PhotoshopNews.com
Dec 4, 2006

Jackson Pollock’s art and fractal analysis

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Can mathematics explain the art of Jackson Pollock? Can it be used to authenticate paintings of uncertain provenance? Case Western Reserve University physicists address these questions in the current issue of Nature.
Source: Physorg

Case physics doctoral student Katherine Jones-Smith first encountered these questions in December 2004 when preparing for a weekly astrophysics seminar. Jones-Smith performed a Google search that linked her to research by University of Oregon physicist Richard Taylor and collaborators, who claim that Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings, are fractals. Fractals are complex geometric shapes that have been studied by mathematicians since the 1970s.

In articles that appeared in scientific journals and news magazines including Nature, Physics World and Scientific American, Taylor and coworkers also claim that fractal analysis can be used to distinguish Pollock’s drip paintings from imitations.

Intrigued, Jones-Smith began to examine Taylor’s articles, but quickly found that the work was seriously flawed. She showed that doodles that she could make in minutes using Adobe Photoshop were as fractal as any Pollock drip painting, vividly refuting Taylor’s claim that Pollock was able to generate fractals by hand only because he had attained a mastery of chaotic motion.

Jones-Smith presented a pointed critique of Taylor’s work to Case astrophysicists and was encouraged to write up her critique for publication. But since Taylor’s original work had appeared in Nature five years earlier, she thought interest in the topic had waned.

That changed this February when Taylor was invited by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation to determine the authenticity of paintings recently found by Alex Matter, son of the late photographer Herbert Matter. According to Matter, a close personal friend of Pollock’s, the paintings are the work of Pollock, but Taylor used fractal analysis to pronounce them inauthentic.

Convinced now that her work might still be of interest, Jones-Smith developed her critique into the article, Revisiting Pollock’s Drip Paintings, co-authored with Harsh Mathur, Case professor of physics.

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“Untitled 5,” the drawing used by Katherine Jones-Smith and Richard P. Taylor for the fractal study.

A key element of the paper is a painting called Untitled 5 that Jones-Smith created in a matter of minutes in Photoshop. Untitled 5 depicts a field of stars and looks like the kind of drawing the proud mother of a three-year old might stick on a refrigerator door, says Jones-Smith. But, according to the fractal authentication criteria that Taylor has made public, it is an authentic Pollock.

Jones-Smith adds, “I found I can make paintings at will in Photoshop that meet all the criteria he has made public.”

Read entire article

Additional article in The New York Times
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