Research point – The Abstract Expressionists’ use of gesture

The course notes ask for my response to the following comments:

The Abstract Expressionists’ use of gesture was caught up with notions of authenticity and even of purity of intent. The influential critic Clement Greenberg wrote in his article ‘Avant Garde and Kitsch’ in 1939 about the good artist painting ‘cause’ and the bad artist painting ‘effect’. He also talks about what he describes as ‘the inflections of the personal’ becoming a legitimate subject. For example, the artist Jackson Pollock talked about wanting to paint from his emotions, not to illustrate them.

I think a good artist could paint ’cause’ and also ‘effect’. Whichever chimes with the artist is going to be the one which produces good art. Similarly with painting from the emotions or illustrating them. I can see the distinction and for people for whom that is important, I can understand their passion for choosing one over the other, but either is valid in my book. Having a strict criteria for how things should be done sparks movements in art, but they inevitably get superseded by new thinking. Personally I struggle to draw from my emotions or illustrate them, so the distinction is a moot point for me.

Looking at the work of Jackson Pollock is interesting and seeing how over time he gradually gave up control over subject to embrace painting solely from his emotions. He embraced the happy accidents which come from working with paint splashes and, although he obviously had control over the broad sweep of the marks, he gave up control of the detail. Personally, I enjoy work which has an element of this lack of control, although I do like to see it mixed with more controlled work.


Namuth, H. (1951). Jackson Pollock by Hans Namuth. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018].

YouTube. (2017). The Case for Jackson Pollock. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Nov. 2018].

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