Greyed Rainbow

Greyed Rainbow, 1953 (The Art Institute of Chicago)

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

To increase the pleasure you get when looking at a work of art, it helps to understand the subject matter or purpose of the work of art. The subject matter is much more than the recognition of objects and incidents, it is the form and content chosen by the artist for the treatment of his work. The way these and other elements are combined are not simply technical differences in art, they also mark differences in expression and feeling.

Form is objective, matter that occupies space in the visible world. It is the shape, size, movement, texture, color and tone of an object. Content is subjective, like spirit, it does not occupy space in the visible world. The distinction between form and content fosters the perception that meaning exists in content, while the form is merely the carrier or shell for the meaning. The subject matter or meaning of a work of art exists in the combination of both form and content.

Let’s use Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings as an example to better understand subject matter and it’s relationship to form and content. Pollock was a tortured alcoholic, who swung between sensitivity and machismo, elation and despair. Most people agree that the subject matter of his painting is existential angst.

The form of Pollock’s drip paintings are typically large-scale canvases, such as 12 x 24 ft. He put the canvas on the floor and stood in the middle with a large can of household paint, he consciously wanted to be in the painting and to become physically part of it. The rhythms and flow in the threads of paint may be instinctive; however, they are not arbitrary or careless.

Pollock’s drip painting seem in one sense, entirely abstract, having virtually unrecognizable and indescribable forms. Yet, the paint flung and splattered on to the canvas laid upon the ground, manages to symbolize for the viewer an identifiable meaning and value beyond the sheer physical reality of the work of art.

Subject matter, a neutral-sounding term, always involves interpretation and clarification, managing to combine in its two words the idea of a representation which is both objective in form, and subjective in content.

Andrew Wolf, LLC
19th & 20th Century Fine Art, Art Pottery, Sculpture & Books

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