The Million Dollar Question

no-1-19481At first, the modern art painting Number 1A, 1948 by Jackson Pollock just looks like a messy jumble of layered, splattered paint. Oftentimes viewers question why this painting is even famous. I admit, I was one of those kinds of people at one point. Although this painting really does seem like a mess of paint, overtime I’ve developed an appreciation for most modern art, although I really can’t bring myself to understand certain uber crazy exhibitions. The first thing that comes to mind when I look at Number 1A, 1948 is a message about escape. The black splatter paint represents a net-like barrier while the blue paint underneath represents the sky, or maybe the light at the end of a tunnel. The handprints were one of the first things that caught my attention in this painting; the most noticeable ones are at the top right corner. These handprints represent a person trying to escape from the net-like barrier to freedom. Maybe this painting is a message about more than just literal escape from a place; it could also represent escape from a difficult time in the artist’s life, or even just escape from a confusing situation. I actually saw this painting in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and it is, in fact, pretty big, spanning almost an entire wall. Its immense size adds even more meaning to my initial thoughts of its message of escape. The black net-like barrier presents an even greater challenge or obstacle to weave through and overcome.   
After looking at the painting, I read Nancy Sullivan’s poem titled “Number 1 by Jackson Pollock.” This poem relays the poet’s reaction upon viewing Pollock’s work. The structure and content of the poem serve as stark contrasts to Pollock’s painting. When Sullivan writes “No similes here. Nothing but paint” in reference to Number 1A, 1948, she directly points out the distinct differences in medium between her work and Pollock’s work–the differences between a poem and a painting. Furthermore, the poem verses and overall shape appear rigid; this quality serves as another stark contrast to Pollock’s free-flowing, messy painting. Sullivan describes the artwork as “a game of Monopoly without any bank.” Out of all of the figurative language and comparisons within her poem, this comparison to Monopoly without a bank was the most interesting. Monopoly is an intense and fun game that holds some meaningful value, but without a bank, all meaning is lost and the game cannot be played. By making this comparison, Sullivan implies that the painting, at least on first glance, holds no meaning to the viewer. At the end of the poem, Sullivan writes “How to realize his question Let alone his answer?”– a conclusion that many viewers of Pollock’s work are left pondering. Perhaps this is the question that contributes to the painting’s success; with no biased name, no specific focal point, and no concrete meaning, the painting leaves the interpretation up to the viewers–a task that continues to interest people worldwide 68 years after its creation.

“Number 1 by Jackson Pollock”

Nancy Sullivan

No name but a number.
Trickles and valleys of paint
Devise this maze
Into a game of Monopoly
Without any bank. Into
A linoleum on the floor
In a dream. Into
Murals inside of the mind.
No similes here. Nothing
But paint. Such purity
Taxes the poem that speaks
Still of something in a place
Or at a time.
How to realize his question
Let alone his answer?


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