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TIDBIT: THE CIA, AND MODERN ART

Mr. V.T. shared this one, and I simply have to pass it along, for it's another of those "dots" to add to the growing stories of the relationship between intelligence and artistic expression that we've heard largely in connection to modern music. Well, don't leave out art:

Modern art was CIA 'weapon'

27 thoughts on “TIDBIT: THE CIA, AND MODERN ART”

  1. A much more interesting question about Modern Art: Why was Picasso allowed to go on living and making art in Paris (though not showing or selling art) during the Nazi occupation?

    Or even more interesting: Why does so much abstract “art” from the end of the 19th century look a lot like images made with the Nemes microscope?

    1. The answer to question one at least is simple and obvious: money. They certainly didn’t want him proselytizing (he wasn’t expelled from the Party till Stalin died), but people outside the Occupied Zone would give him money for his art which they could take part of as taxes – and most of it would disappear into private collections. Picasso was one of the “Degenerate Artists” whose art they seized – then consigned rather than destroyed.

      Um. Abstract art from the end of the 19th Century? Even Kandinsky was doing figurative and historical pieces (though in a post-Impressionist style) at the end of the 19th Century. Which art are you talking about?

  2. That Independent article is from 1995. As I was going to say, before I noted the decades old date, the idea that the CIA made sure Abstract Expressionism received attention is not news.

    However: Modern Art including abstraction long predates the formation of the CIA.

  3. What separates “authentic” art from the pretentious impotent ersatz of “modern” art is the missing core of structural coherence stemming from an archetypal invisible root whatever the artistic expression. I dare call this hidden core the science of art as a bridge to and reminder of the sacred, not the sacred itself. There is more to this than meets the eye or intellectual analysis. When the arts are mixed with the mundane power play of ideological control however subtle of the religious, political or economic realms, the arts fall from their unique grace, almost imperceptibly at first. They are at their epic best when they denounce the true nature of the mundane power play. Art is not dead, it’s our basic understanding of the arts’ nature that is dead. But don’t worry transcendence is always found in the midst of destruction, this is natural law way beyond manmade law.

  4. We visit a great many art museums, both in the US and abroad, and there is one observation in every case: the public flocks to the real art, the classics of representational merit, and almost totally ignores the “modern art” masterpieces of Pollock and Rothko. Where “real” art is available, people will look at it, study it, and come back to it again and again. Thy hurry through the “modern” wing, usually with a grimace or a pained smile. “Regular people” know filet mignon from cow flops.

    1. Doesn’t sound like you’ve been in many museums, most encyclopedic collects have a good deal of abstract art, though there aren’t many good Pollocks in public collection.

  5. as for ‘art’ the only thing I feel qualified to comment on is the world of opera;

    yes, I’m an opera-singer by profession and I continue to be revulsed by incompetent stage directors who now have weilded power over orchestral conductors (as if they’re much better nowadays); with very few exceptions most stage directors here in Germany all have sex problems; either mostly frustrated closet-cases (gosh!- yes, it’s true) or otherwise unfulfilled desires (well, whatever…)-

    musical conductors are usually meglomaniacs who care not the least about singers but only about how they can make the orchestra sound as loud as possible (but with good intonation, of course, but even that is not always acheived) to serve themselves-

    my point being: if there is a cultural rot in the fringe-art of opera there is a cultural rot everywhere (as if we haven’t noticed it yet)-

    please be well all-

    Larry in Germany

    yes, it is most definetly a continuing cultural rot

  6. Modern art looks like something AI would create.
    Been pondering on mirror writing lately and it seems a good way to employ the imagination instead of the passive way we tend to visualize things…

  7. This explains why some of the best artists of the era were left basically penniless. It’s interesting that they supported this stuff in the name of culture, and ended up killing art in the process, If you don’t believe me that art is dead, then look at some of the work of Marcel DuChamp, especially his final installation in the Philadelphia Museum. Quite telling when coming from an artist himself, and finished, I think, in the early 60s right before he died.
    This is especially haunting for me, as I was trained as an artist, only to discover afterwards that it was dead.

    1. Respectfully, the CIA certainly didn’t kill art. They did support artists in a culture which has always been somewhat hostile to public decoration, but art was dead back in the 19th Century when cutting-edge Modernism meant Realism rather than the formalism of the 20th Century.

      I’m serious when I say that. Read a translation of Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften (Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil) about the last week of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Art really is the way an elite amuses and flatters itself and in describing the end of an elite he shows how it really isn’t in many ways viable – it never by itself had any real life.

      1. Sounds lika an interesting read jplatt.
        “depending on the outer world to form his character”- Ulrich’s character description on wiki
        I could be wrong but it sounds like the type of culture they’ve been cultivating that subtly leads to a degree of psychopathy in society and their inability to appreciate value without a price. Hence, everything has been quantized….just a thought.

      2. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that art is just the way the elite amuse themselves and that the end of the elite means the art is not viable in and of itself. Perhaps that’s what was happening at the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but to apply that assessment as a blanket statement pertaining to art throughout the entire history of art really isn’t true. If by that statement he means to apply that analysis to art from the late 19th century, then I still have to disagree, as there is a lot of work that has merit in and of itself, whether it was done for some elite or not. Look at Salvadore Dali’s work.

        It was the work of the artists who made art about art who killed it off, because the whole basis of what art is was gone. The only thing left was to “express yourself” and that is why it has no real value in itself, IMO.

        1. Okay, any specific art reflects a specific elite. We do not have to be that elite to appreciate it (Mannerism, Egypt) but when the elite goes there is a new art. Yes I am saying that Goya, who was the court painter for the Bourbons, would have little to say to the Goya who painted the Third of May 1808. It might be similar enough so David could patronize Baron Ducreux, but the latter, as court painter to Marie Antoinette and her husband did NOT do the kind of historical pictures and portraits of Napoleon David did.

          To some extent yes, I am speaking roughly. But I also think you are being more general than I am. I was and am a fan of abstractionists like Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt and so on, so I can’t believe they killed it off, but at the same time since I was in New York in the ’80’s I’ve been hearing that Art is dead and I’ve come to understand this is not something simplistic: when you make something you have to make something people will buy, so gallery art is as much a genre as comic books, and to use two examples already hoary back then Warhol and Litchenstein were just as commercial as any cartoonist (Charles M. Schultz, Walt Kelly, Jack Kirby, Curt Swan…). As a living breathing intellectual tradition art is not alive and never was.

        2. Um. Saying Dali’s work (in the thirties) was not specifically for the fascists does not mean it wasn’t for the elite. To mention 2 filmmakers, who do you think went to see Bunuel’s collaboration with Dali Un Chien Andalou or for that matter most of Cocteau’s films? That Kaethe Koellwitz and Lotte Reisinger were socialists (Communist in Koellwitz’s case) doesn’t change the fact the former’s prints and the latter’s (two) movies were paid for by some very well-to-do people.

          Dali’s work was powerful yes, but he was controversial for making his peace with franco’s regime. He is no argument against elitism.

  8. This is as old as civilization and human culture every society does it. Every empire spins it story whether religious, political, social, scientific, the joke is that our over schooled middle class in the USA picture themselves with a whiskey-rum bottle in one hand and gun in the other and sell or try to sell that image to the rest of us they’re educated barbarians.

  9. This being before the CIA envolvement in drug running for a source of off the books funding makes sense from that perspective as well. Plus it would be a great way of hiding code to communicate vast amounts of intelligence under the radar.

  10. Never new Americans could be accused of exporting culture or art.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Is there art we know of produced in the last 100 years?
    Seems more like the dark ages, no art to be seen for a very long time.

    Or I am not in sync what art constitutes today and that is intirely possible.

  11. All this happened ages ago and was really quite innocent and well-intentioned, and harmed no one.

    Thank you, CIA! Thank you!

  12. As stated in the article, not new. I first heard it at Parsons – which was affiliated with the New School – in 1980. I’m sure you are aware of the way the New School for Social Research can fit into conspiracy theories (after all these years I’m still not sure I can buy it as – itself – a CIA front). This article is relevant:

    http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/christofides.html

    Notice it’s dated 2012. Clement Greenberg of course was in essence the New York School’s chief publicist so the article is exactly saying the same thing. Remember how important cooperation was (is) to our parents’ generation. I find it hard to believe most of these artists would have objected.

    1. And New School professors supported Wilhelm Reich.

      Oh, and some of what Reich is getting at is certainly well represented by better “abstract” art.

      1. I feel like I’m talking too much but – well duhh. The woman in the article I shared says that Greenberg was a CIA patsy – because of his disgust with Stalinists. With both Reich and the New School professors the evidence is substantial and substantive. It is not however simple and uncontradictory. I don’t believe that everyone there knowingly worked for Intelligence. I don’t believe people with suspicions were a minority though.

    1. I have to say, I’m reading his essay on Jack London and Mr. Mathis seems to understand neither socialism nor the culture of the time: my great-grandmother was a reasonably successful actress in silent films – in New York and later in San francisco. Nevertheless, after her husband died her youngest two boys grew up in a newsboy’s home. While all his kids were college graduates and his oldest son was a PhD grandpa never even made it to High School. I am very tired of the people who seem to ignore the role of socialism (which was usually preached by “rich people”) in American history and what I have been reading seems as much propaganda as anything I ever read out of Mao’s China (Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, People?) or the Soviet Union. I would NOT call this an artist’s perspective because artists are usually more self-aware.

    2. WalkingDead, I’m also familiar with Miles Mathis. I don’t always go along with every essay he has, but many do touch on some hidden truths.

      As per the Frances Stoner Saunders article above, Mr. Mathis goes even deeper and exposes her an intelligence agent herself who really white washed the whole CIA/modern art connection. Here are his comments:

      http://mileswmathis.com/stoner.pdf

      Mathis also contends that Intelligence agencies and the CIA were behind all the cultural movements of Theosophy through to the Beat Generation and beyond. In this one, it’s interesting to see how he dismantles the Beat heroes Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac.

      http://mileswmathis.com/beat.pdf

      1. I never said I agreed with everything Miles has said, but he does have a unique view on art as an accomplished artist himself. He also states in his essays that they are his opinion on the matters he discusses, nothing more. He bases his opinions on readily available information on the internet and publications.
        He has definitely shown Wikipedia to be a source of disinformation pushing all the current memes and very much under the control of Intelligence.

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