When the Process is the Product: Pollock, Gehry and the Illusion of Randomness

Craig Konyk, AIA
Assistant Professor
School of Public Architecture
Michael Graves College
Kean University

This paper explores the role of randomness in the design process using two examples for the field of art and architecture as illustrative examples: Jackson Pollock and Frank Gehry.  Both Pollock’s and Gehry’s work rely on the revelation of the process as the product.

Jackson Pollock is one of those art world figures that is frequently derided by the average person with a dismissive, “My kid could paint that.” Abstract Expressionism (the combination of the term “abstract” with “expressionism”, two vastly different artistic movements of the 20th century) defined a certain “automatism” of the process of the paint’s actual application, even defining Pollock in a certain sense as the “idiot savant” of the post-war American art scene; child’s play indeed.

Frank Gehry’s study models of torn paper and crumpled foil elicit similar decrees of child-like facileness from the same quarters.  But for all their apparent improvisation, a closer study reveals quite a different narrative.  Contemporary critics of the time, when not dismissing the work outright, were compelled to suggest edits and/or additions, the implication being that the works were somehow “disharmonious” in their present state and in need of adjustment.  But when the process is one that defies easy visual “completed-ness” in the traditional sense, the artist/architect maintains the final arbitration of that “completed-ness”.

The acknowledged acceptance of Polock’s and Gehry’s work as serious endeavors allows a certain liberation for experiment in design, outside of the pragmatics of functionality.  It is not to say that we now all have to “do a Gehry” in order to be “artists”, but we are now in a position to argue for more difference in approach, rather than any narrowly focused expectation of what a design project should look like.  In that respect, as designers, we now have the freedom to allow the process to be revealed and use randomness as a strategy, which enhance and elevate all design investigations.