Pollock’s term of aesthetic judgement for his own work creeps up in a handwritten manifesto from 1950 – “organic intensity.”
Of what he refers, this sense of aesthetic occurs as a decision point – that measure of instinct made when the work had reached a proper state.
The work goes through several developments, often upsetting previous incarnations. That is the nature of that particular kind of approach. Pollock is known as the dripper but he also passed the paint through his fingers, shot it out with basters, moved from various types (oil, enamel, aluminum, encaustic, etc). The sense of looking as any good painter looks (all at once) and the scanning of the painting, all that kind of understanding of where it may be going, is made problematic with the technique he developed. Tossed into this mix is an approach not only in the flat but from all four sides, displacing the acquired habits of the easel. And the accompanying pour or drip displaced the technique that had previous accumulated as know-how, literally putting the painter out of teach of the touch of canvas. He had deliberated interfered with his whole way of previously looking.
In Pollock not only assessment of the work but control itself is at war with technique, as the latter is mobilized to disrupt habitual tendencies in order to arrive at something truly spontaneous. There is nothing ‘mechanical’ about Pollock’s work. Often that is a mistake made with the topic of the pour/drip, as if anyone or even a machine could produce it. The fact is that this is simple-minded. Something like it could perhaps be spit out, but not a Pollock. This is because a Pollock is full with a ruthless merger between Gothicness and Positivism, and not a debased materialism. It may be chaotic but nothing is accidental. The pour/drip is not a simple formula – it is actually quite difficult. In Pollock the ‘organic intensity’ is there throbbing in the work and that is missing in filigree attempts to imitate the technique done by the un-experienced. If one looks as the painter looks – all at once – then one would see a profound configuration existing in the painting and coming through the painting.
When contingency and selfsameness confront each other they do so in tragedy. When an absolute individuality rubs up against endless difference, or when the undividedness stands against the whirl of the oceanic. To identify with a changeable or malleable consciousness, yet pinning for an essential Being: this is the contradiction of the modern mind. I believe this sums Pollock up nicely. Or, since I was cuing on Hegel, allow Hegel to move forward,
“Through these movements of surrender first of its right to decide for itself, then of its property and enjoyment, and finally through the positive moment of practicing what it does not understand, it truly and completely deprives itself of the consciousness of inner and outer freedom, of the actuality in which consciousness exists for itself. It has the certainty of having truly divested itself of its “I,” and of having turned its immediate self-consciousness into a Thing, into an objective existence.”
In any case, the religious context Hegel is hinting at carries over into art. What one ought to do is look at Pollock and refuse to be completely under the spell of Greenberg’s lens. There is a singularly important thing that the critics got right, however, and that is the tendency towards renunciation.
Renunciation to what? – Towards the organic intensity. Endless difference. This organic intensity is freed from the need to describe, to bound shape to elements of depiction. But it goes further. In a Pollock a singular marker is absent: there is no central subjectivity persisting as an origin/end continuation of the psyche. This act is the action of absence where the marks do not add up to a depiction, a sign of unity of the picture and the picture-maker. In Pollock it is not the trace of a making-subject but rather a vast interruption of marks and textures. Pollock achieve this emptying-out by way of handling where handling no longer embodies a unified control. The handling signifies a making but not a centered marker. Pollock wanted to be out of himself and in the painting.
I would say that this is the single pursuit of a lot of painters, is it not? – This wish to be in the painting and out of the self. Certainly when the work is going well and when things are all coming together, instinctualy this is how we feel. Having divested ourselves of the “I,” if abstraction is to be useful it ought to be emptying itself of all forms of resemblance in order to lead towards this divestiture of the Notion. It likeness could be displaced, and here Pollock’s work fits nicely, it shall be an attempt to signify experience by other means, ad even – if it could be said to be successful – an entirely different relation to the world.