Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

521 Topics: Famous Americans – Jackson Pollock; American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; to restrain versus to refrain versus to subside; velocity versus quickness; to have been down that road before

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 521.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 521. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and download the Learning Guide for this episode. You can also like us on Facebook at facebook.com/eslpod, or follow us on Twitter at @eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the American painter Jackson Pollock. We’re also going to talk about the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Jackson Pollock was born in January of 1912 in the town of Cody, Wyoming. Wyoming is in the central-western part of the United States just below, or just south of, the state of Montana. I’ve been to Cody, Wyoming, many, many years ago when I was a young child traveling on a summer vacation with my family. I don’t remember very much about it. I certainly didn’t see Jackson Pollock there because by the time I got to Cody, he was dead.

Anyway, Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming. His family left Cody, however, when he was a baby. They moved to several different cities and eventually ended up right here in beautiful Los Angeles, California, in 1928 when Pollock was 16 years old. They decided to settle here in Los Angeles. “To settle” (settle) somewhere means to move to somewhere and to stay in that place for a long time.

We also have a phrasal verb, “to settle down.” “To settle down” is a little different. “To settle down” means usually to find someone, get married, get a job, and have a family. At least, that’s the traditional sense of that phrasal verb “to settle down.” It could also mean just to stop moving from place to place, or even from job to job, and stay somewhere more permanently.

After only two years, however, Pollock apparently got tired of Los Angeles and moved to New York City. Like his older brother, Charles, Jackson wanted to study art. So, he began taking classes at a school called the Art Students League, where his brother was also studying. He was also studying with the same teacher that his brother had, a man by the name of Thomas Hart Benton.

He decided at this point, to stop using his first name, which is Paul, and simply go by his second name, which is Jackson. So we call him “Jackson Pollock,” but his real name was “Paul Jackson Pollock.” I’m thinking of doing the same thing. Instead of calling myself “Jeff McQuillan,” I’m going to call myself “Lawrence McQuillan,” because Lawrence is my middle name, you see. I’m Jeffrey Lawrence McQuillan. Maybe I’ll call myself “J. Lawrence McQuillan,” or simply “J. Law.”

Anyway, for the first few years it was difficult for Pollock because he wasn’t making any money. Artists often don’t. And he had trouble finding jobs. This was during the early 1930s, of course, when the United States was going through what we call the Great Depression – a time when many people lost their jobs. Finally, in 1935, he got a job working in the Works Progress Administration, or “WPA,” Federal Art Project.

The WPA was a federal, or national, organization that tried to give people jobs during the Great Depression. One of the things that the WPA did was to create art in different places around the United States. Jackson Pollock got a job working for the Federal Art Project. And when he got the job, he decided he would begin to experiment with his painting. “To experiment” means to try out new methods or new ways of doing something.

Pollock decided he would paint landscapes of the western United States using some of these new techniques that he was experimenting with. A “landscape (landscape) painting” is a painting of the countryside, of a large area. It could include buildings in it, but often landscape paintings are of nature – of trees and lakes and hills and mountains and all of that sort of thing.

A few years later, however, Pollock had to stop painting because – once again, like many other artists – he had a problem with alcohol. Pollock was an alcoholic, a person who is addicted to alcohol, who cannot stop drinking alcohol. Pollock first tried to get help from a psychiatrist before he was eventually placed in a mental institution, in a hospital for people who suffer from mental illness. He stayed there for about four months before returning home.

After he started receiving help from a psychiatrist, a doctor who helps people with these mental difficulties, Pollock began to use his painting as a way of trying to understand his own mind, his own thought processes. Beginning in 1940, Pollock’s paintings became what we would call “abstract.” “Abstract” (abstract) in art refers to an image that isn’t clearly identifiable as an image. It doesn’t represent a specific thing or person. It represents an idea, or a feeling, or an emotion perhaps.

Abstract art is art that often uses shapes and colors and textures to represent objects or people instead of clearly drawing objects and people. So when you look at a piece of abstract art, you can’t usually say, “Oh, there’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty.” Instead, you get a certain feeling or emotion or idea from that art. I’m not an artist so I’m probably not explaining that very well, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say when I describe abstract art.

Pollock had his first solo show in 1943 at the Art of This Century Gallery in New York City. A “solo (solo) show” is one in which only your artwork is displayed. The owner of this gallery was a woman who was very important in the art world in the United States in the twentieth century, Peggy Guggenheim. Guggenheim was an important collector, especially of modern art – of art of that period. Pollock’s solo show went well. And his work started being seen by a lot of people.

He also started painting much larger paintings around this time, including a famous painting called “Mural” in 1943 and 1944. This was a painting that was the size of an entire wall. The painting “Mural” was paid for by Peggy Guggenheim and now is in the art museum of the University of Iowa – nowhere near New York City or Los Angeles. However, you can easily find a photograph of the painting “Mural” on the Internet. It’s quite an interesting painting in that it’s not completely abstract.

When we think of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, we think usually of his work that came a little bit after this period, but “Mural” is still I guess what we may describe as being somewhat representational in that it looks like you can see recognizable characters. Pollock described it as being inspired by the American West, as if all the animals you associate with the American West would start running at a very high speed all next to each other. It sounds weird, but if you look at the painting, it kind of makes sense when you hear that description.

In any case, it wasn’t certainly a traditional, representational form of art. It was still rather abstract, but Pollock’s paintings were to get even more abstract during the post-World War II period. I’m not quite sure why Jackson Pollock wasn’t participating in the war effort of World War II. Maybe he was. He certainly wasn’t a soldier, or at least not according to the information I can find.

But in any case, Jackson got married in 1945 to another painter by the name of Lee Krasner. They remained married for the rest of Pollock’s short life. During their marriage, Krasner helped Pollock both in his business and in his personal life. She is the one who worked with owners of art galleries like Peggy Guggenheim so that Pollock could focus on his painting.

Pollock was known to be very difficult to talk to. He was said to have a very bad “temper” (temper). “To have a bad temper” means you get angry or upset very easily. It was his wife who helped him through difficult situations, especially ones in which he needed to talk to people in order, in part, to sell his paintings. Unfortunately, Pollock’s alcoholism continued to be a problem both in his personal life and in his business dealings.

He and his wife moved out of New York City to a smaller community near New York City, on New York’s Long Island – a place called East Hampton. It’s about 160 kilometers east of New York City. In 1947, Pollock began painting what would become his most famous works, his most famous paintings. These included “Full Fathom Five,” “Lucifer,” “Summertime,” “Number Ten,” and “Lavender Mist.” Of those paintings, my favorite title is “Full Fathom Five.” That comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays. A “fathom” is a unit of distance.

In the play, Ariel explains to one of the characters, Ferdinand, what happened to his father, where his father is. It turns out his father is dead and in the ocean. Ariel says, “Full fathom five, thy father lies, of his bones are coral made.” Coral, of course, is something that is found in the ocean. His bones in a way have been made into coral, although of course that’s just being poetic. It’s from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest – one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, as it turns out.

Anyway back to Jackson Pollock. The paintings that Pollock made during this period became known as his “poured” works. “To pour” (pour) means to cause a liquid to come out of a container. You can think of coffee being poured out of a coffee pot into a coffee cup, or milk can be poured into a glass. It’s the movement of liquid from one container to another container, or simply another place.

This is exactly what Pollock did in order to create his paintings during this period. He would pour paint or use his paint brush to throw paint onto the canvas of the painting. The “canvas” (canvas) is the material that the painter paints on. This was a completely new way – some people thought slightly crazy way – of painting that became known as “action painting.”

Action painting was part of a larger style of painting that developed after World War II called “abstract expressionism.” “To express yourself” is to show your ideas or your feelings or your emotions. Abstract expressionism was a way of conveying or expressing feelings in art. Pollock became well known not just for his paintings, but for how hard he tried to make sure that his paintings showed his emotions. Starting in 1954, however, Pollock had more and more trouble painting, once again because of his alcoholism and some say because of his mental illness.

On August 11th, 1956, he was driving drunk and drove his car into a tree – at least, we think this was an accident. In any case, he was killed, dying at the age of only 44. Today Jackson Pollock is considered one of the great painters of the twentieth century, at least here in the United States. He started a new painting style, abstract expressionism, and believed that a piece of art should show people the artist’s feelings and thoughts.

Even though many people disagree about whether or not Pollock’s paintings are beautiful, thousands of people travel to see his paintings, and certainly if you are in a large American museum – say, the museums in New York City such as the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim Museum – you’ll want to see some of Jackson Pollock’s paintings.

We turn now to our second topic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is, unsurprisingly, a group of people who try to prevent animals from being treated with cruelty – from being treated unkindly by human beings. A “society” (society) is an organization or a club that is created for a specific purpose or goal. It’s a somewhat old-fashioned word. We don’t use that word as much anymore when we have a club or organization.

“To prevent” means to keep something from happening. “Cruelty” (cruelty) is any behavior, any action, that causes someone pain or something pain. So the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – non-human animals – is an organization that works to try to protect animals, to make sure that animals are treated well and with kindness. When I say “treated,” I mean that people act toward them in a certain way.

The “ASPCA,” as it is sometimes known, was started in New York City in 1886 by a man named Henry Bergh. Bergh was a wealthy man – a man who had a lot of money – and a man who loved animals. He traveled the world trying to help animals. And when he returned to New York City, he set up, or established, or started, an organization with the goal of helping even more animals.

He actually got the idea for this organization when he was in England and learned about a similar organization, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He just got rid of the word “royal” and put in the word “American.” Bergh was a friendly man who was very good at getting people to agree with him. He used his influence to get the New York State government to pass a law making it illegal to be cruel to animals. This was the first law of its kind in the United States.

At first, the ASPCA worked only in New York. It did things like trying to find ways of getting medical care for animals that needed it. It also created shelters for animals. A “shelter” (shelter) is a place where animals who don’t have a home, who don’t have people to take care of them, can go and be treated humanely, treated nicely, and given a place to stay. Bergh worked for the ASPCA for another 20 years until his death in 1888. Today the ASPCA is one of the largest humane societies in the world. “Humane” (humane) means showing kindness toward someone, or in this case, to an animal.

Now, it’s a little confusing because there’s another organization called the “Humane Society” which does something very similar to what the ASPCA does and has shelters for animals as well. In fact, until recording this episode, I didn’t really realize there was a difference between these two organizations, because many people will refer to the Humane Society as being a place where you can go and get an animal and bring it home to your house to take care of it. But apparently they’re two different organizations.

In any case, the ASPCA, which is the topic of this Café, is an organization that tries to help animals. It also sometimes does investigations when it thinks that perhaps an organization or a company is not treating animals humanely. There are now many different organizations that are dedicated to, or have the goal of, helping animals who need help. I’m not a member of any of those organizations. I’m not sure why.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

The first question comes from Artur (Artur) in Poland. The question is what is the difference between “to restrain,” “to refrain,” and “to subside”? Let’s start with the first verb, “to restrain” (restrain).

“To restrain” is to prevent another person, or possibly an animal, from moving by using what we would call “physical force” – by holding the person or perhaps by taking a rope and putting it around the person so that the person or animal doesn’t move. “To restrain,” then, means to prevent someone from moving. If the police arrest you for a crime, they may physically restrain you. They may prevent you from moving, especially if you start acting all crazy. So don’t do that if you do get arrested.

“To refrain” (refrain) means to stop yourself from doing something that you want to do or that you would naturally do. The teacher may tell her student, “Please refrain from talking.” Usually with the verb “to refrain,” we are refraining from some activity some action. “Please refrain from smoking inside the building.” Even if you want to smoke, we are asking you to not smoke – to stop yourself, if you will, from smoking.

The third verb, “to subside” (subside), isn’t really related to the first two verbs at all. “To subside” means to become less strong or less intense. It’s often used with pain in the human body. “The pain will subside.” It will become less intense. It will no longer be as strong. “Subside” is also sometimes used when we’re talking about a river that has too much water in it. We may say the river “subsided.” It grew – that is, it got more and more water – and then it got less water so that the river wasn’t as high as it was before, before the river subsided or the water subsided.

Our next question comes from Gleb (Gleb) in Russia. Gleb wants to know the difference between “velocity” and “quickness.” “Velocity” (velocity) refers usually to speed, especially the speed of a car or other vehicle. “Velocity” usually refers to speed in a particular direction, going this way or that way.

The word “quickness” (quickness) is a more general term that could refer to the speed of something that isn’t a vehicle, that isn’t a car or a train. If you say, for example, “That football player has amazing quickness.” He can move his legs very quickly. He can get around the field very quickly.

“Quickness” refers more generally to how fast something can move or some action can be done. “Velocity” usually refers to the speed of an object. You could talk about the velocity of a bullet coming out of a gun, or the velocity of a fast train, or even the velocity of a baseball as it is being thrown to the batter.

Finally, Reza (Reza) in Iran wants to know the meaning of the expression “I was down that road before,” or possibly “We’ve been down that road before.” “To have been down that road before” means to have been in the same situation before, to have gone through the same experience before. It could be a positive experience. It could be a negative experience. Although I guess I’ve heard it used more when we’re talking about some sort of negative experience, but it doesn’t have to be.

You could say, for example, “He’s getting married next month. He has a lot of work to do.” You can say, “Yes, I’ve been down that road before,” meaning yes, I’ve been married and have gone through that experience before. I won’t say whether it’s a negative or a positive experience, but certainly it’s one that I have had in the past.

If you have a question or comment, email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and
Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational

to settle – to stop moving from place to place and to find a permanent home

* After spending five years traveling through Asia, Nikolas was ready to return to his own country and settle in his hometown.

to experiment – to try out new methods or ways of doing something to see the outcome or result

* I’m not sure how to make the best cake, so I’ll experiment with a couple of different recipes.

landscape – a drawing or painting that shows scenes of the countryside

* The landscape showed sheep moving across the meadow with the sun shining.

abstract – representing ideas, feelings, or emotions, and not having a clear form or image

* The speaker’s philosophy lecture was very abstract, so many people in the audience had trouble understanding what he was talking about.

to pour – to cause liquids to come out of a container by holding the container at an angle

* I poured coffee into my mug and then sat at the table to read the newspaper.

society – an organization or club created for a specific purpose or goal

* After retiring from the police force, Marco joined the Boys in Blue Society, a group of volunteers who raised money to help police officers who had been injured on the job.

to prevent – to keep something from happening

* I put the emergency brake on in the car to prevent it from accidently rolling backwards down the steep hill while parked.

cruelty – behavior that causes someone or something pain

* The photographer couldn’t believe the cruelty she saw in the local prisons.

to treat – to behave or act in a certain way toward someone

* Oliver’s principal told him to treat all the children in his class with kindness and respect, even when they misbehave.

shelter – a place that provides a safe temporary home for people or animals that need help

* The homeless man and his daughter found a shelter where they could spend the night and get a hot meal.

humane – showing kindness or compassion to someone or something

* The city passed new laws to ensure the humane treatment of all people who receive medical care at the city’s free emergency rooms.

investigation – research; a deep examination of something

* When the famous painting went missing, the police opened an investigation into its disappearance.

to restrain – to prevent a person or an animal from moving by using physical force

* To stop the fight, we had to restrain each man until each calmed down.

to refrain – to stop oneself from doing something that one wants to do or that one would naturally do

* Please refrain from smoking in any of the buildings in this business complex.

to subside – to become less strong or intense, usually over time

* The doctor said it would take a couple of days for the swelling on my arm to subside.

velocity – quickness of motion; speed

* Can you believe the velocity of this new sports car? It’s amazing!

quickness – a high rate of movement or performance; speed

* The quickness with which Dina agreed to sell us her used car at a low price makes me think there may be problems with it that we don’t know about.

to have been down that road before – to have been in the same situation before; to have experienced the same thing in the past.

* I’m not dating a colleague from work again. I’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well.

What Insiders Know
Ham the Astrochimp

Ham the Astrochimp was a “chimpanzee” (large ape, usually black in color) sent by the United States into space on January 31, 1961 as part of its “space program” (effort to send humans into space). The Holloman Aerospace Medical Center located in New Mexico was responsible for preparing him for this “mission” (important job) and the Center also gave him his name. “Ham” was “derived from” (take from) the “acronym” (an abbreviation formed from the first letter of each word and pronounced as a word) formed from the name of this military facility.

Ham was born on July of 1956 in Cameroon in Africa. He was purchased by the United States “Air Force” (part of the military concerned with flying) and brought to Holloman Air Force Base in 1959.

Originally, there were 40 chimpanzee flight “candidates” (possible to be chosen for a job or position). Ham was among the final candidates, but he wasn’t given the name “Ham” until after he successfully completed the mission and returned to Earth. The “officials” (important members of the staff) did not want any bad “press” (news coverage) if a named chimpanzee died in space.

Ham was trained with the help of “neuroscientist” (scientist who studies the structure and functions of the brain) Joseph V. Brady. Ham was trained to do simple tasks, including pushing a “lever” (a bar or rod that is used to operate or adjust something on a machine, vehicle, device, etc.) within five seconds of seeing a “flashing” (turned on and off) blue light. During his mission, Ham was able to perform the task of pushing a lever in space, which demonstrated that those tasks could indeed be done in space. This helped in preparing for astronaut Alan Shepard’s mission on May 5, 1961 aboard the “space shuttle” (vehicle traveling away from the Earth) Freedom 7.

After his mission, Ham lived for 17 more years in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He died in 1983 and his “skeleton” (bones in one’s body) is held in the collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.