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Jackson Pollock, artist and physicist?
Date:6/28/2011

Cambridge, Mass. - June 28, 2011 - At a glance, a painting by Jackson Pollock (1912󈞤) can look deceptively accidental: just a quick flick of color on a canvas.

A quantitative analysis of Pollock's streams, drips, and coils, by Harvard mathematician L. Mahadevan and collaborators at Boston College, reveals, however, that the artist had to be slowhe had to be deliberateto exploit fluid dynamics in the way that he did.

The finding, published in Physics Today, represents a rare collision between mathematics, physics, and art history, providing new insight into the artist's method and techniquesas well as his appreciation for the beauty of natural phenomena.

"Our article is mainly an invitation to think about some aspects of art from a scientific perspective," says Mahadevan, who is the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and of Physics.

Crossovers between art and science are nothing new; consider, for example, Leonardo da Vinci's botanical sketches, proportional studies, and flying machines (or, for that matter, the culinary artistry of today's molecular gastronomists).

"My own interest," says Mahadevan, "is in the tension between the mediumthe dynamics of the fluid, and the way it is applied (written, brushed, poured)and the message. While the latter will eventually transcend the former, the medium can be sometimes limiting and sometimes liberating."

Pollock's signature style involved laying a canvas on the floor and pouring paint onto it in continuous, curving streams. Rather than pouring straight from the can, he applied paint from a stick or a trowel, waving his hand back and forth above the canvas and adjusting the height and angle of the trowel to make the stream of paint wider or thinner.

Simultaneously restricted and inspired by the laws
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Contact: Caroline Perry
cperry@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-1351
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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