Why CIA Funding of American Art Matters

The BBC has now published a short piece “Was Modern a Weapon for the CIA?” to which the answer is an obvious yes as it’s been written about and established with the release of official records many years ago. Nice of the BBC to finally break such a big story. Serge Guilbaut’s How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art published in 1983 was where I first read the details about how the US government, CIA and Rockefeller MoMA had all colluded together funding the “triumph” of New York School painting, and thus both selecting and defining what would be considered significant art.

By doing so, they naturally entirely delegitimized Picasso, the Surrealists, all realists and all other figurative work as being retrograde. I didn’t realize at the time, as I was still naive and enmeshed in the art world and dreams of being an artist, that the fact that the American state and corporate world funding and selecting what art was significant and what wasn’t delegitimized that art as well.

The irony, of course, is that America was presenting Abstract Expressionism as Freedom Art in distinction to the state-funded Soviet Realist art with it’s representational and academic “backwardness” while America itself was state-funding abstract art as being infinitely superior to any representational art, which of course included the entire history of Western Art.

So the art that was the apogee of progress and Civilization was the art which entirely obliterated any kind of connection whatsoever to the actual world in which it was made. One can only imagine what we’d think of Greek civilization if we were looking back on colored squares, colored, fields, dripped paint, or all of the other Clement Greenberg nominees for artistic genius he selected for inclusion in the glory of American Civilization.

It should also be noted that immediately after the selection of artists like Pollock and de Kooning as the hight of Western Civilization their way of painting was immediately repudiated by the next wave of young painters, who entirely dispensed with the rigamorole of arriving at mature abstract style over many years of work and (see Stella, Judd, Noland, et al) all one had to do is have the brain power to deduce the pure reductionist simplification which required no artistic skill whatsoever to elaborate. No drawing, no paint handling (a housepainting brush was sufficient as there were no details to put in).

And as this was so obviously absurd, not to mention boring, “pluralism” blossomed with everything but the kitchen sink described as the next New Breakthrough by who else, but more American geniuses, even greater than the genius Abstract Expressionists as they’d taken that early breakthrough to ever greater heights..

Of course, the absurdity has to be underscored here. Not that more than a handful of anyone reading this will understand what I write anyway. But let’s take Degas (who some of you might recall). Imagine that Degas was hailed as a great painter by his colleagues in France as he was carrying forward the light of Western Civ in his brush.  And then three years later all the other French painters decide that no, that kind of painting won’t do at all. Better to make Bronzed beer cans and happenings and sculptures of giant household utensils.

That would totally repudiate Degas and his work, would it not? But no! Not in America! The Abstract Expressionists are still the greatest. And so are Bronze Beer cans! It’s all the greatest art ever made. Plus Degas is still totally retrograde and there’s no point whatsoever in that old stuff. As a matter of fact, the only thing that makes something art is that it’s NEW! And in America, if it was NEW once, as in Abstract Expressionism, Silkscreen Andy and Bobbie… It’s always NEW..

And artists actually believe this. As far as all the ones I’m aware of anyway. As I keep saying, the only definition of art that anyone has nowadays for art is “whatever MoMA says it is.” The Myth of Progress blends into the Myth of Rockefeller as genius. … and Trump… and Clintons… and Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates… Whoever has power and money is a genius. Doesn’t matter how stupid their ideas are (Hillary: Lets knock off Quadafi, Syria, Putin, … etc.) they’re all brilliant. Our leaders are brilliant. The art they’ve chosen, by letting the people decide! is brilliant.

Don’t you all just love Andy? And Jeff Koons? Jeff Koons at a Steve Wynn casino. If that isn’t the height of civilization can somebody tell me what is?’

Oh right… a couple floating color lozenges, 10 running yards of cadmium orange with a couple vertical stripes, paint arbitrarily flung across 10 running yards of canvas.

In regards to his drip paintings Pollock said: “I deny the accident.”

This is a delusional statement. Anybody flinging paint off a stick onto a canvas is creating accidental effects. So Pollock believes he’s just an intermediary and the Divine Hand is putting all his lines and rips exactly where they should be? He’s the possessor of artistic magic and when in his creative state nothing whatsoever is accidental? This is patently ridiculous.

Yet, we accept and even worship this kind of false religious proclamation (as Pollock is just one among many with pseudo-religious proclamations regarding their work from Malevich to Kandinsky to Mondrian to Newmann/Rothko/Still/Resnick)?

Quite obviously, if these pseudo-religious claims are hogwash so are the paintings themselves. Or I should say, they’re pretty objects or not pretty objects depending on one’s particular tastes in color and design.

And how could all of these various pseudo-religious claims be true. Manicheanism and Theosophy and Christianity are not compatible beliefs (Malevich was a self-proclaimed Christian mystic). In other words, if Pollock’s or Rothko’s paintings are not describing some profound mystical order then what are they other than pleasant visual decorations?

And if that’s all they are, why are we making such a big deal of them, outside the fact that they’re worth millions and millions of dollars? This, of course, indicates what the True God of American Capitalism is that everyone is worshipping. Money and Power. Might makes right. If we say Pollock and Warhol are the greatest painters of the twentieth century it is so!!

The real achievement of American art was to first blur the lines between fine art and commercial art and then eliminate those lines altogether. Instead of recognizing this artists want to live in some kind of fantasy world where they’re living at the height of some majestic civilization that is constantly making new innovations following on the amazing achievements of a paint spattered or paint-soaked canvases.



About trueoutsider

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9 Responses to Why CIA Funding of American Art Matters

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    Good stuff. I’ve pondered a lot of these same questions and come to the same conclusions. I might have thrown in that when Rauschenberg was considered a top American artist, his incorporation of physical objects such as newspapers, goats, and mattresses could be traced back to the “radical” innovations of one Marcel “Dry as Dust” Duchamp, the reigning champion of everything appropriation and boring. Once this line of trajectory was drawn back to Duchamp, and implied singular path forward was established.

    I think I have a different angle on Pollock’s “no accidents” claim in regards to his painting. He must mean that the level of unpredictability is intentional, and thus not accidental. He probably had a lot of control over his technique after years of practicing it. If people can get really good at throwing darts, they can probably get quite precise with flinging paint. But, in a nutshell, the accident is intentional. That said, I can’t imagine restricting oneself to drip paintings for years on end, other than to satisfy the market’s demand for brandable commodifiable objects.

    And I think you’re onto something about wiping out all of Western art history, in a sense, when embracing abstract marks on a flat picture plane. Art like politics, seemed to have embraced “revolution” in the last century, as in broad revolution sweeping away everything that came before.

    I’m more a fan of “evolution”.

    • wewordsmiths says:

      There is an analogous history in the world of authors: “automatic writing”. Useful maybe for preliminary work and/or Jungian insights, but otherwise nothing but wash for hogs.

      Better to just stretch Dickenson’s advice on poetry – “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.”

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Multiple approaches can be used to get inspiration, new ideas and so on, and then they can all be integrated. Personally, I like to switch up my approaches and try different angles to get insights.

    • trueoutsider says:

      Eric, I’ve put my response to your comment on my new post “CIA funding 2.”

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Cool. I’ll check it out. I’m now getting notifications for your comments, which is glorious, because it means we can have a dialogue (normal on WP, but for some reason it wasn’t working before).

  2. wewordsmiths says:

    I’m back! Sad to say it’s been a while. The causes are long & boring, so I’ll skip them.

    As usual, you are pellucid and devastating. If only the art world would stop staring into the dim, dim reflections of their own mirrors, there might be a chance at escaping the cul-de-sac abyss.

    The only thing worse than cobwebbed tradition is tedious, tedious fashion.

    I think some new genius could use a pallette of various animal dungs to do a hyperrealistic brush stroke image of a paint-by-number portrait of The Donald TRUMP. Lots of ochre I’m afraid.

    Maybe include Hillary. AMERICAN GOTHIC.

    (I’m half serious here.)

    Or half delerious-whimsical.

    Please soldier on!

    – William

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Hey, William. Good to hear from you again. I’ve just come back from a long layoff that I won’t go into either. Where automatic drawing and abstract expressionism and everything else goes wrong was noted by Tom Wolfe in “The Painted Word.” Art has suffered far more from this than literature, music, theater etc. as it has, in fact, been victimized or tried to pass itself off as a poor man’s version of them, entirely abandoning its own field of competence.

    Art was initially turned into painted theories of art that were so visually flimsy and unconvincing they demanded reams of text in order to put them over or justify them. From that point on about all one was offered were textual explanations of why somebody scribbling “I will no longer make boring art.” over and over (Baldessari) or somebody (supposedly) masturbating under constructed steps in an art gallery (Acconci) were doing something of world-shattering artistic importance.

    And we just go on in this ridiculous fashion, with artists making up their own gibberish in “statements” that seem about the only thing they go to art school for four years (and more) to learn how to do. The other development has been the obvious commercialism of the atelier and juxtapoz illustration/pop that devolved/evolved out of the scharf/haring/shafrazi 80s.

    It’s really unfortunate that there aren’t any actual art historians or art critics who might sit apart from this obvious deterioration, which is in fact the same decadence that we see in Hillary/Trump politics, and attempt to give an honest and object accounting of just how the fine arts were degraded to such a point. At least none that I’m aware of.

    I always thought Greenberg and Duchamp were complete frauds. And Wolfe’s writings, as well as subsequent material written about CIA funding by Guilbaut and Saunders and others, were of immense importance in allowing me to understand things. I have the greatest respect for those writers who have attempted to shed light in dark places because how else could we come to understand the truth. And it’s only in the last 15 years that I’ve had time to do the research and find out that artists themselves really don’t care that so much of art today is based on patent lies promulgated by certifiable liars.

    Now all that exists in the contemporary art world is a kind of inbred degeneracy of art lovers, critics, and artists themselves endlessly arguing about things that are absolutely pointless and of no interest whatsoever to the society at large other than as entertainment. Artists now, at least most that I’m aware of, depend entirely on art critics to tell them what art is, what art is good or bad, and they slavishly follow the idiotic pronouncements of the Greenbergs, Hughes, Hickeys, ad nauseum.

    And, of course, the opposite was the case with not just the artists who launched what we now call Modernism (which is another nonsensical art critic fantasy) but with artists going back in history. Imagine a van Gogh or Cézanne reading Duchamp’s imbecilic interviews or Greenberg’s Art and Culture and then patterning themselves after what they’d read. But that, of course, is exactly what took place in the visual arts from the 1950s onwards. And now here we are… faced with a seemingly endless commercial wasteland of art products, few if any with any conceivable emotion or deep feeling about anything whatsoever.

    Of course, all of that is nothing compared to our rape and pollution of our planet. But the two, of course, go hand in hand.

    And it’s great to see that the Saudis, while they behead people, massacre civilians, and throw people into torture chambers have an entirely new generation of artists who, just like American Artists, are pushing the boundaries and also selling for hundreds of thousands at Christies.


  4. wewordsmiths says:

    A trivial (?) observation: I, after LOLing loudly at the arrival of the Twitter (an atomistic & narrative-shredding media) – a few years later made the error of oh-well curiosity.

    I joined up. I observed that this micromedia format, although mostly boorish and vague, could be used adroitly in certain cases. Akin to haiku, say. (At best, very bad haiku, but oh well… )

    One my “co-followers” is/was a vibrant intelligent fellow with strong interests in environmentalism, especially the oceans, writing, and – the art world.

    When I suggested that some of the works he was posting were for the most part, merely decorative or design work, without much passion or substance, or even subject, he was shocked. From there forward I have been mostly ignored. Instantly I’m a cobwebb-headed, reactionary troglodyte, to be avoided like a Rabid skunk.

    Now, I’m not devastated. I’m embarrassed to admit, shamelessly, that I “have” Over 1,000 “followers”. (May God help them… ) However, it does pinch.

    My real point here is the rather bothersome question: How can otherwise intelligent people be so obtuse when it comes to the world of fine art?

    Not too long into discovering your lovely blog, it hit me that most of the decorative/design postmodern works (especially conceptual) reminded me of those cheap 70’s *mood rings*, uber-kitschy baubles for New Age teens. Their aesthetic value was 99% subjective. And that was the point! Actual artfullness, skill, craft? One percent. (There’s that number again…)

    This instantly jumped me back to the more rigorous example of Rorschach tests. I’ve decided that most postmodern art is effectively similar to these art-ish tests. And that’s how otherwise intelligent people are convinced of the “worth” of these paltry, retrograde works. How could they not? If a splash of blue set next to a triangle of orange, both dotted over with titanium white appeals to your subconscious, then of course it has impact. And so “value” and artistic merit. Here, not only taste, but also aesthetic judgement is/becomes automatic since it comes directly from the ego assuaging, yet subconscious “monster”.

    Now, this monster is in fact one of the artist’s true best friends. But only if the artist is/allows himself to be aware of it, and to wrestle it truly.


  5. trueoutsider says:

    As Mencken adroitly summarized things vis-a-vis consumer society (doesn’t have to be American, but can be Saudi Arabian for that matter): “Nobody’s ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

    Art is now viewed as entirely divorced from any kind of spiritual/metaphysical content. It’s simply there to entertain / preach politically correct slogans (save the whales! black lives matter!) / decorate the coffeeshop, beach home, what have you / provide social status and stimulating conversation.

    That’s exactly how it’s presented in Art Museums. The older works are entirely divorced from the belief systems and therefore meanings they had to people of their particular time and place by having Moderns explain what those beliefs and meanings are. They, of course, understand all of it because they’ve taken an art history class or read some art history books. And what is written in art history books is absolute truth, just as it’s always been, outside the fact that what was written in them 70 years ago is entirely different from what is written in them today.

    Nobody actually looks at a painting as a language unto itself. It’s as if one were to listen to Beethoven with a headset on that is explaining to you the history of Beethoven, the meanings of the piece, what the various instruments are as they’re played and so on.

    I imagine your environmentally correct twitterer considers you, me or anyone else who thinks art has any other meaning than those listed above are deluded. Just as the entire population of Renaissance Florence were delusional as they believed in the Christian God, and we Moderns understand that there is no God, there’s just science. And while science doesn’t have it completely figured out, it will be any day now that they put it all together. They’ve just got to get the Large Hadron Collider up and running again and there we’ll have it.

    My experience is that it’s extremely rare for anyone to look at a drawing or painting as it is and for itself alone. I’ve drawn for a couple decades outside in various “open to the public” spaces. That’s how I know how rare it is for a viewer to actually look at anything at all without immediately having to have some kind of explanation. “Do you sell these? Are you just doing it for yourself? What is it? You should make these into coloring books for people to color in! I’d buy one! That’s fantastic!” The vast majority don’t even look. It’s as if one is doing something that should be done in private, like masturbating. Best to ignore that it’s going on.

    I also can’t tell you how many curators, artists, art lovers having long excited conversations about how much they love art never even look at what the old artist (myself) is doing at the next table. No interest whatsoever.

    Of course not. It’s only art if it’s hanging on the coffeeshop wall. I’ve also frequently had people ask me to move over a bit (without looking at my drawing) so that they can photograph the artwork up on the coffeeshop wall).

    What can one say about these kind of blind people? I’m certainly not offended as I’d rather they leave me along anyway so I can draw. I’m there because I’m drawing them. As every artist has their muse. My muse is the American crowd.

    So I can say from experience of the crowd, that it’s an extremely low consciousness scene today. And it got decidedly worse with the advent of portable PC and then downhill further will celphones. Just objective observation, not moralizing. Ironic in view of the fact that so many people have the notion that they’re informing themselves by having a non-stop news flow of total inanity washing in and out of their heads each waking moment.

    One of the biggest delusions nowadays is that people, and this includes artists as well, think that they’re seeing art when they’re looking at a digital image on a screen. I recall a time (10 yrs ago/?)) when I was talking with the artists on an Old Master’s type Forum. They were analyzing what pigment Rubens was using in a particular painting from a digital detail one of them had posted. They had no idea whatsoever that the pigment “color” was an accident of whatever light conditions, digital camera, etc. were being used and then further corrupted when accessed on each one of their individual computer screens, each with their own color balances and lighting conditions in the rooms and backlit… They, believe it or not, actually thought they were looking at the actual pigment itself.

    It was a level of delusion that I found quite surreal. But there it was. And it’s only gotten worse as people spend most of their time on computers of all types.

    Take Hockney and his legions of fantasists thinking that Rembrandt painted the Night Watch or Hals his 20 figure group portraits with optical devices. How else could Velazquez have painted Las Meninas unless he was using a camera obscura or camera lucida? Surely he didn’t paint it by eye!

    Total stupidity. On top of that, a scientist has the proof! He’s done the research! And if there’s anybody that understands art, it’s scientists.

    Find yourself “Tim’s Vermeer” if you want to see how hopelessly moronic Hockney and these scientists are, not to mention the art critics, curators and artists who believe any of this delusional nonsense.. It really is mind boggling to me, but I also find it interesting.

    The scientists and the masses hitting their like buttons are the ones who not only know what great art is but they know exactly how it’s been made. It’s a kind of paint-by-numbers methods by people with really fine hand skills.

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