Francis V. O'Connor


O'Connor's Blog:
Brief Commentaries on Art, Literature and Ideas — Latest posting: No. 30 The Horizontal Verticality of Clyfford Still — November 1, 2013
Index to O'Connor's Page: 1998 to 2007
Index to Reviews and Commentaries first published on O'Connor's Page
Career / Bibliography
Narrative of achievements and a list of significant works in various fields.
The Mural in America
Writing Projects
This is a draft for a brochure about how to write a sonnet.

Biography as Author

Francis Valentine O'Connor (b. 1937), is an independent historian of American art, and a poet, who, over a fifty year career, has done ground-breaking research concerning Jackson Pollock, the New Deal’s various art programs, the psychology of creativity, and the American mural from prehistory to the present. Since about 2010, he has also written a verse novel and four books of poems — and is working on an autobiography.

He holds a M.A. in Creative Writing, and Ph.D. in Art History, both from The Johns Hopkins University — with a doctoral dissertation on Jackson Pollock (1965). This was publlished in 1967 as a book-catalogue by The Museum of Modern Art for its retrospective of Pollock’s work. Dr. O’Connor went on to co-edit, with Eugene Victor Thaw, a catalogue raisonné on Jackson Pollock (Yale 1978), and authored a Supplement to that catalogue (1995). He has also published a monograph on Charles Seliger (2003), the last of the major Abstract Expressionists.

His work on Pollock led him to explore the then un-researched subject of the New Deal’s various arts programs. In1966, he organized at the University Of Maryland, where he was teaching, the first comprehensive exhibition of the art of the New Deal patronage programs since they ended in 1943. This led to him directing a research project for the National Endowment For The Arts designed to evaluate the cultural and economic effectiveness of New Deal patronage in 1967-68. Three publications resulted from this project: its final report: Federal Support for the Visual Arts: The New Deal and Now (1969), and two anthologies: The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs (1972) and Art for the Millions (1973).

The Pollock research, and the experience of both Freudian and Jungian analyses, led to a continuing interest in the psychology of creativity about which he has published and lectured, and for which he received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at the Institute for the Medical Humanities in Galveston, Texas (1991). He considers his essays ”Allegories of Pathos and Perspective in the Symbolical Paintings and Self-Portraits of Edwin Dickinson: An Interpretive Essay,” in Edwin Dickinson: A Retrospective Exhibition,, Albright Knox Art Gallery /​ Hudson Hills Press, 2002, pp. 51-75, that on “Metaphoric Duality, Psychological Parity, and the Crisis of Interiority in 20th Century Art and Literature,” in Art Criticism, 20:2 (2005), pp. 7-20, and his "The Psychodynamics of the Frontal Self-portrait," Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Art 1, 1985, pp. 169-221, to be among his major contriibutions to the field.

The Pollock and New Deal research also led to an interest in a subject virtually excluded from the history of American art — the mural. He has held fellowships for research into American wall painting from the the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, the U. S. Capitol Historical Society, and the National Humanities Center (1994-95), where he completed the early chapters of this book. After some thirty years, he has published a history of the American mural from Native American times to the present as a website (2010 << >>).

In recent years, Dr. O’Connor has turned to the issues surrounding authenticity in art. As a leading Pollock scholar, he is aware of a constant influx of fake, Pollock-like objects. Further, the exposing in the press, of inauthenticity in the Art World, has made this issue public knowledge. He has addressed this situation in several recent public lectures:

1. FORENSIC CONNOISSEURSHIP, JACKSON POLLOCK, AND THE AUTHENTIC EYE - 2012 John H. Marburger III Lecture, sponsored by the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York, Sunday, July 22, 2012.

2. “CONNOISSEURSHIP: THE FIRST LINE OF PERCEPTION AND DEFENSE AGAINST FAKES AND FORGERIES.” - Lecture, sponsored by the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, at SUNY’s Manhattan Campus, Friday, November 8, 2013, as part of a Symposium on “Art From The Ground Up: The Protection of Cultural Heritage through Connoisseurship, Conservation, and Authentication.”

3. Due to the recent Knoedlers’ scandal, the press is picking up on the issue. Dr. O’Connor’s views on authenticity issues were discussed by Patricia Cohen in a front page story, ”A Real Pollock? On This, Art and Science Collide,” The New York Times, November 24, 2014. Further, On Sunday, February 23rd, Dr. O’Connor appeared on the CBS news program, 60 Minutes, discussing the difficulties of the authentication process.

5. He has recently circulated an essay: A CURRICULUM FOR TRAINING CONNOISSEURS to make art history students aware of the idea and requirements of connoisseurship, and is drafting the textbook on authenticity and connoisseurship that can be used in art history courses and seminars. As current connoisseurs die off, it is important to train a new generation of such experts, to replace them in the years to come. The essay mentioned above is published here, at the left, under the heading “Writing Projects.”

For Dr. O'Connor's unpublished books completed or in progress, see below:

1. Jackson Pollock: Down to the Weave — Complete
2. Events In Life and Art — Autobiographical Essays — Ongoing
3. O’CONNOR'S PAGE – An Anthology of Book and Exhibition Reviews and Commentaries on Art and its World publlished on line: 1998-2007 — Needs editing — See list of essays at Index to left of home page.
4. The Psycho-Dynamics of Creativity in Visual Art — In Progress
5. Ideas for a Secular Spirituality — In Progress
6. Textbook on Connoisseurship for Art Historians — In Progress

1. Okon Nor: A Verse Novel — Complete
2. An Old Man’s Sonnets — Ongoing
3. Short Stories in Verse — Ongoing
4. Mirrored Sonnets -- Complete

Francis O'Connor As Poet
While best known as an art historian, he has continued to write poetry. He began at Manhattan College (1954-59), where he was Editor-in-Chief of its literary journal, The Quarterly. He went on to take an M.A. in poetry (1960) in the now-famous Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University, under the eminent poet and translator, Elliott Coleman. His thesis was a book of poems and translations from Charles Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal. When seeing himself doomed to a Ph.D. in English (administered by a cabal of New Critics!) I went over to his other love: the visual arts, and took a Ph.D. in 1965 on the Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock. He had been an avid painter as a boy, and continued through graduate school. But he came to realize that words were his creative medium. Writing poetry was an important part of his life--although until very recently he has made no great attempt to publish. (He has published enough, however, to be included in several directories of poets--such as Poets and Writers.) Normally, he writes to his own account, circulates xeroxed chapbooks among friends, and gives occasional private readings. One major work is a series of 125 sonnets on each of the fragments of the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus--the composing of which kept him sane while researching and writing a history of the mural in America. (These sonnets prompted the development of a personal sonnet form:
A A’ B B’ A’ A B’ B C C’ A B C’ C).

He has also come to experiment--in the spirit of Baudelaire--with poetry as a mode of art criticism. Twelve of his sonnets on the Abstract Expressionists were published in the Fall 1988 Art Journal, and three about Pollock are in an anthology: Helen Harrison, ed., Such Desperate Joy: Imagining Jackson Pollock (NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2000). His longest poem, Birds of Fire: September 11, 2001--A Prophetic Elegy, was published in Creative Insight, Summer 2002. He is currently writing a verse novel.

For a complete Career Narrative and Bibliography, go to CAREER /​ BIBLIOGRAPHY here at left. For his art criticism, published between 1998 and 2007 on O'CONNOR'S PAGE, go to the Index here at left. Copies of items available on request at FVOC@​

For his latest Blog entry, go to left, hit button, and scroll down past Title Index to last entry at top