Philippe Rochat


On his book Others in Mind: Social Origins of Self-Consciousness

Cover Interview of November 24, 2009

A close-up

I hold that to be ignored and rejected by others means psychological death.  Around page 225 in the book, I illustrate this idea by what I understand to be the tragic life story of abstract expressionist and action painter Jackson Pollock.

Pollock is an influential artist who is recognized as one of the major tenors on the mid-20th Century North American art scene. In the 1940s and 1950s he was at the origins of a new movement and a radically new style in painting by which he tried to leave on the canvas direct traces of inner feelings via gestures of pure vitality. Pollock died after producing a series of large paintings that he covered with energetic drips of paints, his most famous paintings or “drip paintings.”  Obviously, this new style was revolutionary and highly controversial, derided by most, but admired by a few clairvoyant, avant-garde connoisseurs.

Pollock was from the rural South of the United States. Unlikely, he left his hometown, driven by his art to live in a very different community of artists and gallery owners in New York City where things were hopping and happening. During his lifetime and unlike many other highly successful artists, Pollock got very famous and received much recognition in terms of money and public exposure, for better or worse. He had a serious drinking problem that got worse and eventually killed him at the pinnacle of success and recognition. Life magazine had a cover story on him and a film documented his art. His work was shown in major museums and galleries. He was highly regarded and supported by rich collectors and respected art critics. So what happened? I will submit that it is all about the issue of authenticity. With success comes expectations and social pressures, the risk of disappointing others and the feeling to have maybe reached a ceiling. This is what probably killed Pollock.