When it was suggested that Indonesian gamelan music, with its endless flow of repetitious pattern, accompany Hans Namuth’s film of Pollock painting, the artist protested. “I’m an American painter,” he said, and the American composer Morton Feldman was commissioned to supply a score.

(Carter Ratcliff, Jackson Pollock’s American Sublime)

I was just talking about Jackson Pollock (Jack the Dripper) with my young friend Melissa not long ago, when she and I saw some of his work. One of her first comments was, “Oh, now I get it. You really have to see these in person!”, and although that’s true of pretty much any artist, it’s even more so with Pollock.

What doesn’t come through in reproductions is the size of most of his paintings, which are extremely large, and the texture of the paint, which in many of his works looks to be almost one inch thick. All of which is lost in translation to the printed page. But when you see them in person, there is something really magical going on.

So, OK, everyone could drizzle paint on a canvas and create abstract art like this, but there are two problems. First, you could do it, but you’re not going to achieve the same results (and really, you couldn’t do it with the same technique. It takes skill to achieve interesting patterns and textures in an abstract work, look at Mondrian’s work for example). And second, you’d be about 60 years too late to splatter paint on a canvas and call it art. In art, much like music, originality is highly prized. If you want to be a famous artist, you’d better be the first person to do something … or raise the bar on something that’s been done before. How many composers living today write music like Beethoven’s? His piano music led to developments in the technology of the instrument that have hardly been improved in almost two centuries since his death.

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