In 1934, Thomas Hart Benton, purveyor of muscular scenes of American life, was the country’s most famous painter and one of the very few ever to have his picture on the cover of Time. In 1949, Jackson Pollock, painter of abstract drips and swirls, appeared in a four-page spread in Life teasingly headlined “Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?” Yes or no didn’t really matter: he was the nation’s new art star. What changed in the 15 years that separated the public elevation of these two artists and their radically different art? The world changed, for one thing, moving out of the Great Depression, through World War II, and into a bomb-haunted cold war. America changed from a mighty fortress to an outreaching global imperium. And American art, including Pollock’s, changed from illustrating provincial sagas to dramatizing universal myths.
more from Holland Cotter at the NY Times here.