We have all heard the legendary story of how Lana Turner was "discovered" as a young starlet by a casting director as the actress sat on a bar stool at the soda fountain in Schwab's Drugstore during the late 1930s. Even today, there's not a budding young ingenue alive in Hollywood that doesn't have similar aspirations. No doubt a number of them have even tried the bar stool routine in drugstores and elsewhere, with varying degrees of success. Artists too, have such dreams of being discovered, though bar stools, in drugstores at least, are not particularly promising along this line. They set up on street corners near museums; or wear thin their shoe leather pounding the pavement from gallery to gallery, portfolio in hand; or fill out volumes of paperwork to enter juried art shows with similar thoughts in mind. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't, and the artist lives his life being known as, at best, a "regional favourite."
In 1950, one such brash young artist hit the big time. His dream came true at a showing at the Betty Parson's Gallery in Manhattan. He was an "instant success" though in fact, he'd been working hard at attaining such acclaim for some twenty years; and though plenty brash, he was actually not all that young. He was 38, in fact. He was an Abstract Expressionist, struggling along with a dozen or so other New York artists to break through the barriers to success in a style which even the critics were still debating regarding its legitimacy. For the most part, the public neither understood nor liked his work. Although part of a group referred to as "action painters," this man had a further peculiarity. He didn't use brushes. He dripped his paint on the canvas. His name was Jackson Pollock.
Jackson Pollock did more than make a name for himself at that show. He made a name for the New York School. In his success, he took with him the entire movement. His work sold more rapidly than even he could drip it, creating a demand for similar work by other artists, creating a shortage of such works, creating rising prices, which, in turn, created dozens of other Abstract Expressionists. They churned out work at an incredible rate, in a frenzy of paint slinging (literally) not seen before or since. Some of it was good. Some of it was great, in fact, but most of it was mediocre at best, and some downright awful. Yet it was all so new not one in a hundred buyers could tell the difference. Pollock's work brought astronomical prices for the time, as did the work of Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and a few others far less memorable. Abstract Expressionism, like the artists finally reaping the reward for their persistence, had been around for a decade or more. It was no "flash in the pan" either. It totally dominated the art world in this country and around the world for the next ten years. Its "sudden" success was frightening for the artists concerned. Some handled it better than others did. Pollock handled it perhaps worst of all. He died in a high-speed drunk-driving accident in 1956 at the height of his creative powers. He was 44.