Nothing in this itinerant life-style, nothing, indeed, in Pollocks parents profession, interests, and education would explain why all five brothers chose careers in the arts: Charles Cecil Pollock (born 1902) was a painter and teacher, Marvin Jay Pollock (born 1904) was a rotogravure etcher, Frank Leslie Pollock (born 1907) was a writer and commercial rose grower, and Sanford LeRoy Pollock (born 1909) was involved in painting, graphic arts, and silk-screening. Young Jackson, therefore, grew up in an environment where his brothers, if not his parents, were directly involved with art and with the issue of creativity.
In 1922 the eldest brother, Charles, left home to enroll at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. Four years later, in September of 1926, Charles left again to study at the Art Students League in New York with one of the most prominent American artists of the day: Thomas Hart Benton. Jackson would later follow his older brothers footsteps by moving to New York in 1930, joining him at the League, and studying under the same man. But before acquiring formal training in art, Pollock, as a youth, was in constant trouble. In 1927 he enrolled at Riverside High School but left a year later as the result of an argument with an ROTC officer.
When the Pollocks moved to Los Angeles in 1928, Jackson entered Manual Arts High School and met Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky, a teacher who introduced him to mysticism, theosophy, and modern art. But if Pollock found a sympathetic personality or a possible mentor in Schwankovsky, the discipline of school life and the stress on athletics proved too oppressive for him. During the 1928-29 academic year, Pollock was expelled for his part in writing and distributing a pamphlet attacking the faculty and the schools emphasis on sports. Out of school
Out of school, in the summer of 1929, Jackson worked at land surveying and road construction with his father. Working outdoors in the vast expanse of the western landscape probably gave the young Pollock a sensitivity to the natural environment-a feeling he would later speak of and a quality that, arguably, he attempted to recreate in his mature work. In the fall Pollock managed to re-enroll at Manual Arts but was expelled again. Jacksons letters to his two brothers reveal the social and academic frustrations of a sensitive yet rebellious young man, whose ambition, at seventeen years of age, was to devote his life to art.
His leftist political sympathies probably drew him to the art of the Mexican Muralists, whose work would later play an important role in American art of the 1930s-particularly Pollocks, as will be shown later. But since none of Pollocks work of this period survives, it is impossible to determine whether he was influenced by the Mexicans as early as 1929 or what the nature and degree of this influence may have been. Back to Manual Arts/ Benton In the spring of 1930, Schwankovsky helped Pollock return to Manual Arts, if only at part-time status.
He took drawing and modeling classes in the morning and worked at home in the afternoon. The same year in June Charles returned to Los Angeles for the summer. He and Jackson took this opportunity to travel to Pomona College to see Jose Clemente Orozco fresco Prometheus. Charless presence had a positive impact on his troubled younger brother. Not only could he encourage young Jackson, but, at that time, the two must have decided that, to relieve Jacksons dissatisfaction with himself and his work, he had to leave Manual Arts altogether.
Thus when Charles returned to New York in the fall, Jackson accompanied him. On September 29 Pollock registered at the Art Students League in Thomas Hart Bentons class: Life Drawing, Painting, and Composition. Thomas Hart Benton, with John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, were among the most important practitioners of Regionalism-what may be interpreted as an artistic equivalent to Americas policy of isolationism during the 1930s. Benton defined his intentions as the promotion of an indigenous art with its own aesthetics [as] a growing reality in America.
He claimed that reality must be the artists only inspiration; and to Benton reality was specifically American. This is not to imply that Benton was ignorant of European art. On the contrary, he himself studied in Europe and returned in the 1910s deeply influenced by the American abstractionist Stanton McDonald Wrights paraphrases of Robert Delaunays Orphism. But the experimental phase of Bentons career was short-lived; indeed, he later said of this period, I wallowed in every cockeyed ism that came along and it took me ten years to get all that modernist dirt out of my system.
Typical of Bentons constant diatribes against modern art, moreover, was his condemnation of the Alfred Stieglitz circle as an intellectually diseased lot, victims of sickly rationalization, psychic inversions, and God-awful self-cultivations. In place of European modernism, Benton offered a realistic art that celebrated the values of rural America. He urged his students to travel through the United States, and often did so himself, to discover the local color of native American subject matter. Pollock took his teachers advice and made two such sketching trips in 1931.