Right Bird Left by Lee Krasner
Right Bird Left
Artist: Lee Krasner
Date Made: 1965
American Painter, 1908 - 1984
David Owsley Museum of Art

Not to be Trusted

A few posts back we talked about the idea that some artists get stuck in a rut creating similar works over and over again throughout their career. And then there are the artists like Brett Weston who when asked what years he considered his best work replied, “My present work. You move ahead. You don’t rest on your laurels…I throw away a lot of my work…You just tear it up and throw it out.”

Lee Krasner, the creator of the featured image, had a similar viewpoint. She changed and experimented throughout her career. She’s quoted as saying, “I am not to be trusted around my old work for any length of time.” There are gaps in the timeline of her work because she often revised her existing works to create new ones (for instance by cutting them up to form collages) or outright destruction of entire series.

Why do some artists continue to evolve and experiment throughout their lives while some do not? Perhaps it’s due to popularity. Krasner was the wife of Jackson Pollock, “Jack the Dripper”, the wildly famous artist known for his technique of throwing, splashing, and pouring paint onto a large canvas on the floor. Krasner was the more established artist when they first met, but when Pollock’s work went crazy popular (the 1950’s version of going viral) she, along with lots of other artists including his older brother, got overshadowed.

Once the public gets a ravenous taste for your work they don’t ever want it to change. How many times do we hear about popular rock bands that release an album that’s in a different style than their previous hits and their fans go nuts? They can’t believe the band could betray them like that and they declare the band members “sell outs” and stop listening to their music altogether.

“It has now become impossible to read a story about Metallica without finding a fairly predictable comment thread full of cliched and melodramatic dismissals of the band for no longer writing, thinking and making music like they did when they were 16.”

David Masciotra https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/18/metallica-new-album-hardwired-to-self-destruct-haters

The same thing seems to happen to famous artists. What would have happened if Pollock had suddenly decided to start painting landscapes? What if Ansel Adams had made a mid-career direction change into street photography? There would be total chaos. Galleries would refuse to handle their new work. Scathing articles would be written.

At one point in Pollock’s career he tried to make a change – he went monochrome. Still abstract, still dripping with paint, just not color anymore. While other artists liked the new direction, the public did not. Galleries couldn’t sell these new creations unless they offered deep discounts. At the time of his death Pollock was working on sculptures instead of paintings. Yikes! Wouldn’t that have been something when they opened a show of Pollock sculptures.

Fortunately many artists like Krasner are the independent contrary types. They’re willing to move ahead and follow wherever their art takes them despite the criticism they might have to endure. Today Lee Krasner is considered one of the most important painters of the 20th century. That’s not in spite of her willingness to grow as an artist, it’s because of it.


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