure with which it is applied to the canvas, the speed and direction of an artist’s stroke, and other material properties. I am indebted for my understanding of Riegl to Michael Podro, The Critical Historians of Art [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982], esp. There is an oscillation, one might say, between taking a sign as indexical or iconic.29 It is this oscillation which helps us now see Pollock’s handprints not as indexes of his palm, but as iconic signs belonging to the world of the picture. 71-97, and to Margaret Olin, Forms of Representation in Alois Riegl’s Theory of Art [University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992]. In calling our attention to the actual frame by matching its edge so precisely with a common manufacturing detail—yet one which also slips under the painted skeins it abuts—I’d like to suggest that Pollock encourages us to imagine another kind of frame. He represents the hand and its multiple touches; he does not just index a causal activity of marking. Its “limits” should be thought of a qualitatively different from those of the actual material because, unlike physical limits, they do not first operate as constraints. The apparent limits of Pollock’s pictorial fields do not necessarily, and indeed rarely do, coincide with his paintings’ actual limits.1 Those apparent limits—which have an important role in establishing what I’ll later call the format of the picture—are generated by the activity of painting itself, and thus emerge as a result of artist’s expressive purposes.



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