Reading this, I’m fascinated by the use of a cloud chamber as a conceptual analogy for Abstract

Expressionism. I am also interested in the idea of a scientific demonstration to illustrate the work of an artist.

‘In discussing the action paintings of Jackson Pollock, Brad (a student) set up a visual and conceptual analogy through performance art. Constructing a cloud chamber as it is used in a physics laboratory to track the movement of sub-atomic particles being released from small amounts of radioactive material, he placed an isotope (radium) upon the head of a pin. Imbedded in a cork, the pin was suspended in the cloud chamber below a small piece of alcohol-soaked cloth. Brad sealed the cloud chamber onto a metal plate, which was then placed on a block of dry ice. Next, the intensified light of a slide projector was projected though the chamber. The alcohol condensed and formed a cloud layer over the cold metal plate. As subatomic particles dispersed from the isotope and passed through the cloud, they created additional condensation through their paths, thus making their movement visible. Brad’s non-art gesture in the art history class provided a metaphor by which to understand Pollock’s dynamic movement and drips of paint as an entropic process where matter is continually dispersed in nature.’

‘Brad’s use of a cloud chamber from the physics laboratory to reveal particle dispersion as a metaphor of Jackson Pollock’s action paintings… represent examples of live conundrums…

The word entropy and it’s usage here is the most interesting to me. The word itself can have many meanings. I would say the meaning here is:

(A British Dictionary definition) A lack of pattern or organization; disorder




  1. (on a macroscopic scale) a function of thermodynamic variables, as temperature, pressure, or composition, that is a measure of the energy that is not available for work during a thermodynamic process. A closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.
  2. (in statistical mechanics) a measure of the randomness of the microscopic constituents of a thermodynamic system. Symbol: S.


(in data transmission and information theory) a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message.


(in cosmology) a hypothetical tendency for the universe to attain a state of maximum homogeneity in which all matter is at a uniform temperature (heat death)


a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration.

Since Pollock learnt to ‘curveball his drips’ – he had a control over his paintings – they were visually chaotic to the untrained eye, but, I assume, to him, he could describe every choice and mark he made. This, again, reminds me of Joyce describing ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ – Despite Joyce’s revolutionary techniques, the author repeatedly emphasized that the book was neither random nor meaningless; with Ellmann quoting the author as having stated: “I can justify every line of my book.”

Then, we see this quote from Pollock himself:

With experience it seems to be possible to control the flow of paint, to a great extent, and I don’t use – I don’t use the accident – ’cause I deny the accident..’s quite different from working, say, from a still life where you set up objects and work directly from them. I do have a general notion of what I’m about and what the results will be. I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing, that is, it’s direct.

“William Rubin: ‘Actually, Pollock’s work was incredibly, highly controlled. And it took him years to perfect the technique’…’People might say: ‘Anyone can pour paint,’ well that might be true. But, anyone can go up to a piano and push the note ‘c,’ and your ‘c’ will be as good as Rubinstein’s or Horowitz’s. And by the same token, if you spill a little paint, that’s going to be as good as Pollock’s for just that little spill. What makes Horowitz, or Rubinstein is the succession of accents, and the control and and interrelations of these accents as they come one after another. That is what we call the ‘touch’ of the pianist. But the (single) ‘tone’ is the same for you and for Pollock’…”

I’m interested about this. All I would say is a pianist has to learn to sight read, and play something that is already set accurately. I could write a piece, and hear someone play it to me, and know when a wrong note has been played. It wouldn’t just be me who could distinguish that a ‘wrong note’ had been played – it would be most musicians with well-trained ears.

Could we have put Pollock to the test to see if his drips were really incredibly ‘controlled?’ If he, indeed, could ‘flick paint with the accuracy of a cowboy with a lasso’ – we could have him set the positions on a large canvas and ask him to drop the paint in these small places. Pollock would ‘pre-set’ these positions, then paint them in order. I feel like I’d be doing a sort of James Randi test on Pollock!

This would be a move towards a truer equivalence between sight reading and Abstract Expressionism.

Is it a false equivocation? You could say one is particularly disciplined, with each note being played back perfectly – modern art is a relaxation of the idea that you need to ‘learn a craft with vigorous discipline over decades’… Hmm……

Perhaps I’m wrong! I’m just thinking about it…