Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Jackson Pollack, Explained

I was in DC a few weekends ago and met up with a bunch of friends from business school. One member of the group who is more a classmate than a friend of mine criticized Jackson Pollock and his work, citing that even he could drip a bunch of paint on a canvas. (And this guy doesn't have an artistic bone in his body!) At the time, I had no words to explain Jackson Pollock, and I was really upset by the guy's criticism. I like Pollock's work very much, though must confess I never understood it. I just love the patterns, colors, and textures of it.

As luck, and karma, would have it, today I found out why I love Jackson Pollock. If only I had read Matthew May's book In Pursuit of Elegance before my DC trip! May explains the genius of Pollock's work, thanks to the research of Richard Taylor, a physicist from Australia.

After studying Pollock's work in connection to his physics research, Taylor recognized that Pollack built his paintings based upon fractals: "repetitive patterns nested within each other that remain the same at differing scales of magnification...[fractals] are simple rules...that create beautifully organized and highly complex designs [that are pleasing to the eye]." Trouble is Pollock died in 1956 and fractals weren't discovered until 1975. Pollack lived and died ahead of his time, precisely 19 years ahead of his time.

I have been thinking about fractals all evening, their importance to physics, to Pollock, and to every day life. In a very real sense, our core values are fractals: repeating patterns that remain constant, even when examined up close. We don't abandon them at our front door or in certain company. They stay with us and play themselves out in every area of our lives. From those simple values (aka, simple personal rules) - honesty, kindness, loyalty - we build complex, intricate relationships that form the very foundation from which all our life experiences grow. Fractals make art, and life, appealing to the eye, the mind, and the heart.

Lest we think that life is all about politics and facades and putting on airs - it is not. Life is about getting down to the simple matter of what matters to us. At the end of the day, what really counts? What do we want to be known for? What are the constants that underlie who we are, under all circumstances? It's those things, those constant, consistent patterns, and their intersections that help us build beautiful lives.

The image above is of Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock. It recently sold for $40M.

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