Monday, April 9, 2007

The "Stenographic Figure" is a stenographer... whodathunk?

Jackson Pollock’s Stenographic Figure is confusing. All you have to do is take one look at it. So it comes as no surprise to me that there has been ongoing debate about what is even portrayed in the painting let alone what the content may mean. Since the painting was unveiled in 1943 there have been so many theories about the number of figures, the position of the figures, the significance of all the numerical scribblings… pretty much there’s a controversy about anything there could be.

In the article “The Artist in the Analyst” from American Art, the author Sue Taylor, spends the first section detailing many of the arguments of the most prominent art critiques and how they’ve influenced one another. The first sentence of the second section is Taylor’s actual thesis where she details what she herself will be arguing and then how she’s going to refute the arguments of the more prominent and historically important art critiques that she is building on. The thesis reads thus: “Though Lanhorne's reading of Stenographic Figure remains problematic, I believe she is correct in asserting that the painting contains a pair of figures, male and female; I am also convinced that the numbers, letters, and other notations Pollock deploys across the surface of the canvas carry a greater significance than the merely visual interest Rubin ascribes to them.” After reading through the five pages of introductory material that essentially summarized all scholarly analysis of Stenographic Figure to date, I felt it would be helpful to actually put the author’s thesis in her own words. Taylor then launches into a long and in depth examination of two of Pollock’s works (Stenographic Figure and Male and Female) from a Jungian point of view. She quotes extensively from the notes and studies that his two psychoanalysts (both of whom were disciples of the Jungian philosophy) left of him, to show what she believes to be the correct reading of the symbols and shapes as a female stenographer and a man giving dictation. This compelling evidence from Pollock’s own life that she supplies in support of her argument makes it a believable interpretation of a painting that is otherwise one confused jumble of color, shape, and scribbles. (The “Jungian Philosophy,” by the way, believes in the collective unconscious of humanity and the extreme importance of both conscious and unconscious symbols). She also quotes from Pollock’s own scribblings on his influences and the art shows and museums that he was frequenting at the time to glean what she can from the themes and subject matter of the paintings that he was viewing. I enjoyed that Pollock was described as an “extremely inhibited patient” who was nearly impossible to work with and who hardly ever talked or helped the psychoanalyst. He created both paintings when he was just coming out of his years of being analyzed and had Jungian gobbledy-gook exploding out of his ears.
The interesting thing about the contradictory “article” that I’ve found to contrast with Taylor’s interpretations is that it directly references Taylor. It is actually in a section on “art history” one someone’s personal website which makes it a far from credible source given that the people who own and run the site are just your everyday bumpkin with a general interest in the subject, who happens to have taken one or two classes on art history. What is promising about their website is that it has an extensive bibliography to accompany their otherwise amateur articles giving the impression that perhaps they wrote these miniature essays for class. The argument given as to the interpretation of stenographic figure is a compelling one. Whoever on earth has written this article claims that to give a strict reading of Stenographic Figure according to a Jungian model would leave at issue the fact that many of the symbols in the painting were consciously created by Pollock. They claim that the true meaning behind the symbols in Pollock’s painting is that you cannot read too deeply into the symbols. Personally, I find this interpretation so witty that it’s easy to be won over by it, simply from the sheer brazenness attributed to Pollock by creating such an ambiguous painting and allowing art critiques to puzzle over it for decades. Sheer genius.

3 comments:

DanPloy said...

'far from credible source given that the people who own and run the site are just your everyday bumpkin with a general interest in the subject, who happens to have taken one or two classes on art history.'

One or two yes, I have a Masters degree in art history, although this essay was written some time ago. :-)

Sana said...

the thing is cool!

Sana said...

it is interesting... very interesting...