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Pollock and the Structure-Mess Spectrum

September 25, 2015

The feel of a wad of strings and yarn in a kitchen drawer as I press my hand upon it. Being at the Seeger’s house next door when I was 4, 5, 6 or so, the toys, the smells, the color of daylight as it shone on furniture and carpet. What looks like a yellow gear at the left side with a glimpse of a metal bar like on a lock, like the parts of toys and appliances taken apart to satisfy my curiosity and enjoy colors and shapes.  Part of a broken plastic ruler.

Something about the dark green and dull greens and bright greens, especially, makes me remember the Seegers and their house.

A typical Pollock painting. Untitled,  1949

A typical Pollock painting. Untitled, 1949

I was thinking of Pollock earlier to today, thinking of structures and messes and chaos (in the the mathematical sense.)   At one end of the spectrum you have the detail-oriented perfectionist artists who are careful about fine detail, perhaps tending toward photorealistic, perhaps not being looser and letting brushwork show, representational, realistic or surrealistic, highly structured with much for a student to analyze.   But it can bore someone with an active, creative mind, being based on familiar entities, or parts thereof, though possibly in unconventional arrangements or depicted in unusual light.  Mostly the visual is based on physical side of sense, not the consciouse impression side.

At the other end, I think of those idiots who say “what, he just poured paint all over a board? Heck, my kid can do that!”  What if someone DID just throw paint at random on a canvas or board, with no desire to guide it, no sense of rhythm or color “flavor” or interactions of parts? It would be a random mess.   White noise, static on an old analog TV (remember Poltergeist?) which after the immediate recognition by us that it’s noise, has nothing to offer the senses or mind.  High entropy, no information content.

Between the low entropy, high detail end of the spectrum and the high entropy, zero meaning end, lies a range where noise and meaningless intermingle with structure.  Apparent objects fading into grainy mist, hints of beings in random squiggles, a realm where Pareidolia has a field day. Enough structure, edge, realistic color to suggest something in memory, with enough uncorrelatable gibberish to allow loose pattern-matching.

Intermediate entropy maximizes _something_, related to what I would call “interest” of a painting, but I’m not sure what it maximizes in mathematical terms.  Our minds become bored with the familiar, don’t care about pure randomness, but get to work on perceptions of the mid-regions of the structure-mess spectrum.

Credit for image: I found this on Pinterest, in a post by  Image is from


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