Number 6, 1949
Jackson Pollock, American, 1912–1956
Duco and aluminum paint on canvas
44 3/16 × 54 in. (112.3 × 137.2 cm)
Museum purchase funded by D. and J. de Menil
Habits of Mind
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
Understanding the Relationship between Force, Motion, and Energy
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
- Force, motion, and energy: The student knows that there is a relationship between force, motion, and energy. The student is expected to:
- Understand that gravity is the force that governs the motion of our solar system
- Calculate average speed using distance and time measurements
- Investigate and describe applications of Newton's law of inertia, law of force and acceleration, and law of action-reaction
- Measure and graph changes in motion
- Investigate how inclined planes can be used to change the amount of force to move an object.
- Demonstrate and calculate how unbalanced forces change the speed or direction of an object's motion.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Number 6 is an early example of Jackson Pollock’s famous “drip” paintings. Made by dripping and pouring painting onto a canvas, the artist makes the act of painting the subject of the work of art.
Here, a dense network of black and aluminum paint is streaked, dripped, and poured onto the canvas, with drips and splashes of green, yellow, red, and orange. There is no single focus in this brilliantly composed canvas, creating a dynamic sense of movement, form, and space. Pollock set out to develop a new means of expression. This new style of painting was constructed of layered webs of line and color, created by laying the canvas on the ground and dripping paint onto it with old brushes and sticks, or pouring paint directly from the can. For this painting, Pollock used Duco and aluminum paints—fast-drying, liquid, industrial paints commonly used on automobiles and appliances.
Placing his canvases on the floor of his studio so that he could work from all four sides, Pollock dribbled the paint with remarkable control. He once described his work of this period as "energy and motion made visible," comparing his method of painting to the act of choreography. While these drip paintings seem chaotic, there is still an underlying sense of order. Everyone who saw him work remarked on his amazing ability to control the paint and anticipate how it would fall. Some viewers see the rhythms of nature in his dense webs, while others connect it to the nervous tension of city life. The way the lines fill the composition suggests speed and energy through the quick, forceful application of the paint. However, the intricate details, such as how the lines rhythmically connect, provide viewers with a lyrical, delicate view inside the dense, lush web of colors and lines.
Pollock belonged to a group of artists known as the Abstract Expressionists who strove to uncover their most personal feelings directly through making art. The movement exploded onto the art scene after WWII, with its characteristic energetic application of paint (dripping, smearing, slathering, and flinging). Another aspect of Abstract Expressionism is control versus chance. Although at first glance it seems that a kindergartner could have painted this work, Pollock and his peers cultivated the interplay of skill and unplanned occurrences to determine the painting’s final outcome. Pollock and his fellow artists sought a way to overturn conventional ways of thinking in the wake of a chaotic war. Through their works of art, they attempted to set new creative parameters using new abstract styles. Pollock stated, “The modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.”
- Pollock applied his colors in different layers and thicknesses. The gray at the top of the painting is much thinner than the black near the center. Unlike earlier artists, who worked in tempera and oils, Pollock used Duco and aluminum paints. These fast-drying, liquid industrial paints were commonly used on automobiles and appliances. Why do you think he used these types of pigments?
- Pollock created a web of colors and lines by laying a canvas on the ground and flinging paint onto it with old brushes and sticks. In some areas, he even poured the paint directly from the can. When painting Number 6, Pollock never actually touched the canvas with a brush. He relied on the effect of gravity as the paint traveled through the air to the canvas below. This technique has been referred to as both "action" and "drip" painting. What advantages do you think Pollock´s technique provided him?
- After 1947, Pollock titled his dripped and poured paintings with numbers, rather than descriptive titles. He did this to underscore the idea that the act of painting, as represented by the energetic network of colors and lines, is the subject matter of his art. This painting´s title, Number 6, was only intended to differentiate it from other similar works. What title would you have given this painting? Why?
- Some critics were baffled by Pollock´s paintings. Looking at works like Number 6, an Italian reviewer wrote, "Jackson Pollock´s paintings represent absolutely nothing: no facts, no ideas, and no geometrical forms." He listed "total absence of technique" and "chaos" as two of the main characteristics of Pollock´s art. Others argued that Pollock´s work was merely childlike, happening by chance. Pollock responded, "I can control the flow of paint…there is no accident." Look carefully at Number 6. Notice how Pollock arranged the types of lines he used and layered the colors to create a pleasing composition. How would you describe Pollock´s painting if you were a reviewer?
- An August 1949 issue of Life magazine included an article titled "Jackson Pollock: Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?" This question sparked great discussion as many people had difficulty understanding Pollock´s revolutionary form of painting. Pollock was raised in Arizona and California by parents who encouraged his creativity. He attended art classes in New York City where he eventually rebelled against the realistic style of his teachers. He said, "The modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms…each age finds its own technique." How do you think this painting reflects Pollock´s statement? What type of mood do you think it suggests?
- Number 6 looks as if it was created very quickly. In fact, Pollock allowed each layer of paint to dry before the next was applied. He composed this painting so that it had no single focus. The result is a dynamic scene of movement, form, and space. Curator Alison Greene has remarked, "Pollock did not invent drip painting, but it was Jackson Pollock who made drip painting the entire means of his composition, weaving it through layers and layers with increasing complexity. When you look at a painting like Number 6, you almost feel like you´re looking at a constellation." How would you describe looking at Number 6?
Connecting to the Classroom
- How do you feel about this modern work of art? Tell the students about Pollock’s philosophy on how he named his art—and the way he created this work of art.
- Exploring the comment in the conversation starter comment, “He relied on the effect of gravity as the paint traveled through the air to the canvas below.” What do you know about gravity and how objects respond to gravity? What factors affect how this art was “created” based on what Pollock did, and the law of gravity? How would the densities of the paint affect the creation of this painting? How would the distance that Pollock was from the canvas when he dropped the paint have affected the design?
- What factors about this painting are symbolic about how gravity works in space?
- How does this relate to gravity in our solar system?
Create your own Pollock piece while exploring force and motion and how it affects a “drip” painting in the following demonstration, showing the effect of mass on different eggs as they roll down a ramp into a box and possibly break, spilling paint and marble(s) onto a paper:
- Set up an inclined plane. Measure the distance/length of the plane and enter it in the chart below. *
- Place a deep box (i.e. an empty box that once held copy paper reams) with a piece of construction paper at the base of the inclined plane.
- Get 4 plastic eggs and fill each egg with a different color of paint. Number the eggs zero through three. Place 1 marble in egg number one, 2 marbles in egg number two, 3 marbles in egg number three, with egg number zero having no marbles.
- Weigh each egg and record its mass in the chart below*.
- As a class, predict possible outcomes of the demonstration. Encourage critical thinking by requiring students to use scientific vocabulary in the discussion. Record predictions in a science log.
- Roll each egg down the inclined plane, one at a time, measuring the time it takes for each egg to get to the box. Does the egg break? Why? Write results on chart and in log.
- Optional: What variable could be changed to make the egg break (increase slant or add marbles)? Change some variables, if needed, in order to ensure that some eggs break.
- With a calculator, calculate the speeds of the different eggs and record them in the data table.
- Create a bar graph showing the speeds of the eggs. Put the number of the eggs on the x- axis and the speeds on the y-axis.
- Tilt the box so that marbles roll around in the paint to create a drip painting, similar to Pollock’s technique; a true ‘action’ painting!
- Explain how the density of the paint you used and the gravitational pull affected the outcome of your product. What could you have done differently to change/better the outcome of your painting?
Subject Matter Connection
Students will be creating an authentic product that relates gravity and density to a work of art. They should be able to compare and contrast their product to that of Pollock’s. The product they create is essentially the micro component, while the application and extension of the solar system’s gravity is the macro component.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.