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Fractals After Pollock

By David Michael Perez


As certain factions of the contemporary art world celebrate the triumph of painting, triumphs of old seem to find new ways to mystify--in particular the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Long before fractals were popularized by internet artists, a still-ongoing debate began churning among the scientific community as to whether or not fractals are present within Pollock's compositions and if they can be used to determine authenticity. Defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be subdivided in parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a fractal exists in nature in everything from snowflakes to mountain ranges. Within a painting, this basically means that there are repeating smaller patterns within the drip compositions. The Pollock-Krasner Estate actually hired physicist Richard Taylor, who first stated eight years ago that some Pollock paintings contain fractals, to help determine if alleged Pollock works were authentic. In a paper submitted to a major physics journal, physicists Katherine Jones-Smith and Harsh Mathur again counter that Taylor's conclusions are highly questionable if not absurd. Of course if Taylor is correct, it gives new weight to Pollock's infamous, statement "I am nature." As the debate persists, snowflakes maintain a value well below $140 million.

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