Studying the Original

I recently saw the documentary “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock” about Teri Horton, a woman who may have purchased a Jackson Pollock painting at a thrift store for $5.

It was a fascinating documentary, with a clear perspective. The crux of the film is that Teri cannot prove that the painting is in fact, a Jackson Pollock painting. Through forensics, it appears as if a fingerprint of Pollock’s is on the back of her painting. Also, you look at the painting, and certified Pollock paintings, and it certainly looks very convincing. In a court of law, it’s possible that this evidence could be used to convict a criminal. Or, it could be faked. Either way, it’s a powerful argument.

I admit I have a soft spot for Horton, seemingly a salt of the earth type of person. And I have interacted with snobby art people in the past. I suppose saying someone is a snobby art person isn’t very kind, but perhaps very opinionated, particular art expert(s) is a better way to put it. The documentary shows the clear difference in class in this country. There are differences in class in the U.S., and it does have to do with education but also socio-economic status.

The tension between the art community and the scientific community in the film is pretty inspiring. And yet MSP readers might ask, how does all this relate to mormonism? Well, first of all, we actually have Teri Horton’s painting which can be studied and examined. It was shown multiple times during the film, and one of the forensic experts had examined the paint type(s) – as well as the paint drippings on the floor of Pollock’s studio.
Teri Horton's alleged Pollock painting
It goes without saying that we cannot see the gold plates that the book of mormon was translated from. Only twelve people claim to have actually seen them (the three and eight witnesses), in addition to Joseph Smith *. They are inaccessible to forensic, scientific and art/artifact communities for study and examination.

Whether or not Teri Horton’s painting was actually painted by Jackson Pollock, we may never know for sure. The fingerprint analysis is still being reviewed. I’m sure there will be continued investigation, and the experts (both forensic and artistic) may continue to disagree. In the end, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. It matters to Ms. Horton and to the art community at large. Perhaps (as I saw on one website), artists will be fingerprinted to make sure that their work is correctly identified.

And it is not out of the realm of possibility that Jackson Pollock did paint the work, and his wife and dealer(s) never knew about it (or never recorded it accurately). The point is, the original work can be studied, today. It can be compared to other works by the artist. It can be sampled for evidence. In the film, they took a section of the painting and compared it with a known Pollock work. It seemed remarkably similar to my untrained layperson’s eye.

And that’s the other thing is Ms. Horton’s favor, to my mind. It is in her interest to allow as many people to review and study it as possible, in order to reach consensus. And consensus can be difficult to reach at times.

It seems to me that it would have been in Joseph Smith’s best interest, or the early LDS church to allow everyone possible to review and test the gold plates. To weigh them, measure them, study them. As it is, that’s not possible (unless the gold plates are somewhere that I wasn’t aware of that independent scientists can review). The burden of proof rests with someone making a claim. Faith in the miracle of the Book of Mormon is not enough for everyone.

*I was pretty certain only the 3 witnesses and 8 witnesses (in addition to Joseph Smith) claimed to see the plates. I could be mistaken, however.

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5 Responses

  1. Urban Koda says:

    The term “see” is just an interesting one.

    If you take the three witnesses accounts… “they have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man…”

    Did they even really see them, or was it a vision or some kind of optical illusion or hypnotic trick by Mr. Smith?

  2. aerin says:

    Hi Urban, that I can’t say. In this post, I’m not trying to debate or challenge the witness accounts. Years ago, I saw the hope diamond on display at the Smithsonian. But was it really the hope diamond? Was it a fake (on display)? I couldn’t pick it up (as it was secured)…but, there are scientists/curators/security personnel who can examine the diamond, who could confirm if it was real or a clever fake (piece of plastic).

    One person or twelve seeing something is one thing – being able to examine and study it for long periods of time is another. Could the witnesses reach out and touch the plates? (I don’t remember the testimonies)…Could they try to lift them (I’m pretty sure they could not).

    So I can’t say what they saw. But I would have much more assurance about Book of Mormon and the record if we still had the gold plates, and if they could be studied by independent scientists.

  3. Craig says:

    I don’t think we can trust any of the witnesses to have given an accurate, honest, or impartial account of what they experienced. Precisely because they were so involved and emotionally tied to a specific truth-claim.

    There’s always a convenient explanation for why there’s never evidence of religious claims, or for any supernatural claim for that matter. Which is always a strike against such claims.

  4. kuri says:

    FWIW, all 11 Witnesses said they saw the engravings on the plates, and the Eight Witnesses said they handled the leaves and “hefted” the plates.

  5. Craig says:


    Hefted with their spiritual hands?

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