To see a Jackson Pollock painting in person is to have an experience.

The underwhelming reproduction in an art history textbook can do no justice to the fact of standing before an 8 ft high, 15 foot wide expanse of movement and color and vision.  Pollock’s often room-sized works fill your field of vision, and you become submersed in an atmosphere that is at once violent and still, loud and metatative.  Pollock’s own life and history, his writing about the bomb and the nuclear age, his existential thinkings, and his fears and frustrations filter into the work, yet it is not that entirely.  With its lack of specificity and definition, the painting becomes a place that says something to you, that you can use to say something with, that creates a space for your own reflection and projection.

It is said that sitting benches are often provided solely in front of the greatest works of art, because those are the ones that you get lost in, that you must sit down to compose yourself, that you linger in front of for a long period of time after you initially approach it, for it consumes you, absorbs you, compels you, and draws you into its space.  With Pollock’s paintings, what you realize the more you look at them, is how terribly structured they are.  Pollock’s avant-garde approach to artmaking as a cathartic process were what gained him both respect and notoreity, but the longer you look at a Pollock painting, the more methodical they appear.  Pollock didn’t just go crazy, flinging paint in every direction.  His actions were deliberate in their intention, and there is order and rhythm and movement within his paintings that gives them such a strong visual effect.

It’s not so unlike film.

In visual arts, in poetry, in prose, in film, and fiction, the marriage of form and content is necessary for success.  In art, you learn at the beginning level that there are elements and principles that we respond to, even on the most basic, visceral level.  Certain colors are harmonious together; others create dischorrd.  The operation of the human eye means that the relationship between objects can be pleasant or distracting.  Pattern, proportions, focus, and balance can be structurally manipulated to appealing effect.  There are technical reasons that underlie why people have an immediately positive or negative reaction to something.  If you were a cook, you would learn how to harmoniously balance tastes; if you were a writer, to make sentences flow and to select words that are effective.  The end result of any successful piece of art is in how its technical and creative work together.

The interplay between actual and virtual comes together here.  There are certain aspects of both form and content that we become immediately aware of.   In the film Casablanca, for example, one scene has always resonated with me.  It is the scene in the nightclub, when the Germans begin to sing, Rick responds by commanding his band to play the “Marseillaise.”  

What makes the scene is not the set, the characters, the story, the framing, the makeup, the lighting, even the songs.  It’s harmoney comes from the way context and emotion, technical perfection and artistic execution come together.  It is the meaning of those songs against the backdrop of the war, the feelings of nationalism and pride that are so difficult during those times, the human dignity that is contained in so simple a gesture.  All these things coming together is more than enough to make one’s heart surge with emotion.

Casablanca remains one of the greatest movies ever created because it succeeds on so many levels.  Its famed dialogue alone can be considered in terms of form and content: the words are well-written, but Bogart’s execution is what makes many of the scenes.  The merger of the technical and the artistic, what we understand and the mechanisms that work underneath, all factor into whether or not we walk out of the theater and feel something.

Film offers something unique in that watching people move onscreen most closely mimics the way that our lives are or aren’t.  We react to people moving and acting and carrying out their lives, and they have a direct effect on ours because we relate to those experiences.  For this reason, we are probably most critical of film.  When it is successful, however, film is an experience that is unlike any other.


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