I have always been a voracious reader, nerd that I am. Summers were often spent with my nose in a book and summer reading contests were usually won handedly. These days, with so much time spent reading blogs and articles online, I don’t pick up a book nearly as often as I’d like. When I do, sometimes it’s an artist biography or other art/art history related tome, with the occasional fun & easy fiction read thrown in. Since some of my artsy reads might be of interest to you, I thought I’d begin posting my thoughts on my latest conquests.
My most recent artsy read has been Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock by Henry Adams. Many of us know that Pollock was a student of Benton, but this book really delves into both their lives and careers, their complicated relationship and the influence of each on the development of modern art.
While I’ve always admired Thomas Hart Benton’s work for its sweeping nature and subtly satirical voice ( though it is still widely criticized by many as too provincial ), I’ll admit my main draw to the book was Pollock.
Remembering back to my earliest forays into art history, I wasn’t especially intrigued by Pollock. At the time, I was drawn to the more feminine abstractions of Georgia O’Keeffe and Helen Frankenthaler. It wasn’t until I came face to face with a Pollock canvas during an Abstract Expressionism show at The Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville. I was completely blown away.
The texture, the seemingly randomness that once you really stare at it, is not so random, the thick build-up of paint.. I was now officially hooked. The book details the rise of Thomas Hart Benton, paying special attention to his influences, as these would trickle down to ultimately influence Pollock. Benton’s theory of “the hollow and the bump” becomes especially important to Pollock’s artistic growth. Once studied side by side, it’s interesting to map how Pollock went from devoted student of Benton’s to the development of his own unique, groundbreaking style while still utilizing theories taught to him by this mentor and father figure.
I confess, this one took me several library renewals to get through.. The first half of the book, which focuses heavily on Benton and his contemporaries is a bit of a challenge, perhaps because I was more interested in Pollock. But once you begin to see it all culminating in the explosion of Pollock’s career, the transition from the Modern movement to Abstract Expressionism and the shifting of the center of the art world from Paris to New York, the book is impossible to put down. Yes, there’s plenty of speculation regarding Pollock’s alcoholism, mental and emotional battles, but the focus comes back to how he dealt with those demons through his work. A fantastic read if you are at all interested in modern art, abstract expressionism, Benton or Pollock. I just wish I’d bought it instead of checking it out of the library!
Anyone else out there read this book? What were your thoughts?
PS– If you have any recommendations for artsy reads, please share! Right now, I’m really enjoying Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty. Thoughts on that one to come soon! You can see more of my reading list on my Artsy Book Club Pinterest board. 😉