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Updated: Jan 21, 2023

There’s a well known story about the first time Hans Hofmann visited Jackson Pollack's studio whereupon he was startled by the absence of any models or sketches. "Do you work from nature?" he asked. Pollack replied, "I am nature!"

Anecdotally, this idea gets to one of the reasons why I chose the name Entheos for this site where my various writing, design, and podcast projects live; I mention this because I think it’s somewhat relevant to what Pollack might be getting at. The greek word entheos is the root of the modern “enthusiasm” and denotes being inspired or possessed by a god, or to be in a state of rapture or ecstasy. This seems to be an adequate description of what Pollack meant by claiming to be nature. He was a artist possessed, making of his body a channel for the simultaneously enlisted cosmic forces of creation and destruction. It should thus come as less of a surprise, then, that his art is regarded by many as little more than chaos, an assessment to which Pollack would have vehemently disagreed. “NOT CHAOS” he once wrote, responding to a critic who had made a similar critique of his work.

Deleuze and Guattari write in What is Philosophy, “Art indeed struggles with chaos, but it does so in order to bring forth a vision that illuminates it for an instant, a sensation... Art is not chaos but a composition of chaos that yields the vision or sensation, so that it constitutes, as [James] Joyce says, a cosmos, a composed chaos - neither foreseen nor preconceived... Art struggles with chaos but it does so in order to render it sensory.” Another critic describes Pollack’s work as “a religious painting without religion”. I’m fascinated by this comment, in part because of my interest in death-of-god theology of the 1960’s (notably, the later Bonhoeffer had written in his letters from prison of his vision for a “religion without religion), but also because I’m reminded of yet another Deleuze quote which seems relevant in relation to the critic’s remark. “Abstraction offers us an asceticism, a spiritual Salvation. Through an intense spiritual effort, it raises itself above the figurative givens, but it also turns chaos into a simple stream we must cross in order to discover the abstract and signifying Forms.” (The Logic of Sense)

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