The abstract art of Jackson Pollock is a case study in complex physics

Illustration for article titled The abstract art of Jackson Pollock is a case study in complex physics

The abstract expressionism pioneered by Jackson Pollock may look random, but they actually reveal a surprisingly deep knowledge of fluid dynamics and the relationship between gravity and viscosity. Turns out Pollock had a seriously deep intuition for physics.


At least, we can only assume the knowledge was intuitive - Pollock didn't finish high school, so it seems unlikely that he was intentionally applying any specific scientific principles in his art. But new analysis by a team that includes an art historian, a mathematician, and a physicist reveals that this subtle interplay between art and physics is there all the same. Here's an example, courtesy of Science NOW, which explains how this is on display in his piece Untitled:

In this work, Pollock seems to have adjusted the viscosity of his paint to take advantage of "coiling instability," in which a stream of thick liquid coils like syrup does on a pancake. By measuring the thickness of the lines and the radius of the coils in the painting, [Andrzej] Herczyński and [L.] Mahadevan were able to estimate the flow rate of Pollock's paint as he moved his hand across the canvas. As Pollock increased his lateral speed, the lines he created progressed from loops to cusps to undulating sinusoids.

These coils appear infrequently in Pollock's works. Cernuschi hypothesizes that Pollock usually tuned the viscosity of his paint to avoid them, because letting the paint spontaneously coil was "relinquishing too much control, too much of his personal agency" to physics. Another possibility is that the coils are present in other paintings but obscured by the coarse canvases Pollock liked to use, Herczyński says.

You can check out more on Pollock's use of physics here.

Image via.