Jun 15, 2023

The Value of an Artifact: Jackson Pollock's Studio Floor

Sadie Ouzts

Jackson Pollock is one of the most famous American artists of all time. Everything he made is worth thousands to hundreds of millions of dollars. One item he created - inadvertently - is the floor of his and Krasner’s studio at the Pollock-Krasner House. Pollock was unique in that he painted a number of his most famous paintings on the floor. Consequently, the floor of his studio is a magnificent reflection of Pollock’s vigorous, innovative poured paintings. It is a prime artifact of him and his work. But why is it not a work of art in and of itself? And if it is not one of his works of art, what value does an artifact of Jackson Pollock have?

The most relevant definitions of "art" and "artifact" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary are as follows:

Art is the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.

An artifact is something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual.

Based on these definitions, the floor falls squarely in the “artifact” category because it is an incidental result of Pollock creating art. It does not have the intentionality a work of art does.

There is another reason the floor must be classified as an artifact. In 1999, Richard P Taylor released a scientific study confirming that the seemingly random patterns in Pollock’s poured paintings are actually carefully structured fractals. According to Taylor, “fractals consist of patterns that recur on finer and finer scales, building scale-invariant shapes of immense complexity”. Nature, a well-known inspiration for Pollock's poured paintings, is full of fractals.  Examples include tree branches, lighting, snowflakes, and crystals. Following nature, Pollock's paintings were carefully structured, but with a structure that was done intuitively and spontaneously rather than according to any sketch or plan. Taylor’s study concluded that if a painting lacks fractal patterns, it could not be an original Pollock work of art.

Example of Fractals in nature, "Jackson Pollock tree" by Dano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This means the floor cannot be considered a work of art because it does not contain any fractals. Instead, it is the randomized result of his art and lacks any of the structure that marks Pollock’s art. Furthermore, the floor was built up over time and contains layers relating to dozens of paintings, removing any pattern that might emerge from the splatters of a single painting. This firmly cements the floor as an artifact of Pollock’s art, not the art itself.

Now comes the question, “what is the value of an artifact of Pollock?” Artifacts on their own are valuable in numerous ways, as evidenced by artifacts such as King Tutenkamen’s funerary mask, the Aztec Sun Stone, the Terracotta Army, and the Book of Kells.

from left to right: King Tutenkamen's Funerary Mask, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt; the Aztec Sun Stone, National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City, Mexico; a portion of the Terracotta Army, Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, Xi'an, China; and a page from the Book of Kells, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Each of these artifacts is of crucial importance to the cultures they come from because of the information they provide about the time, cultures, and people involved in their creation. They are also intriguing, beautiful objects to observe. The same is true about the Jackson Pollock studio floor. Pollock is arguably the most famous and influential American artist ever, and this floor gives a uniquely beautiful and unparalleled look into his paintings, his art style, and the man itself.  

Because Pollock did not believe in edges of paintings, he made no effort to limit his paint just to his current canvas. This means that the location where some of his paintings were created can be exactly pinpointed. Some masterpieces such as Convergence fit into paint remnants on the floor like the final puzzle piece. Others such as Number 3, 1950 can be identified by outlines in paint. Finally, when Pollock created works like Blue Poles, his strokes did not end on the canvas and instead left gorgeous slashes of paint across the floor. The floor is an extension of the works of art he created, remnants from dozens of canvases that have long since been sold. These remnants provide an unparalleled look into the evolution of of each individual piece, and of Pollock as an artist.

Blue Poles, 1952, Jackson Pollock, the National Gallery of Art, https://searchthecollection.nga.gov.au/object/36334#/object/36334

When looking at the splashes and splatters of paint strewn across the floor, one can practically feel the vigor and emotion with which he painted. One can get a sense of his energy, his movement, his moments of contemplation and sudden action. There are echoes of his thought process and stylistic choices covering every inch of the floor. Furthermore, this Pollock artifact is a direct line to the man himself. A footprint can be found on the floor, directly in line with a footprint on one of his paintings. A cigarette butt and multiple match lighters are tacked down to the floor amongst the paint, a result of his smoking habit. 

Convergence, 1952, Jackson Pollock, Buffalo AKG Art Museum, https://buffaloakg.org/artworks/k19567-convergence

The floor provides education in its insights into Pollock’s creative process, thought processes, and habits. Because it was created due to his willingness to extend beyond a canvas, it is also a perfect reflection of the philosophies he used to change the face of art. And while there are hundreds of Pollock paintings, there is only one floor. Soon, you will be able to own a piece of it.

Taylor, R. J. K., Micolich, A. P., & Jonas, D. M. (1999). Fractal analysis of Pollock’s drip paintings. Nature, 399(6735), 422. https://doi.org/10.1038/20833

Scale Invariance: Simple Definition, Examples. (2020, December 31). Statistics How To. Retrieved May 13, 2023, from https://www.statisticshowto.com/scale-invariance/

Definition of art. (2023). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/art

Definition of artifact. (2023). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artifact

Treasures of Irish Art, 1500 B.C. to 1500 a.D. : From the Collections of the National Museum of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy, & Trinity College, Dublin, Metropolitan Museum of Art & Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1977, ISBN 0394428072. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KellsFol032vChristEnthroned.jpg

File:Piedra del Sol.png - Wikimedia Commons. (2014, September 12). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piedra_del_Sol.png

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Blue Poles, 1952 by Jackson Pollock. (n.d.). https://www.jackson-pollock.org/blue-poles.jsp

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Convergence, 1952 by Jackson Pollock. (n.d.). https://www.jackson-pollock.org/convergence.jsp

File:CairoEgMuseumTaaMaskMostlyPhotographed.jpg - Wikimedia Commons. (2016, January 1). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CairoEgMuseumTaaMaskMostlyPhotographed.jpg

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