July 15, 2011

Abstract Expressionism and the CIA

Here's Mark Tansey's ten-foot wide 1984 neo-conceptualist painting The Triumph of the New York School, which is roughly modeled on Velasquez's Surrender of Breda. It hangs in New York's Whitney Museum.

Tansey's painting shows defeated French artists (on the left) dressed in Great War uniforms signing the instruments of surrender of world art leadership to American critics and artists (on the right) dressed in casual WWII khaki. Surrealist writer Andre Breton, back to the viewer, is signing the surrender document while Duchamp, Matisse, and Picasso look on. 

The general of the victorious American forces, with his hands in his pockets, is critic Clement Greenberg, the chief expounder of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. The second most dominant American figure is the MacArthuresque general on the right, critic Harold Rosenberg. In agreement with Tom Wolfe's 1975 book, The Painted Word, the actual American painters, such as Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, are depicted as adjutants in the background behind their critical leadership.

The actual paintings themselves are a matter of personal taste, but there's no disputing the triumph of American art during the early Cold War years over stodgy Moscow-approved socialist realism as fashion.

After WWII, the U.S. government attempted to win European intellectuals away from the Communist Party by sponsoring avant-garde art, such as the New York School of abstract expressionist painting. But, American politicians, such as President Truman, objected to the taxpayers dollars being wasted on ugly stuff that their kids could do. 

So, funding moved to the black budget of the CIA. 

Frances Stonor Saunders' 1995 article in The Independent, Modern art was CIA 'weapon,' revealed some details of CIA sponsorship of the New York School. Her method of research was basically to call up old CIA men (or their kids) and get them talking about their triumphs during the good old days. This is not a particularly reliable method (it invites old-timers to exaggerate their importance), but it's certainly better than nothing. 
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it. 
"Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I'd love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!" he joked. "But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expressionism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions. ...
To pursue its underground interest in America's lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. "Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes," Mr Jameson explained, "so that there wouldn't be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn't have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps." 
This was the "long leash". The centrepiece of the CIA campaign became the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a vast jamboree of intellectuals, writers, historians, poets, and artists which was set up with CIA funds in 1950 and run by a CIA agent. It was the beach-head from which culture could be defended against the attacks of Moscow and its "fellow travellers" in the West. At its height, it had offices in 35 countries and published more than two dozen magazines, including Encounter [edited by English ex-Communist poet Stephen Spender]. 
The Congress for Cultural Freedom also gave the CIA the ideal front to promote its covert interest in Abstract Expressionism. It would be the official sponsor of touring exhibitions; its magazines would provide useful platforms for critics favourable to the new American painting; and no one, the artists included, would be any the wiser. 
This organisation put together several exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s. One of the most significant, "The New American Painting", visited every big European city in 1958-59. Other influential shows included "Modern Art in the United States" (1955) and "Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century" (1952). 
Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Preeminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called "Mummy's museum", Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called "free enterprise painting"). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom to organise and curate most of its important art shows. 
The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members' board of the museum's International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency's wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA's International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949. 
Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD. 
"We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War." 
He confirmed that his division had acted secretly because of the public hostility to the avant-garde: "It was very difficult to get Congress to go along with some of the things we wanted to do - send art abroad, send symphonies abroad, publish magazines abroad. That's one of the reasons it had to be done covertly. It had to be a secret. In order to encourage openness we had to be secret." 
If this meant playing pope to this century's Michelangelos, well, all the better: "It takes a pope or somebody with a lot of money to recognise art and to support it," Mr Braden said. "And after many centuries people say, 'Oh look! the Sistine Chapel, the most beautiful creation on Earth!' It's a problem that civilisation has faced ever since the first artist and the first millionaire or pope who supported him. And yet if it hadn't been for the multi-millionaires or the popes, we wouldn't have had the art." 
Would Abstract Expressionism have been the dominant art movement of the post-war years without this patronage? The answer is probably yes. Equally, it would be wrong to suggest that when you look at an Abstract Expressionist painting you are being duped by the CIA. 
But look where this art ended up: in the marble halls of banks, in airports, in city halls, boardrooms and great galleries. For the Cold Warriors who promoted them, these paintings were a logo, a signature for their culture and system which they wanted to display everywhere that counted. They succeeded.

Basically, this was the kind of painting that the American ruling class, circa 1945-1964, liked.

Their wives in Darien found it fashionable and their cousins bought it for the lobbies of their corporate headquarters. It was a new sort of imperial art for a new sort of empire. Rather than an in-your-face colossal statue of Emperor Ozymandias, this imperial art was depersonalized (an asset in the global twilight struggle for the allegiance of peoples who all looked different), cool, enigmatic. Rather than overpower the spectator, it undermined the viewer's self-confidence (as in Norman Rockwell's genial The Connoisseur):
Somebody with a lot of money and power caused this enormous canvas of drips to be displayed here. But why? What do they know that I don't know? If they can pull this off, what else can they do? What can't they do? They look like they are going to win, so wouldn't it be smarter for me just to go along with them?

As James Jesus Angleton might have said, abstract expressionism was a sort of objective correlative for the CIA.

117 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is just weird.

Been hangin' out with Michael Blowhole again?

Dennis Dale said...

"...an in-your-face colossal statue of Emperor Ozymandias..."

This imperial style is on the way, in the form of the monstrous MLK statue, which also incorporates old-fashioned Socialist Realism (if artist's renderings are accurate).

Anonymous said...

"Stodgy Moscow-approved socialist realism."

It's funny how people keep saying that without ever seeing a single painting. The truth is that Socialist Realism* is one of the great undiscovered art movements in the 20th century. The Communist regime kept artists in straightjacket, which, ironically, preserved much of the Western art tradition. What West nearly lost Russia kept.


*Admittedly, the brand name is not helping. One of the books on Socialist Realism (and there are very few) is called Soviet Impressionist Painting, which gives a much better feel for what it's really like.

Anonymous said...

"The actual paintings themselves are a matter of personal taste, but there's no disputing the triumph of American art during the early Cold War years over stodgy Moscow-approved socialist realism as fashion."

This statement is misleading for it assumes that there was a contest at all. In fact, there wasn't. Though most westerners in the arts tended to be liberals or on the left, the fact is they never cared for cultural Stalinism, aka Socialist Realism. Some politically supported the Soviet Union, but most leftist intellectuals and artists were bored to death by Stalinist cultural policy. The period in which the Soviet Union did provoke and inspire Western intellectuals and artists was in 1920s and early 30s when experimentalism or formalism had been allowed. Though artists in this period were not free--and wrong people could end up jailed or dead--, those with the right ideological credentials were allowed to experiment relatively freely in many fields. This was the time of Mayakovsky, radical poster designs, weird architectual proposals, and the explosion of creativity in cinema: Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, Dovzhenko, etc. This was a time of artistic and expressive ferment, and the USSR was at the cutting edge in certain genres. It pretty much came to an end with the official populism and prole-classicism of Socialist Realism. Though good movies continued to get made, great original ones became rare. And Socialist Realist painting was as dull and uninteresting as Nazi painting. There was still some creative fire in music, perhaps because music, by its nature, is the most free flowing and uncontrollable of artforms, thereby harder to ideologically corral and contain. Shostakovich and Prokofiev continued to do amazing work even within the strictures of official policy.

Anyway, there was no contest between modern art and Soviet realist art. Even leftists and liberals in the West favored modern art over Soviet social realist art--and except for the interruption of Nazism, it has been the case with nearly all 'progressive' people in the 20th century.
Even Goebbels initially championed Expressionism as legitimate German artform.

So, the whole CIA thing was joke because even if the CIA hadn't spent a dime, the outcome would have been exactlyu the same.
Same goes for music. Bebop didn't happen because the CIA funded Charlie Parker. And the French New Wave didn't need any funding from the CIA or British Secret Service either. It was part of the Zeitgeist of the 20th century. Even many Nazis secretly preferred modern painting to Hitler's shitty idea of art. My guess CIA got into the art thing cuz some of the guys thought it might be fun.
Of course, some conspiratorial clowns say the KGB supported stuff like Rock n Roll to subvert America, but then Rock music did more to subvert communism than any abstract painting. Whoever did whatever, it was going to happen anyway. Modern art was the art of the 20th century, and no one needed the CIA to know that Soviet Union wasn't not a free place for artists. And Western leftists and liberals generally supported revolution in the Third World, not in their own. And 99% of Western artists never would have dared to actually go live in the Soviet Union. Not even Lillian Helmann and Susan Sontag during her radical days. Or Jane Fonda.

Anonymous said...

Also, though Wolfe is a funny and clever man, do NOT listen to his views on art. Painted Word is amusing, but Wolfe thinks the pedestrian Rockwell was a genuine artist. Worse, he thinks the sculpture in the movie DEVIL'S ADVOCATE is great stuff. It is shit. I can understand where Wolfe is coming from. Modern Art became the official or even 'correct' art of the 20th century, and snobby critics wouldn't even give the time or day to 'conventional' art. But that doesn't mean an artist working conventionally is automatically good, let alone great. Rockwell was certainly skillful at what he did, but let's end it at that. It's like saying Johnny Mathis was a good singer. Yes, he was. But an artist?

Btw, Norman Rockwell's parody of modern art is pathetic.
Though some of Pollock's paintings look like bird droppings and, like so many artists, he eventually ended in self-parody, he created some striking patterns and expressions at his best.

http://media.smithsonianmag.com/images/Jackson-Pollock-1943-Mural-631.jpg

This is colors and shapes as visual music. As you eyes pass over it you see ever changing, shifting, slipping, and sliding interplay of images. You don't just see an object or a symbol but sensually interact and play with the image. It serves more as a process than a product.

Difference Maker said...

equating love of good art with naziism. Will wonders never cease

Anonymous said...

the pseudoleftism of social issues, as opposed to the true leftism of economic issues from the perspective of the majority, was born of the nonprofit foundations such as the ford foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

These nonprofits, funded by the plutocrats, were intertwined with the cia and fbi.


They STARTED the pseudoleftist social issues Left.

They funded gloria steinem.

They created multiculti, feminism and the civil rights movement.

They did this by controlling the curriculum and ideas at the elite universities. How? With money. They funded academics that write about ideas that help the rich and divide the workers.

See Dr Roelofs' book on pluralism and nonprofit foundations.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

This is off topic but interesting.

According to current Intrade odds, Ron Paul is 90% likely to be President if nominated:

http://www.dailypaul.com/170799/intrade-odds-ron-paul-90-likely-president-if-nominated

Anonymous said...

"Wolfe thinks the pedestrian Rockwell was a genuine artist"

So Rockwell was a fake artist?

Anonymous said...

There was a stupid Alt Right article about 'sokaling' modern art and comparing it with ape art, but I wasn't fooled by any of it.
Yes, there was a lot of bad modern art, and there have been many imitators.
But anyone with a keen eye can tell the real from the fake, the original from the imitative.

Pollock knew what he was doing. People who say he was just splashing paint around are like the clowns who say Coltrane was just making noise by randomly blowing into the sax.
True, there are fakers who come later and imitate the mannerisms and styles of the originals--and even manage to fool some people. Miles Davis was right to smoke out Ornette Coleman as such a fake. In cinema, Chantal Akerman is the biggest faker of them all.

Same in rock music. Floyd's UMMAGUMMA is genuinely epic, but some other psychedelic, experimental, and avant-garde rock is just no-talents bullshitting people with their lack of talent by covering it up with all sorts of whacky imitative effects.

There was always modern art as bold expression by original visionaries, and ther was modern art as a crutch for 'artists' with no talent. The no-talents would just make a lot of noise and say, 'ah, it's avant-garde music, and if you don't get it, you're a square'. Or a faker could make some lamebrained avant grade film that has nothing to show or say but then pretend it's misunderstood because it's '20 yrs ahead of its time'. And if they had the connections or favors of the right people in key institutions, people with money, or certain critics or academics, they could get away with their fraud for a good run.
But then, Andy Warhol, the biggest disaster to befall the art world, introduced the notion that what really mattered was not the art but the art world itself. So, it didn't matter if a work was bad or worthless. The real art was in the 'art of the deal' and the 'art of the steal',the art of hide and seek. He was immune from being found out as a fraud since he admitted he was a fraud and then held it up as a mirror to the artworld as a whole: an interplay of money, egos, careers, hype, connections, etc. Warholism allowed people in the art world to both critique and celebrate their own roles in it as intellectuals, artists, frauds, whores, fakers, conmen, etc. It was no longer a matter of genuine vs fake but of faking genuinely in being genuinely fake.
It became like the movie HOUSE OF GAMES. It's not really a crime if you play it for the game that it is. And if you lose, that too is part of the game.
Indeed, you might even consider it a privilege to be conned. So, with War-whore, the dominant image of the artist went from a romantic-tragic starving artist to commercial huckster/intellectual conman. Picasso belongs somewhere between Gogh and Warhol as the archetypal figure in modern art. He was genuinely driven, obsessed, and talentd like Vogh but also had a keen understanding of the business and the game inside out. He was gonna get his cut and promote his brand. Warhol, otoh, was entirely talentless in the art but superbly talented in the game; he was nothing but the brand. With rising wealth and welfare, I suppose the notion of the starving artist wasn't even possible by Warhol's time. One couldn't starve even if one wanted to starve.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, Pollock was a genuine artist, a driven obsessive. Like many greats, he suffered from manic depression, falling into dark funks and then emerging with great bursts of creative energy.

If anyone needs proof that Pollock knew what he was doing, look at this:

http://www.abstract-art.com/abstraction/l2_grnfthrs_fldr/g007_pollock_no7,1951.html

He wasn't just scribbling or splashing stuff. He understood the basic elements of his expression and then moved towards greater movement, freedom, experimentation, and expression. He understood the elemental language of art before he moved to complex expressions.
It's like Chinese calligraphy. Someone who doesn't know the language might think it's just a lot of wild random scribbling.(I don't know Chinese either but I 'get' what calligraphic art is about.) But great calligraphy is considered almost as painterly artform in China, and it is done by masters with a full understanding of the language. Instead of writing it letter by letter, they express it 'musically', sensually, even psychologically. It goes from letters/words to personally expressive patterns. There is some of that in cursive writing with the alphabet but 55,000 characters in Chinese offer far greater possibilities than 26 characters of the alphabet.

http://wavedancing.net/mastercalligraphy/gushisitie/gushi2.jpg

Anyway, it's as though Pollock, having mastered the basic shapes, figures, and patterns of art, used them almost calligraphically to express the raging confusion, chaos, and freedom in his soul. Not pretty but at times powerful, striking, and strange.
There is something to be said for clearly written characters(or clearly representative imagese), but there should also be room for free-flowing expression:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_iLOdc8kMjxY/SYSbwPUa9RI/AAAAAAAACgM/tmyGsloVqD8/s400/1use.jpg

But there is power and beauty in this too:

http://www.chinapage.com/calligraphy/yuehfei/yueh.html

Fred said...

Kind of makes you nostalgic for the Cold War. We were at least at war with intellectuals, which provided a pretext for the subsidy of art and other cultural and scientific pursuits. Today's "war on terror" diverts money instead to obese, genital-fondling TSA agents and porno scanners.

J said...

Once, the CIA was secretly funding modern American art and literature magazines. What is funding today?

Outland said...

To check if abstract artists actually believe in what they make, just check their other work or search for a painting of them in which they depict a portrait or a bowl of fruit. If that looks nice, then I'd be willing to look at their abstract work also. If it's just abstraction after abstraction, it's time to conclude they're not artists but conmen.

SPImmortal said...

Btw, Norman Rockwell's parody of modern art is pathetic.
Though some of Pollock's paintings look like bird droppings and, like so many artists, he eventually ended in self-parody, he created some striking patterns and expressions at his best.

http://media.smithsonianmag.com/images/Jackson-Pollock-1943-Mural-631.jpg

This is colors and shapes as visual music. As you eyes pass over it you see ever changing, shifting, slipping, and sliding interplay of images. You don't just see an object or a symbol but sensually interact and play with the image. It serves more as a process than a product.

----------

That painting you linked to is awful.

Hard to take your opinions on art seriously when you hold that up as an example of a fine work.

Art critics and connoiseurs of modern art love talentless scribblings, because they can't differentiate themselves from the proles by examining more accessable works that were created with real craft and talent.

In other words, Stuff White People Like

Anonymous said...

The U.S.A killed art and all beaty from this World. What is American art? The shape of a Coca-Cola bottle? The design of an Ipod? All of America's achievements, being the ultimate burgeoise society, were made at the gist of the capitalist market system. The problem is that capitalism doesen't care about truth, beauty and noble feelings, but only about profits. Profiteering cannot motivate men to create beauty and search enlightment, and the few men who can be motivated by profit towards this are probably not very poetic and romantic anyway. This explains why the U.S has failed to produce great composers, artists, writers and thinkers. The greatest American genius was Edison, a practical inventor who's motivation was getting rich. This also expplains why, despite having surpassed Europe in economic and military might since the end of World War II, the U.S has never been able to replace Europe as the center of civilization: even today, Europe still remains the heart and soul of Western Civilization even though Europeans are on average 30% poorer than Americans. I cannot blame Amricans for having created such a laissez-faire, laissez-allez, laissez-passe society as the country was founded and colonized by Anglos, and Anglos have always been the merchants and traders among European peoples and not their poets and romantics. Even Russia, a Third World coutry, has produced more greater writers than the U.S ever has, like Dostoevsky and Pushkin. And therein lies the fundamental problem of Capitalism: it produces a society with a greater abudance of material wealth, but does it produce a BETTER society? The ancient Hellenes certainly didn't need capitalism to produce the most stunning and noble civiliztion the World hs ever seen. The greatest of all Hellenes, almost without exceptions, were not merchants, traders or businessmen(burgeoise).

Anonymous said...

Walking through MOMA, Pollock is wonderful. Most of the rest looks like political art. What else could justify it?
Robert Hume

Anonymous said...

Also, though Wolfe is a funny and clever man, do NOT listen to his views on art. Painted Word is amusing, but Wolfe thinks the pedestrian Rockwell was a genuine artist. Worse, he thinks the sculpture in the movie DEVIL'S ADVOCATE is great stuff. It is shit.
you know nothing about great art. I doubt you can paint, if you could, or even tried you would realize that rockwell IS among the great masters.
The sculptor you are referring to is Frederick Hart, his sculpture was NOT in the movie, it was a parady of it- Hart was a deeply religious man (who came to faith through sculpting) and would never have allowed it - in fact he sued the makers for using a parady of it an won.

Wolf pointed out that though the elite art world (which by the way is overwhelmingly jewish and anti-christian - thus the popularity of 'piss christ' type art) ignored Wolfe they were well aware of the power of his work, thus they used it in a movie like the devil's advocate - to emphasize that ever so tiresome but common Jewish belief - behind western beauty, is nazi evil.

The real works is called ex nihilo and is over the entrance to the national cathedral in washington- perhaps the last great art the Episcopal church will produce - if the competition were held these days it would go to something like a piss Christ.

Marlowe said...

Muslims already have abstract art so no chance there.

If only Rockwell had painted more partisans, peasants and factory workers.

Anonymous said...

This is colors and shapes as visual music. As you eyes pass over it you see ever changing, shifting, slipping, and sliding interplay of images. You don't just see an object or a symbol but sensually interact and play with the image. It serves more as a process than a product.
notice how lovers of abstract art always have to add a narrative to the painting, usually BS like this? you can practically create auto-generator for it.

Simon in London said...

This reminds me how the Frankfurt School cultural Marxists apparently got their big break from the US government when they were brought in to culturally reconstruct Germany, post WW2.

CIA support for the Left and many of the most invidious currents in Western culture seems to be a recurrent theme.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, there was no contest between modern art and Soviet realist art. Even leftists and liberals in the West favored modern art over Soviet social realist art--and except for the interruption of Nazism, it has been the case with nearly all 'progressive' people in the 20th century.
This reminds me of gay marriage and the new york times "everyone I know was for it". It's a false narrative, like most modern narratives.

There is a whole budding realist movement in NYC now, the ateliers like Grand Central Academy, the tradition at the Art Students League continued by teachers like Frank Mason, Nelson Shanks, Janus Collaborative, and even the New York Academy of Art.

Concerning the latter- when the forerunner of NYAA (which wanted to teach how to draw the figure - which had been jettisoned from all art schools thanks to the modernists, who also literally smashed and destroyed the plaster casts students used to learn from) tried to get funding from the NY state arts council- the modernists blocked it and said (in earnest) if you allow them to teach drawing the human figure you'll set art back a hundred years

That's the sort of fanaticism that surrounded abstract/modern art - the purpose was to destroy the west.

There was a 'contest' and realist representational art always wins- thats why fanatics have to destroy it and 'critique' it AKA the Frankfort school, and inject so many hateful bitter words that your mind rejects the beauty your eyes see. Case in point, the above poster.

Henry Canaday said...

There lived in my apartment building a very ancient woman who recently died after a long retirement and even longer career as an executive secretary in Washington. She had started out with ‘Wild’ Bill Donovan, head of the OSS during W.W. II and founder of the CIA, and finished her government career working for John McLaughlin during his days in the Nixon White House.

Evelyn began working with Donovan in his New York law offices in the late 1940s when he was assembling the pieces and people who would become the CIA. Of those days she would say only, “there were some very strange people who walked into that office.”

The CIA also helped give us “The Paris Review,” which I never read but was influential in setting literary reputations for a long while, and George Plimpton, who amused everybody for a decade.

Do you get the idea that the intellectual side of the radical revolution in the 1960s was, at least in New York City, partly an adolescent tantrum against the financial parents of the revolutionaries?

Anonymous said...

one last thing.. one of the main things sustaining modern/abstract art now is the cost of saying the emperor has no clothes- imagine if people started to trust their eyes and value Ramon Casas, Sorolla and Sargent over a fraud like Picasso. Imagine if people looked the 12 million dollar stuffed shark and said.. you know that's not worth anymore than a shark cadaver at the american museum of natural history... (less even, its decaying) do you know how many art dealers, galleries and museums would lost net value? its astronomical.

Carol said...

"They STARTED the pseudoleftist social issues Left... They funded academics that write about ideas that help the rich and divide the workers."

Wait, I thought it was the Right Koch brothers et al that did this? LOL


"Miles Davis was right to smoke out Ornette Coleman as such a fake."

Thank you. I'm afraid Coleman BS ultimately drove Coltrane off a cliff.

WLW said...

I find it disturbing that the CIA is "working" in the art field. That is pushed the avant garde, a progressive, nihilist art form.

My question, do they have any business doing that? What else are they manipulating? What else are these animals doing? What world are they moulding and for whom? Who controls these people?

For once, we have discovered who "they" is and "they" is the CIA. Is that our secret government?

Anonymous said...

"...which, ironically, preserved much of the Western art tradition. What West nearly lost Russia kept."

I don't think it's ironic. After 1946 there was a realignment. The Western powers that be continued being anti-Western, i.e. Communist in the original, pre-1946, Marxist sense, while the USSR became Russian-nationalist, and therefore anti-Communist (in the original, pre-1946 sense). Russian nationalism had nothing against the Western tradition in painting or in anything else. Russia had been a part of that tradition since about 1700. So after the 1946 switch Stalin was able to embrace the Western cultural tradition. I'm sure that on the personal level he liked it even before that (it's pretty).

But Marxism, being anti-Western by nature, was always an enemy of that tradition. So of course the Western powers that be were hostile to it during the Cold War and are still hostile to it now.

This goes far beyond art. The decline in educational standards that happened in the West in the 1950s and 1960s happened in Russia only in the 1990s, when the nominally Communist, but actually Russian-nationalist regime fell. Again, what would Russian nationalism have AGAINST good education. Marxism? Lots of things. The same can be said of gay "rights", of the sexual revolution, of the spread of drugs, and of many other issues. The USSR led the culturally conservative side in the Cold War because it was governed by Russian nationalists. All sincere nationalism is culturally conservative by default. The West led the socially liberal side in the Cold War because it was actually more Marxist. Political labels are often misleading.

Anonymous said...

"The period in which the Soviet Union did provoke and inspire Western intellectuals and artists was in 1920s and early 30s when experimentalism or formalism had been allowed."

Exactly my point. That's the period when Soviet leadership was actually, not just nominally, Marxist. That's the period when Soviet and Western elites agreed on everything of importance. Artists are sheep, trendsters, hipsters, the flakiest men on Earth. On average they don't "prefer" anything except for a hope of someday becoming famous. And they need the support of the current power for that. Up to 1905 (or wnenever) the Western powers that be still wanted artists to produce beautiful things. After 1905 they didn't. Before 1946 the Western powers that be wanted artists to consider the USSR to be cool, after 1946 they didn't. If an artist wanted to be successful, he got with the program.

Anonymous said...

"But anyone with a keen eye can tell the real from the fake, the original from the imitative.

Pollock knew what he was doing."

OMG. Reread "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Kylie said...

@ Anonymous 11:14 p.m.,

A small note to your excellent commentary.

You write, "The period in which the Soviet Union did provoke and inspire Western intellectuals and artists was in 1920s and early 30s when experimentalism or formalism had been allowed...This was the time of...the explosion of creativity in cinema: Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, Dovzhenko, etc. This was a time of artistic and expressive ferment, and the USSR was at the cutting edge in certain genres. It pretty much came to an end with the official populism and prole-classicism of Socialist Realism. Though good movies continued to get made, great original ones became rare."

There was a tremendous outpouring creativity in movies in many countries during the 20's and early 30's as pioneers experimented with the new art form. Murnau, Lang, Dreyer, Wellman, Vidor, Chaplin all made ground-breaking films during this time; more pedestrian work by them and others came later (with Ford and Hitchcock being notable exceptions to this). The fact that there was a falling off in Soviet cinema can't be attributed solely to government oppression, I don't think, since there was a corresponding falling-off in other countries. This was due to several factors: the introduction of sound, the Hays Code in the US, the natural decline in talent of some directors (e.g., Lang, Chaplin, Vidor), the Depression and the rise of Nazism, etc. Perhaps most importantly, some innovations in 1920's cinema were noteworthy but essentially "dead ends": the paper cut-outs in Prince Achmed, the use of extreme close-ups and sparse sets in The Passion of Joan of Arc, the skewed sets of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Of ongoing use were Renoir's deep focus and long tracking shots, Hitchcock's use of sound, Wellman's knack for fashioning an economical but expressive narrative, etc.

Again, just an excellent comment, thanks.

James Kabala said...

You might be surprised how largely the funding of modern art by the CIA looms in certain varieties of leftist mythology. My favorite is in the lousy late-1990s movie The Cradle Will Rock, in which the plot is hatched at a pre-WWII costume party by Nelson Rockefeller (dressed as an eighteenth-century fop) and William Randolph Hearst (dressed as a cardinal)!

Jeff said...

Very good work by Steve. I think this is one of your best articles ever.

It is ironic that a form of art that supposedly celebrates freedom of expression became itself a tyranny that trashed or marginalized other forms of art.The trashing of Norman Rockwell, for example, continues to this day in this comments thread.

Similarly the USA celebrates itself as the land of the free, but has actually become an oligarchic tyranny.

Anonymous said...

I think Anonymous' two posts extolling the artistic virtues of Jackson Pollock perfectly illustrate Tom Wolfe's point (as I understand it) that modern art is not about the art itself, which mostly is gibberish, but about the critical interpretation of such art. Without the clever-sounding explanations for the art (along with haughty put downs of representational, non-transgressive artists), all that's left is ugly, uninpressive crap.

Kylie said...

"Though some of Pollock's paintings look like bird droppings and, like so many artists, he eventually ended in self-parody, he created some striking patterns and expressions at his best."

Yes, and that's the most that can be said for his productions.

"This is colors and shapes as visual music."

No, only Rothko was able to create visual music.

Anonymous said...

"Wolfe thinks the pedestrian Rockwell was a genuine artist"

"So Rockwell was a fake artist?"

He was a pretty good craftsman at what he did: shmaltz.

Anonymous said...

"the pseudoleftism of social issues, as opposed to the true leftism of economic issues from the perspective of the majority, was born of the nonprofit foundations such as the ford foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation."

This is stupid. Already by the late 18th century, there were new thoughts and movements toward greater social freedom/progress. The connection/collaboration between avant garde politics and avant garde art far predated the Rockefeller Foundation or the CIA. What happened was RF and CIA appropriated what had been established already by historical forces.
Also, one cannot divorce social issues from economic issues. If true leftism is only economic, then Amish must be staunch leftists since they are more sharing and cooperative.
If Soviet Communism was unbearable, it was because it made everything serve the official economic ideology. Everything had to be 'workers, workers' and it got boring, especially for the workers.

Chicago said...

Very clever, creating various leftist appearing alternatives in order to channel people along pathways that would leave the same old moneybags safely in charge. Sometimes the diversions seem to come from the right, sometimes from the left, depending on the needs of the moment. One problem is that sometimes these creations get out of control and become downright cancerous in their own right.

James Burke said...

most leftist intellectuals and artists were bored to death by Stalinist cultural policy

True, but that's because they were more degenerate than even Stalin was willing to countenance. Hell, there was, or could be, some beauty in socialist realism, but none whatsoever in modern crap (sorry, "art").

Polistra said...

Most of this effort wasn't especially covert. I'm thinking of the Voice of America's long cultivation of avant-garde jazz, under connoisseur and announcer Willis Conover. This had considerable success, turning jazz into an officially forbidden underground expression and a uniting force for dissidents in Eastern Europe.

Anonymous said...

This is my kind of letter to the editor. Oil, jobs, immigration.
http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/26536972-47/eugene-state-july-sheriff-county.html.csp

KM said...

J, I think they're paying people like Bono and George Clooney. Bono openly campaigned for the "American brand". Both of them have spent a lot of time endorsing AFRICOM and the idea of a Marshall Plan for Africa.

John Jack Rousseau said...

even today, Europe still remains the heart and soul of Western Civilization

Well, if one takes "Western Civilization" to signify groundless assertion and unwarranted self-indulgence, this commenter certainly seems to prove the point.

Anonymous said...

"There is a whole budding realist movement in NYC now, the ateliers like Grand Central Academy..."

I just looked it up online. Thanks. I had no idea.

Michael Angelo said...

This was an excellent article and the comments are provocative, but Steve mentions one or two additional things that need underlining.

First,in the U.S. the intelligence services would up funding art because Congress was opposed to any other government funding of art. So the executive branch did an end run around Congress, and apparently around the President himself (Truman) by funding art out of the intelligence budget. If you read about the Cold War, and to some extent World War II, this occurs again and again. The legitimate parts of the U.S. government (Congress) are opposed to the sort of expansion of federal power needed to fight the Cold War, so a "Deep State" is constructed to do that. Then the Cold War ends and the Deep State is still with it.

In other countries the government does similar stuff in terms of using culture as a weapon (there is even a term for it, "soft power"), but there is a Culture Ministry that does it openly, with normal appropriates. So you have the spectacle of a totalarian country funding art openly, through its culture ministry, and the democratic forces countering with art funding through their secret police! I'm pretty sure socialism realism wasn't run out of the KGB.

The other point, which is hinted that, is that the "independent, starving artist making it big" is rare. There is almost always some patronage by a wealthy or powerful patron involve. The periods without people wealthy enough to pay for art become literal Dark Ages.

Anonymous said...

"if you allow them to teach drawing the human figure you'll set art back a hundred years "

Considering the levels of obesity in americuh and the figurines of venus, he is off by a few thousand.

steve burton said...

Anonymous at 12:01 a.m. seems strangely preoccupied with aesthetically irrelevant biographical issues. What difference does it make whether an artist leads a "romantic-tragic starving" sort of life or a comfortable middle-class existence? What does being "a genuine artist" have to do with being "a driven obsessive?" Who cares if Jackson Pollock "suffered from manic depression, falling into dark funks and then emerging with great bursts of creative energy?" And who cares about "the raging confusion, chaos, and freedom in his soul?"

I certainly don't. All I care about is what his stuff looks like. And it looks like crap (sometimes quite literally).

Years and years of plowing through reams and reams of art theory and art criticism in the course of getting my PhD (Philosophy, specializing in aesthetics) changed the way I saw a lot of visual artists, from Giotto to Hitchcock. But when it comes to Pollock and the other "abstract expressionists," it merely reinforced my initial impression: these guys were pretentious gits - every last one of them.

Anonymous said...

"This imperial style is on the way, in the form of the monstrous MLK statue, which also incorporates old-fashioned Socialist Realism (if artist's renderings are accurate)."

Apparently the Chinaman sculpting King has also sculpted Mao, and both the granite for the memorial and the workers assembling it are from China. And of course the King family wants royalties for use of MLK's words and visage in materials to raise money for the site.

Among the King Memorial's directors are two General Motors executives (recalling the ghosts of bailouts past) and Franklin Raines, the scoundrel from Fannie Mae.

The whole project strikes me as a parody of both itself, and of 21st Century American decline.

unrecon said...

Thanks for introducing me to this amusing and alarming painting. It is quite an experience on many levels.

My first thought was that it was modeled on the scene of the surrender in Tokyo Bay on board the Missouri.

See for comparison http://tinyurl.com/6boq7p6

steve burton said...

btw - here's a fairly typical example of "socialist realism" - Brodski's "Lenin in Smolny" (1930):

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Brodski_lenin.jpg

While I'm no great fan of socialist realism (to say nothing of Lenin!), if there were an out-of-control freight train careening down the tracks toward this painting, and I could avert its destruction only by throwing a switch diverting the train onto a track where it would instead plow through the complete works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning...

Well, let's just say I wouldn't have to think twice.

Anonymous said...

Wolfe was actually correct. His main point is that 'abstract art' and implicitly 'atonal music' was all about people who *think* and *write* about art and music, rather than actually listening or viewing it.

The weirder, more complex, more abstract, the more "interesting" it is, the more to write about.

But, most educated people like Beethoven and don't like atonal music. They like Monet, Rembrandt, Sargent and think "modern" art is a joke.

But they don't control art or music. It looks like the CIA does.
(Lol).

And Tom Wolfe never said Rockwell was a "great artist".

The first modern artists Picasso were the best - even though he was a commie.

Anonymous said...

Abstract is overwhelmingly jewish
representational is heavily wasp other gentile.

Why? Jews have high verbal intelligence, and low spatial intelligence, add to that the great bulk of great art is Christian - you can understand why they are such iconoclasts
it destroys a culture they are voraciously jealous off, and often can't understand- its like watching a sport you know you can't play so you change the rules so athletes suck and you win by scamming
Plus they can talk about art, which they find interesting vs. looking at it, which they do not.

BTW, the chinese academies are on a mission to surpass western art they come here and soak and and steal every technique they can (i say steal because they are never reciprocal and very ethnocentric)

But they will fail. I can usually tell if an oriental painted something (not always and other artists fall into the trap) - its usually has an unimaginative, mechanical quality to it, even when they are trying paint 'painterly' like Sargent or Sorolla. They utterly lack creativity (atten adolescent minded : please don't bring up magna as an example and compare it to Sargent and Velasquez, ok?)

Anonymous said...

there is a great doc about Frank Mason, the great Art Student's league teacher who preserved the old master techniques:
http://maestrofilms.net/
I never studied under him, but his students have always impressed me.
he also pointed out how modern conservators were destroying old paintings by 'cleaning' them.

Anonymous said...

"True, but that's because they were more degenerate than even Stalin was willing to countenance. Hell, there was, or could be, some beauty in socialist realism, but none whatsoever in modern crap (sorry, "art")."

'Degenerate' art could be fascinating because much of reality is weird, nightmarish, or frightening. I love beauty too, but beauty usually deals with surface features at their peak: flower in bloom, for example. But what about the wilting of the flower? What about fallen leaves rotting?
A good-looking woman at the age of 25 could be said to be in her peak. But what happens as she ages? What happens to her body after she dies and decays?
A wolf is a beautiful creature. But what does it do to its prey? The prey is essentially horrifically eaten alive. There is more to life and reality that beauty, pleasantness, and 'nobility'. And there are many fascinating creatures that look ugly. And look beneath the skin and the human organs, tissue, and blood are pretty gross. Those too are the stuff of reality. A modern artist is like a surgeon into the areas beyond/beneath surface beauty and 'noble themes'.

And in a way, the 'degenerate art' understood and exprssed the true natures of Stalin and Hitler better than official art ever did. Stalin and Hitler were 'degenerate' figures with serious complexes, pathologies, resentments, etc. In a way, Hitler's obessession with antisepticism and expressive clarity betrayed a self-loathing and vileness, an inability to face up to his own dark demons. He repressed them and put forth an idealized image of healthy and normal Germany as self-deceiving mask. But beneath that surface of stablity and health, he operated a police state and planned for war and mass murder.
And though Socialist Realism would have the world see the USSR as a worker's paradise, that too was a ruse, a surface myth. It was in fact Stalin's Inferno. MASTER AND MARGARITA may be considered 'degenerate', but it captured the nature of Stalinism better and more honestly than any prettified socialist realist art.
Similarly, many liberals love the mythic art of the 'Magic Noble Negro', but I prefer the 'ugly' depictions/expressions of racial-social truth that liberals demean as 'rabid', 'virulent', 'odious', 'bilious', 'noxious', 'extreme',
'divisive', 'offensive', 'hateful', and etc. Truth is often 'ugly', and it takes courage to face up to it. That Norman Rockwell painting of a sweet little black girl walking to school isn't necessarily false, but it offers up a comforting myth: pure black innocence and bad white evil, implying that if whites drop their bigotry, everything will be hunky dory. So, where have such beautiful and noble myths gotten us? Personally, I cannot do without such Politically Correct Realism. (Interestinly enough, the very Jewish liberals who demeaned 'conventionality' in fine art used it to the hilt in movies to spread their cute little pretty myths, as in movie like LILIES OF THE FIELD and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? And of course, Obama is a kind of Jewish liberal variation of cult-of-personality Nazi neo-classicism with the mulatto as the new Aryan.)

Modern art had the courage to delve and explore the weird, strange, and 'ugly' side of man.
Now, this isn't to knock socialist realism or neo-classicism per se. If a particular work is good, it's good. I love lots of stuff by Albert Speer and some socialist realist art is pleasant enough. But the fact is they, as political expressions, were vile lies that covered up darker truths of murderous regimes. A Che-T-shirt is pretty cool, but don't mistake image for the truth. As film noir showed time and again, a beautiful face can conceal a dark heart.

Anonymous said...

And Tom Wolfe never said Rockwell was a "great artist".
paul johnson has, and many others - for years the only things people saw were saturday evening posts repros- when you see the original, if you are a painter, you are in awe. *i paint, representational) . I don't know any painter who doesn't respect rockwell- I submit that modern art critics don't have the eyes we do - they are not trained to, they are trained to write about art, they are poor judges of artists.

Also, a couple of years ago - i wish i can find the article- two prominent modernists critic got into an argument- one said in so many words, we can't like him because of what he represents (WASP america) the other replied it's ok to like him now because we have completely destroyed rockwell's world and its no longer a threat.

Steve Sailer said...

Jackson Pollock, in his brief prime, did what he did about as well as it's possible to do it.

In fact, can anybody recall another drip painting of any renown? Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover might be the only other famous painting in this style, but of course here the emphasis is on the enigmatic figure of the viewer: What exactly is he thinking?

Steve Sailer said...

Dear Unrecon:

Yes, the Americans in Tanser's painting are modeled on the Americans on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. Here's a picture of the surrender ceremony with, I believe, MacArthur with his hands in his pockets:

http://old-photos.blogspot.com/2011/05/japanese-surrender.html

Anonymous said...

Socialist Realism should have been called 'socialist idealism' for much of it had little to do with realism--and precious little to do with reality.
Beware of all official form of 'realism'.
Realism as an artistic movement initially gained traction as a statement against prevailing artistic and social conventions. Traditionally, art favored themes of beauty, nobility, spirituality, sublimity, eternity, etc. Realism had the courage to look squarely at people and the world as they actually were: poor people, starving children, poverty, hardship, conditions in the factory, etc. It had the power and courage to offend aristocratic assumptions and bourgeois tastes. And it had been valuable to the left for this very reason. It countered the official myth with images of harsh reality. But once the leftists came to power, they turned realism into a form of idealism. Instead of showing the problems in Russia as they really existed, so-called Socialist Realism presented USSR according to the dictates of officialdom: worker's paradise. So, peasants were well-fed and full of smiles. Workers were proud, robust, and so happy.
This is why it should really be called Socialist Idealism or Socialist Fantasism. Though it superficially mimicked certain aspects of realism, the spirit of realism was absent. It wasn't art that held up images of real reality to counter the official myth but an instrument of official mythmaking employing the cliches and trimmings of 'realism'.

Similarly, we have racial realism vs racial idealism in America. Racial realists have the guts to show racial reality as it really is whereas Racial Idealist 'art' and entertainment give us fairytale 'realities' like PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, FORREST GUMP, OPRAH, OBAMA, GREEN MILE, BLIND SIDE, GRAND CANYON, etc. Sure, it might make people feel good, but it's bogus, a sickening and syrupy form of neo-Rockwellianism.
In contrast, the depiction of racial reality and psychological depth in HOMICIDE--'degenerate' though it may be--was powerful and truthful. Disturbing and 'ugly', yes, but it had something to say about reality.

Anonymous said...

Paul Johnson's book on art is pretty useful up to the 19th century. But forget it when it comes to modern art. He's too stuffy and culturally correct to appreciate anything that upsets his sense of taste. He's a backward-looker, not a forward-looker. On the other hand, art criticism has long been dead, especially Warhol asshole messed up everything.

Arnold said...

Steve Sailer asks: "can anybody recall another drip painting of any renown?"

Yes. The acquisition of Pollock's BLUE POLES, at the insistence of former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during 1973, and at the taxpayer's expense, created something of a scandal in that country (which didn't, then, have the equivalents of P*SS CHRIST to worry about):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Poles

Anonymous said...

Let me try this again.
For some reason, the entire link doesn't get posted.
http://wavedancing.net/mastercalligraphy/gushisitie/gushi2.jpg

Anonymous said...

"Abstract is overwhelmingly jewish
representational is heavily wasp other gentile.
Why? Jews have high verbal intelligence, and low spatial intelligence, add to that the great bulk of great art is Christian - you can understand why they are such iconoclasts
it destroys a culture they are voraciously jealous off, and often can't understand- its like watching a sport you know you can't play so you change the rules so athletes suck and you win by scamming
Plus they can talk about art, which they find interesting vs. looking at it, which they do not."

Oh my god, not this again. Another fool who's been reading Occidental Observer.
Most of the great abstract artists were not Jewish.

And what is this crap about Jews having poor grasp of spatial intelligence. Is that why Einstein was able to mentally visualize the relations between space and time in his mind? Is that way Jewish chessplayers are able to figure out all sorts of possible moves beforehand? Is that why the kid in my highschool who got the highest score on the spatial intelligence test was a Jew(who attended Annapolis Naval Academy and got a plush job at Oracle). Is that why Jews are so good at many kinds of math which deal with shapes and patterns?
And having poor grasp of spatiality must be why Jews like Fritz Lang, Eisenstein, Sternberg, Kubrick, Preminger, Spielberg, and many others came to dominate the cinematic artform. They sure didn't know what they were doing.

Ray Sawhill said...

Fab Steve posting, many fun and smart comments.

A couple of additions?

* If you’re interested in Pollock (and he is an interesting case, whether or not you like his art), try the Ed Harris movie “Pollock.” It’s a little flat as a movie but it’s very informative, more than reasonably true to the facts, shrewd about the art world and about critics ...

* Pollock was not a hugely gifted natural talent. His efforts at traditional drawing and painting are pretty ham-fisted and mediocre -- they aren’t that different than my own, in fact. (I like taking art classes every few years, talent be damned.) Every intro-to-life-drawing class has a student in it more innately talented than Pollock was. But he was a little like Van Gogh: what he lacked in facility he made up for with determination.

* For what it’s worth: I think Pollock -- a not-very-bright-or-sophisticated guy (a whitebread rube, in fact) with some talent and drive -- would have been a lot happier as a designer than he was as a fine artist. As a fine artist, he was gotten hold of by the pretentious set, pushed hard, encouraged to think of himself as a genius on the cutting edge of culture and consciousness ... And it drove him to drink and an early death. As a designer, no one would have taken him terribly seriously, and he might have lived a long and semi-content (if miffed that no one was making a big case about him) kinda life. Today, for instance, he might been one of those kids who designs cool t-shirts or skateboard decorations. I don’t put t-shirts or skateboard design down, by the way. Some of it beats what’s being done under the rubric of “fine art” these days.

* The Anonymous who writes about the current revival of classical visual art and who mentions the New York Academy and the Grand Central Academy is completely right. The revival of traditional realism has been one of the most remarkable developments in the fine-visual-arts world in the last few decades, IMHO. Of course the usual arts-coverage outlets either don’t talk about it or demonize it. So the problem isn’t that it isn’t happening, it’s that you aren’t being told about it.

Same thing in architecture. One of the most remarkable developments in that field has been the revival of classicism. It’s been a very big deal, and a pretty successful one too. You just aren’t being told about it by the architecture press.

(One of my goals at 2Blowhards was to let people know about these movements, btw.)

* For a really great New Classical painter-talent, check out Jacob Collins. He’s a huge figure in the field.

http://www.jacobcollinspaintings.com/

Ray Sawhill said...

(cont.)

* For a couple of great New Classical architecture talents, check out Dmitri Porphyrios (who did a brand-new Collegiate Gothic quad at Princeton a few years ago), and Leon Krier, who isn’t just a fab builder but a great and witty theorist.

Porphyrios at Princeton:

http://massengale.typepad.com/photos/princeton_whitman_college/index.html

(Incidentally, I visited Princeton recently, checked out Whitman, and talked to some students about Whitman Hall -- funded by eBay’s Meg Whitman, btw. They told me it’s the most popular place on campus to live. Looks trad -- looks like Princeton -- plus it has air conditioning and good WiFi. Can’t beat that combo. Was it Auden who said that his idea of a great building was a 19th century house with 20th century plumbing and electricity?)

Leon Krier:

http://zakuski.utsa.edu/krier/BUILDINGS/krierbuildings.html

* And not enough people know about Frederick Turner. Turner’s a major poet who uses traditional forms - I’d call him a “great” poet, only I hate the way people get all hung up about “greatness.” And he’s a major thinker about the arts too. Imagine Tom Wolfe, but informed by real, from-the-inside-out art-creation knowledge. He’s also up to date with evo-bio, neurobiology, and genomics in a way you’ll rarely run into with an arts person. His books “The Culture of Hope” and “Natural Classicism” connect classical patterns and ratios with chaos theory and evolutionary biology. Forms and patterns become classical BECAUSE they suit our organisms and because that’s the way, neurobiologically, we process information and experience.

http://frederickturnerpoet.com/

Whiskey said...

Where does that leave the factory that is Damien Hirsh? Sharks in formaldehyde?

Meanwhile much of the "art" being done is animated, comic books, etc.

There's a whole class of "commercial art for people" bypassing the old patron-artist model. The stuff done by Alex Ross deliberately is in the style of say, Thomas Eakins. Only Ross does work for DC and Marvel.

Ted Plank said...

The notion that Miles called out Ornette Coleman as a phony (he also said virtuoso avant bopper Eric Dolphy "plays like someone is stepping on his foot" in an interview in Downbeat the month Dolphy died) is pretty ridiculous, considering he went on the create Jazz / Fusion with "In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew". His double album sets recorded before he checked out for a 5 year coke binge "Dark Magus", "Pangaea" and "Agharta" are as noisy and squalling (and EXCELLENT) as any of Ornette Coleman's work.

Should Jazz have stood still? Were Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Bud Powell and Mingus "phony" too? I have an ear for a lot of the more adventurous 60's Jazz - Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Marion Brown, Roland Kirk. Much of it is good music!

The notion that Warhol was some sort of grand fraud also doesn't stand up. Initially a commercial illustrator, Warhol drew LP covers for the Blue Note label for the likes of Kenny Burrell, JJ Johnson - Kai Winding and Johnny Griffin. These covers stand up as well as any of his competitors for classic album art, a visual medium that people pay good money for nowadays as $50 coffee table books. As does his commercial art.

That the 60's art scene was so vulnerable to being turned inside out by a semi-subversive like Warhol isn't Warhol's fault. He also went on to be a big influence on avant garde film, a media sensation with Interview magazine, a social troublemaker via his speed freak / homosexual / debutante Factory crowd and his dabbling in Rock And Roll via his management stint with The Velvet Underground (where their Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances down in the Lower East Side introduced the modern light show) could fairly be said to have laid out the sonic and visual blueprint for punk rock.

His autobiography "POP-ism" is one of the great books of the 60's. The man had a perfect finger on the pulse of his time, and manipulated it beautifully.

It IS possible to appreciate Jackson Pollock, Norman Rockwell AND Andy Warhol! I am one who can square that circle. Things progress, sometimes forward, sometimes backward. The idea that things should stand still in a beautiful place (which is usually false, like 50's "Leave It To Beaver" America, or 70's "Brady Bunch" America"), is ridiculous, and it hurts much of the Right's performance among moderates that the loudest voices that penetrate the din are such Luddites. That both Hitler and Stalin would embrace neo-Classicism is no surprise.

That being said, who can walk past one of Mao's wildly colorful propaganda posters and not stop and stare? People will be marveling at those anonymously painted image for a thousand years.

This is an excellent thread, I've learned a lot reading it, and wanted to throw in my 2 cents. Thanks, Steve!

Anonymous said...

@sawhill, yes, Collins founded GCA w/ artists, like Kate Lehman, Dan Thompson and a few others whom i forget - Thompson, Lehman and Mike Grimaldi have a great atleier up in harlem called janus collaborative- I think their students are turning out more interesting things than GCA's which is not to say GCA students aren't.
deliberately is in the style of say, Thomas Eakins. Only Ross does work for DC and Marvel.
sigh.... so sad.....

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that the previous thread [about the Dunhams, Geithners, and Obamas themselves being real-world Deep-State operatives] struggled to generate any conversation, yet this thread [about abstractions of abstractions of the Deep-State] is overwhelmed with gibberish.

If you think about the implications, then the hypothesis of that previous thread is pretty-damned scary...

Anonymous said...

@Ted Plank said...
Did you ever see how warhol decorated his home.

Realism is not standing still, modernism was a degeneration - even rejection of skill - its like saying a writer is ignorant for rejecting an illiteracy movement.

Realism representational art - or whatever you want to call it, is not about standing still- we need the strength we derive from beauty more than ever.

Rockwell did not create a 'brady bunch' world any more than Vermeer or Rembrandt did.


to the anon who worries about people talking about art vs deep state - I agree somewhat, but also realize cultural marxist KNEW if they siezed pop culture, if they seized art, beauty if they made "western civilization stink' to use the frankfort school phrase, that they could bring down the west - and they are succeeding.

many people are too demoralized to defend the west - that is the goal of the dehumanizing, depressing 'abstract art'

Anonymous said...

Of course the usual arts-coverage outlets either don’t talk about it or demonize it. So the problem isn’t that it isn’t happening, it’s that you aren’t being told about it.

As with the 'youth' attack stories.. the post 1960s new order don't want to acknowledge their new society, new ideas, new art, new architecture, new science, etc, is a colossal failure, so they go on ignoring..

Anonymous said...

Regarding the marxist/mao inspired MLK statue, well isn't it kind of fitting for the 'new' america the lefties created?

Anonymous said...

For a great socialist realist sculpture google cobblestone as a weapon of the proletariat.

the anon who worries about people talking about art vs deep state said...

to the anon who worries about people talking about art vs deep state - I agree somewhat, but also realize cultural marxist KNEW if they siezed pop culture, if they seized art, beauty if they made "western civilization stink' to use the frankfort school phrase, that they could bring down the west - and they are succeeding.

So is your position that the Frankfurt School out-witted* the CIA?

Or is your position that the Frankfurt School is the CIA?



*Turning the tables on them and beating them at their own game [maybe even corrupting the very blowback itself]?

Anonymous said...

This is the best comment thread ever. Well, maybe the best Steve Sailer comment thread on painting.

BTW, I agree that, for many people anyway, it's easy to see the difference between good abstract expressionism and bad, and the good is in fact good. The comparison to Chinese calligraphy is very apt. Of course, in the case of Chinese (and Japanese) calligraphy, an illiterate Westerner can only see a fraction of what is there. In the case of AbEx, we may be seeing everything.

Also, despite the genuine merits of some AbEx, it's easy to argue that it was (1) conducive to an offensive aesthetic elitism and (2) a blind alley.

(Maybe not. Would God it had been a blind alley. Instead it led, as another commenter has described, to Whore-Hell and the rest.)

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

Turning the tables on them and beating them at their own game [maybe even corrupting the very blowback itself]?

Maybe its all about looking into the abyss and the abyss looking back into you.

Anonymous said...

I feel vindicated by Miles Davis calling Ornette Coleman as a con. Sorry, Ted, but jazz is a good example of something that should have 'stopped progressing' at a certain point.
I wish I could get those wasted hours hours back. I wouldn't spend any of them listening to jazz either.
Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

There is a major problem with the Triumph painting, I can't believe I'm the only one to spot it!

The M3 half-track in the background, it appears to be carrying the top turret (twin .30 cal) from a B-17 bomber.

Tsk, tsk, so much for realism!

NOTA said...

Perhaps one lesson from the story Steve tells here is how someone with a little money and organization can have a huge impact on the world of ideas. That world doesn't normally have a lot of money available, and there's a surplus of smart, talented, capable people who can't really make a living in it. And so providing long-term funding for a particular school of thought or style of theater or ideological/philosophical movement can really push the world of ideas in some desired direction.

Now, I very much doubt the CIA's ability to forsee the impact of what they were backing. But they certainly could have a big impact with a small investment in money, time, and organizational skills.

And that makes me wonder where else this same idea applies. A little quiet help to get talented writers with desirable ideologies published, a finger on the scales to get some research grants funded and some denied, funding a few small-circulation journals or magazines to give some nascent movement a focus--all could plausibly have an effect on the world of ideas. At a larger scale, think tanks have a huge impact on the world of ideas, since they provide many of the researchers and analysts who think about various policy questions their jobs, and the ideological bounds outside which they can't stray without losing their jobs.

NOTA said...

One other example comes to mind: the pentagon military advisor scandal. The pentagon made sure that retired generals with ongoing business with it were recommended to networks as "military affairs consultants" or some such thing, and then the pentagon had meetings with those guys to keep them on-message. The need of the networks for authoritative sounding talking heads made them easy to play in this way.

Anonymous said...

"That the 60's art scene was so vulnerable to being turned inside out by a semi-subversive like Warhol isn't Warhol's fault."

True, he was a partner-and a key one--in the crime.

"He also went on to be a big influence on avant garde film,"

Unfortunately. And does it matter? Most film people pay scant attention to the so-called genre 'avant garde' film because 99% of it is unwatchable. Only extreme film geeks still sit through a 10 hr WArhol film about someone sleeping or an unmoving shot of the Empire State building. It's a conceit, not concept. It's bogus, the only point being, "I did it first and it's not worth doing it again."

"a media sensation with Interview magazine, a social troublemaker via his speed freak / homosexual / debutante Factory crowd and his dabbling in Rock And Roll via his management stint with The Velvet Underground (where their Exploding Plastic Inevitable performances down in the Lower East Side introduced the modern light show) could fairly be said to have laid out the sonic and visual blueprint for punk rock."

Like I said, he went for hype and fashion. He hung around groovy people and was a 'personality' to hang around with. It was all about bohemian celebrityism sold to the mainstream. Rich people and shallow people loved it cuz they didn't have to think about art anymore. They had to be at the right place and know the right people and mutter the same cliches.

Anonymous said...

"The notion that Miles called out Ornette Coleman as a phony (he also said virtuoso avant bopper Eric Dolphy "plays like someone is stepping on his foot" in an interview in Downbeat the month Dolphy died) is pretty ridiculous, considering he went on the create Jazz / Fusion with "In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew". His double album sets recorded before he checked out for a 5 year coke binge "Dark Magus", "Pangaea" and "Agharta" are as noisy and squalling (and EXCELLENT) as any of Ornette Coleman's work."

Fusion is constipated crap. Coleman sounded like jazz played backward. It was like a balloon being sucked inward and reverse-blown the other way.

Ted Plank said...

The main reason Miles called Ornette out as a con, was that Ornette had switched from his native alto sax to Miles own instrument the trumpet, along with violin, both of which he admittedly sounded fairly awful on (he also put his ten year old son Denardo on drums, also with weak results). But as far as Ornette's aesthetic contribution to Jazz, Miles himself would be the follower a few short years later.

Like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker earlier, and The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Nirvana in Rock, Ornette was a pivotal figure in Jazz. The Nirvana and Ornette connection is even more apt, in that both are probably the last watershed personalities in their respective genres, before the genres ran out of frontier to expand within.

Driving a taxi in Los Angeles sucks. I did for a couple months. The only way to make a steady living on the off days away from the airport was to drive down in South Central - Crenshaw, the 110 corridor, Watts. I kept a paramilitary style haircut, acted as coplike as I could, and only had one fare run out on me, a couple young gangy looking guys riding from 103rd and Main over to Inglewood.

But nights were frightening, lots of young gangbangers, who you could never tell what they'd do (veteran gangbangers were always polite and usually happy to regal you with stories, most of them rather sobering). The one background noise that seemed to nullify and mystify them was early 70's loud, distorted Miles, mid 60's Coltrane with Pharoah Sanders along as Sancho Panza and Sun Ra mid 60's recordings from the ESP label. Obviously kindred African music, but wild and threatening, too, and not the godforsaken, predictable drum machine, sampling Hip-Hop. It used to glaze their eyes right over, quiet them down, and they'd get to where they were going and pay their fare.

Avant Jazz, in a situation where it came in handy! I stopped driving a taxi after 2 months (I was starting to feel like a B-17 crew on a Berlin raid every night I set out) and started taking advantage of the SoCal building boom as a carpenter / plumber / electrician.

Regarding Warhol, it's a chicken or the egg situation. Did Warhol create the vacuous emptiness that, to some, he's come to embody, or did he take note of the vacuous emptiness inside The American Dream and ride it all the way from obscurity into Superstardom? I say the latter. To read his autobiography and the accounts of those who knew him best, he's a hard guy to dislike.

Thomas Hart Benton (the painter) was cool and everything, as was Norman Rockwell, but how long can you keep repeating that sort of thing? Pollock, Stella, de Kooning, et al. were a worthy compliment to post 1945 thinking, CIA or no.

I apologize if this comment is too much of a tangent to the thread. This truly IS one of the better Steve threads! Steve has touched on the Obama / CIA / Deep State theory on previous postings, which takes some of the zing out of it.

Truly one of the best conglomerations of weirdos in America.

Anonymous said...

"This truly IS one of the better Steve threads! Steve has touched on the Obama / CIA / Deep State theory on previous postings, which takes some of the zing out of it."

I prefer the deep state posts without any reference to the art world. This kinda dead ends. I went looking for some juicy conspiracy novels but could only find authors who also believe there's some super race of human-alien hybrids running things. I figured that this was indeed propaganda spun by the military or the FBI or the CIA so that the rest of the guys conspiracy theories simply presented the narrative that THEY want you to believe.

Although I have to admit all the people I knew in college who were studying art were real weird and tending toward the kinky if you let them ramble on a bit. Drama majors, pretty much the same.

Anonymous said...

"Like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker earlier, and The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Nirvana in Rock, Ornette was a pivotal figure in Jazz."

Why don't you give it up?
Sex Pistols sucked and Nirvana was awful. Yes, maybe they were pivotal figures but FOR THE WORSE!! I don't care for mentally retarded music. Music can be wild and crazy like fire, but no matter how high or powerful the flames, the artist needs to know how to handle it. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Doors, and Hendrix often played 'crazy' but they grasped the art of fire. Hendrix could drop napalm like a B-52. Zeppelin could unleash the dragon. Doors could set a bonfire to the gods.
In contrast, Sex Pistols were just stupid kids with firecrackers making a lot of silly noise and NIrvana was just some idiot dousing gasoline and scorching himself on fire like a moron, and going AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

I call that bullshit. It's pathetic that you're so slavish to the critical consensus that took control of the culture and then began to dictate to artists what 'art' or 'music' should be. This always happens and generally has a dire effect on art and creativity. Rock music developed into a kind of artform WITHOUT rock critics, but once rock critics gained control of rock culture, they began to define what is correct and what is not. In the 70s, punk was correct, and it was obligatory to like that shit. (Okay, maybe 5% of it was good, but most of it sucked and was a musical deadend. And If Clash was a great band, it was because they broke out of the punk mold and borrowed ideas from other genres, especially reggae.) As for Nirvana, it's a mantra among rock fans that Kobain was some kind of prophet. His songs were dumb and retarded. Just a lot of Ehhhhehhehehhhhh!!!!!! It was pathetic, pitiful, and boring. Just some moronic punkass grunger who did too much drugs, lost his mind, and mistook his retardation for genius. But boy, he fooled alot of people.

As for Coleman, he sounded flat, desperate, stiff, and dull. And he couldn't play worth shit.

Ted Plank said...

Nahh, you're wrong, anonymous. You're probably a big Rush fan, with maybe a little Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and some Mannheim Steamroller to ride out the bong hits. It all comes back to liking Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollack at the same time. I heart Zeppelin, Hendrix and The Doors, but also revere The Pistols, The Clash, Ramones, Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Flipper from the late 70's / early 80's, and Nirvana and Mudhoney were the cream of the grunge crop, good composers with charisma. How anyone with an appreciation for The Beatles could listen to "Never Mind" and not hear real pop hooks and marvel at Cobain's ragged Blind WIllie Johnson like voice is beyond me. You're probably (gulp!) a U2 fan!

"What the critics think" doesn't even enter into it, had you been at a Black Flag show in '81 or '82 you would 'get it', it was a real cultural moment that some understand and others don't, but those who DO won't forget as long as they live. There was nothing phony or stupid about it. I didn't see Coltrane in 1965 after he'd said goodbye to his original quartet, or hang around The Factory in 1967 when The Velvets were rehearsing with Brian Jones, Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg hanging around, while Paul Morrissey was setting up the next movie, but I can imagine it was similar. You probably think Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recording with crude, 3 piece bands at Sun Studios is too primitive for your refined taste.

There's no explaining to people like you, so I'm not going to go past these few paragraphs, but - you seem like a rigid, inflexible human being dug into a mental Maginot Line.

Grumpy, stiff Cro-Magnons like you are WHY punk had to happen!

I'm going to go listen to Ornette's "This Is Our Music" and savor every second.

Anonymous said...

"Nahh, you're wrong, anonymous. You're probably a big Rush fan, with maybe a little Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and some Mannheim Steamroller to ride out the bong hits."

I never listened to that stuff, you fool. What's really pathetic is you claim to be so cutting edge but your preferences are so much in line with the critical consensus. I mean what 'serious rock fan' these days doesn't think Nirvana was soooooooooooo great? I hear this all the time. Oh yes, IT SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT was as momentous as LED ZEPPELIN IV or ARE YOU EXPERIENCED. Gimme a freaking break. It smells like smarmy bullshit.

And notice the bands you say that I probably like. It actually reveals quite a lot about you. It shows how arts & culture is really a game of us-and-them in your silly little mind. It's like "I like Coleman and Nirvana, so that makes me better than the boobs who go for schlock rock." That is one mode of yer mentality. The boho radical mode.
But being so vain, that isn't enough for you. You also go for, "Oh gee, I'm so well-rounded cuz I like Rockwell AND Warhol."
You see, you're not just a rad-cad but also a something-for-everyoner. People are supposed to think you know better than us cuz you go for Rockwellian schmaltz and Nirvanian gunk?

Anonymous said...

"You probably think Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recording with crude, 3 piece bands at Sun Studios is too primitive for your refined taste."

You are grasping at straws. You can't refute what I said so you gotta attack me by all those 'you probably' propositions. Though I'm not a greatest fan of early Elvis or Johnny Cash--who has been vastly overrated--, I can still say they made music. And there was a sincerity in what they did. It was primitive but genuine primitivism. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem with punk was it wasn't really natural or spontaneous. It was actually a (pseudo)intellectual school of music. It turned rock into a dogma where only a certain expression was correct and 'true'--and if you didn't belong to the culture, you were said to be 'phony'.
The great thing about early rock n rollers was they didn't limit themselves like that. They naturally wanted to express the entire spectrum of human emotions: sexuality, sadness, romance, remorse, rage, respect, etc. After all, we don't always have the same emotions all the time. But punk, for ideological-intellectual-and-aesthetic reasons(all bad), posited that a true rocker was only in ugly-face-grimace and retardation mode. They moved like palsies and sang like retards; listening to their stuff is like having flies buzz around you. You feel, 'where is the insect spray'. To be sure, it was kinda fun as a novelty act. I like side A of the first Ramones album. I can maybe take Anarchy in the UK. The first Clash album is an all-time great. But how much 'uhhhh duhhhhh me moron me hate you me nerdy insane' crap can anyone take?
Early rock n roll may have been primitive, but there was a honesty about it. And Presley and Cash wanted to sing hard at times and soft at times. They were full-rounded performers not ghetto-ized emotional dorks that punkers were. Comparing Cash with punk is like comparing great bluesmen with whiny rappers.

Anonymous said...

"The Pistols, The Clash, Ramones, Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Flipper"

Butthole surfers indeed.
What kind of a moron thinks this is music?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNAkbbKycCM

My rule for creativity is pretty simple. If I feel, "I can do it", it can't be all that good. When I listen to "Dont' Worry Baby" or "Ticket to Ride" or "Purple Haze", I feel I couldn't write such a song if a lived a thousand yrs. When I listen to Bunghole Stuffers, I feel, 'it's like listening to the alarm clock in the morning or a smoke alarm, or a baby crying'. Anyone can do it.

And now Black Flag, prolly named after the insect spray.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GE4xI3xYF0

Any moron can make sounds like this--from his mouth or from the other end.
Forget rhythm, forget harmony, forget melody. Just the same monotonous beat, buzz-saw guitar work, and drunken-wasted growling.

Anonymous said...

Punk music demanded creative conformity. So much for freedom and rebelion.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me how the Frankfurt School cultural Marxists apparently got their big break from the US government when they were brought in to culturally reconstruct Germany, post WW2.

CIA support for the Left and many of the most invidious currents in Western culture seems to be a recurrent theme.


I think that fact is worth repeating and points to a bigger elephant in the living room of the West: the iconoclastic and hostile force Americanism has been during the Cold War years and after. Anyone on the American side of the Iron Curtain found themselves subject to the same sort of political and cultural "gardening" the oh-so-righteous Yankees used on the South during Reconstruction or on classrooms full of the children cheap immigrant labourers. The CIA, State Department, Carnegie Foundation and others worked to weed out unfriendly or unhelpful politicians and commentators and promoted the ones who played along. Gaullists, little Englanders and anyone who lacked enthusiasm for pax Americana found their career stalled at best. It's no coincidence Britain, France and Italy are all run by greasy little salesmen who don't know much but they know America is top dog.

Charlie said...

Was there anything evil the CIA didn't have its hand in? Maybe somebody got mugged a few years back and it somehow, miraculously wasn't their fault....

Even though they didn't invent the genre, abstract expressionism is a perfect form of art-as-destruction-of-art. It's an inherently ridiculous idea, which could have no purpose but to push people's buttons - you take a very specific set of tools, developed solely for the purpose of representational art, and use it for a very violent, animalistic kind of abstract (i.e. decorative) art.

That's the real problem with Pollock et al., and why nobody enjoys them except through the power of suggestion. Abstract art is, always has been and always will be very popular - but oil on canvas is the most dumbassed way of doing it that I can imagine. If you've ever done oil painting, I think you will viscerally appreciate the fact that stretched canvas, primer and oil-soaked powders of toxic metal are a naturally ugly, ugly combination of materials. It takes a huge amount of work just to make them not-ugly, and even then there are severe limits to what you can do with them. Oil painting, I mean the real oil painting of Vermeer or Velazquez, is a trick. You take colored mud, spend a decade or two learning how to layer it on just right, very slowly, and you get something that looks incredibly real - almost more real than reality - as long as you keep a few meters distance. And yet, you have to make it so it doesn't look like total crap from close up - that's called "brushwork".

Whether this brilliant, but unimaginably boring set of techniques really deserved to survive the advent of photography, I'm not sure - it basically didn't, apart from a last gasp with Dali. But it could have been given a decent burial; instead we have fools taking the elements of the dead craft and pretending to find a use for them - as if somebody should eat dinner with a surgeon's scalpels.

David Davenport said...

And that makes me wonder where else this same idea applies. A little quiet help to get talented writers with desirable ideologies published, a finger on the scales to get some research grants funded and some denied, funding a few small-circulation journals or magazines to give some nascent movement a focus--all could plausibly have an effect on the world of ideas.

iSteve needs a secret CIA subsidy!

Ted Plank said...

My first rock show was The Who in 1979. I started listening to The Clash and Sex Pistols because Pete Townsend recommended them in interviews, he was a huge fan. No rock critics whispered over my shoulder.

I started seeing Punk shows in 1981, enjoying the real energy of bands like The Dead Kennedys (sang on key, East Bay Ray was an excellent surf guitar player), X (also sang on key, with weird vocal harmonies between John Doe & Exene, guitarist Billy Zoom was a Rockabilly virtuoso who'd played behind Gene Vincent), The Ramones (sang on key, paying massive tribute to old Doo Wop music), Black Flag (sang on key, guitarist Greg Ginn played in and out of key whenever he felt the urge, paying homage to Jazz horn blasters you can't stand like Albert Ayler and John Gilmore, also a huge Grateful Dead and Black Sabbath fan) and yes, The Butthole Surfers.

I kissed arena rock goodbye after getting in the front row of the Stones '81 tour, standing in the same spot for 9 hours amid piss, shit, vomit and girls passing out amidst the crush of the crowd so I could see dull, middle aged English men churn out the music I loved in a tired, pedestrian fashion. It was obvious after this wretched experience that Punk was the superior folk music of the day for suburban kids like me.

The Butthole Surfers album "Independent Worm Saloon" was produced by none other than John Paul Jones, bassist and keyboard player for Led Zeppelin, who by all accounts enjoyed the experience. When asked for his favorite living guitar player, Jones dissed his old bandmate Jimmy Page and unhesitatingly said Paul Leary, the supremely talented axeman for The Butthole Surfers.

That you fail to see the continuity between the simple music played by simple people from Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and The Memphis Jug Band up to frustrated suburban teenagers like Nirvana and The Ramones marks you as a hopeless square, and an elitist snob. Millions of Americans are frustrated suburbanites, how would you recommend they artistically express themselves? Are they just supposed to shut up, pay their taxes and be replaced by the incoming Mestizo hoard?

Even cultural artistes that probably pass your test like Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin, Wolfgang Mozart, Bela Bartok and Dmitri Shostakovich stepped out of their ivory towers to collect folk music from average people to incorporate into their masterpieces.

Hendrix lived downstairs from Free Jazz wild man Roland Kirk in his early pre-fame London days. He learned a lot from him, late Coltrane, Coleman and Ayler. Google it. The interconnectivity of Western cultural expression seems to elude, and frustrate, you.

For what it's worth, I can't stand Rap, Hip-Hop, Trance, Techno, etc. That black culture gave up genius real drummers like Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Al Jackson Jr. and Ziggy Modeliste for the idiotic tyranny of the drum machine and sampler is one of American music's great tragedies.

There was plenty of successful cynical / subversive / anti-capitalist film in postwar Europe and even the US. Godard, Bunuel, the Italian neo-Realists de Sicca, Rossellini, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Kubrick, Fassbinder, Pasolini, Antonioni, etc.

If the CIA / US State Department was so omnipotent, shouldn't these cinematic voices been nipped in the bud? As it was, these directors created huge careers for themselves.

Anonymous said...

How might Rockwell's art be categorized or defined? It has some features of realism, regionalism, folkism, propagandism, populism, moralism, etc. I suppose for some people today, it has an element of nostalgism--maybe even for people back then since Rockwell was a shameless and even willful old-fashioned-ist.

But maybe 'familiarism' is closet to the mark. Or maybe 'comfortism'. All of his works, even on less happy subjects, make us feel familiar and 'at home', thematically and morally if not socially: hometown, home of the mind, home of the spirit, home of values, home-grown, home-run, etc. His works are homilies to homeliness. Maybe it should be called 'homilism'. Consider the painting of the black girl going to school. The message isn't 'black revolution' but black Americans seeking their home in America. Consider the painting of the old lady and young boy(from maybe a small town)praying while city slickers look on, irritated but kinda moved. The lady and kid are away from home but 'at home' spiritually. And there's the painting of soldier coming home and the one with the big turkey.

Maybe the appeal of Rockwell's paintings for Americans was they reminded them of 'home' when America was rapidly changing from rural to urban society. Since so many were uprooted from their real homes, they clung to a 'home' of the mind, and Rockwell milked it for all it was worth. It's like the mini-musical play in GODFATHER II where the singer receivs a telegram and finds out his mother is dead and sings about 'mamamia'. Though the milieu of much of Rockwell's paintings was Anglo, it's possible that many immigrants related to them in the same way since they too left their homes to find a new life in America. So, Rockwellism is less about home as an actuality than home as an idea/ideal. But the idea of home gains greater appeal precisely and paradoxically because it's lost and fading. It's like Jews didn't wanna go back to Fiddlerontheroofstan but for many immigrant Jews there were fond memories to, a romantic fixation on the old world.

At any rate, Rockwell poured too much honey on the stuff. Every painting has a message and EVERYTHING in the painting functions to support that message. Spielberg ruined some of his nice movies with Rockwellism, as when Tom Hanks in SPR looks up at the sky and calls planes 'angels' or when the old man asks 'have i been a good man' to John William's gooey music. Gimme a break. Never a fan of too-much-ness. Forrest Gump can go take a dump. And I never wanna watch crap like COLOR PURPLE and GREEN MILE. And I nearly threw up watching A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT.

Anonymous said...

There is a fascinated way and a facile way to approaching beauty and 'ugliness'.
Beauty approached in a fascinated way produces the works of Botticelli and Monet(or Hitchcock's VERTIGO). Beauty approached facilely produces stuff like postcard pretty-ism and, at the low end, porn.

Same thing with ugliness. When approached with thought, curiosity, depth, and imagination(as in Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS or Cronenberg's eXistenZ), 'ugliness'--physical, psychological, social, etc--can be powerful and strange. Musical equivalents would be 'Whole Lotta Love' and Hendrix's weird version of 'All Along the Watchtower'.
But ugliness approached facilely leads to stuff like FAMILY GUY, gory horror, punk, black metal, etc. There is no real fascination with or exploration of 'ugliness' but a mindless wallowing in 'outrageous' excess by morons who need some kind of kick cuz they're bored with their insipid lives. This is why 99% of horror is just awful. It is facile ugly gore porn.

Take punk. It wasn't even honest primitivism of people who were genuinely and happily primitive but faux-primitivism of people who were actually the products of art schools. And the Danish film movement DOGMA 93(or was it called DOGMA 95) sucked for the same reason. It was all a put-on by people who knew better.

Anonymous said...

Rockwell's works remind me of what Henry Fonda said of the fat character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. "How can I trust a man who wears both suspenders and a belt? He doesn't even trust this own pants."
It's like Rockwell's paintings are like AMERICANA FOR DUMMIES. He didn't trust Americans to 'get' his painting unless he packed every inch of the frame with all manner of cliches. In cinematic terms, it's like Hollywood overkill: golden sunlight, smiley faces, heartfelt tears, syrupy music, hammy words. The policy of LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE or BEAT THE AUDIENCE OVER THE HEAD BECAUSE IT WON'T GET IT OTHERWISE.

You can find it not only in stuff like FORREST GUMP but also in so-called serious movies like ON GOLDEN POND and REDS where Beatty played a teddy bear radical. The scene where he dies--his voice growing weary, darklit room, goblet falling and rolling on the floor, CU of tears on Diane Keaton's face--is pure Rockwellism. It makes you groan.

And tautologial use of music is one of the most annoying things about Hollywood movies, old and new. So, a sad scene is poured on thick with syrupy strings. A 1000 trumpets must blare whenever cowboys are riding wild and free.

And even 'subtlety' is handled in a heavy-handed cliched manner in the so-called American art movies. Every autumn 'indie film'--really funded by Hollywood--will give us still images of barren trees and mist.. and then haunting piano chords, as if to say, "you see, we are very very SUBTLE and avoid popcorn movie cliches." And then you have the overly arty cinematography(in movies like REVOLUTIONARY ROAD)which so achingly cries out that it is somber and oh-so-troubled. Oh oh my, we are sooooo impressed.

Anonymous said...

My first rock show was The Who in 1979. I started listening to The Clash and Sex Pistols because Pete Townsend recommended them in interviews, he was a huge fan. No rock critics whispered over my shoulder."

Because Pete Townshend told you? See, you need people to tell you what to listen to. Townshed was a great musician but I don't give a shit what he thinks. John Boorman's EXCALIBUR is great too, but he praised Jackson's LOR, a pile of shit. So, should I like it because the great Boorman said so?

"The Butthole Surfers album "Independent Worm Saloon" was produced by none other than John Paul Jones, bassist and keyboard player for Led Zeppelin, who by all accounts enjoyed the experience. When asked for his favorite living guitar player, Jones dissed his old bandmate Jimmy Page and unhesitatingly said Paul Leary, the supremely talented axeman for The Butthole Surfers."

Again, you need others telling you what to think, what to like, etc. Anyway, Bonham clearly lost his mind, which is why he died not too long afterwards.

I just need me and my own opinions.

Anonymous said...

So Teddykins...

this is what you consider good music?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R11x32WoxrM

This is always as bad as the assassination.

I'd rather listen to Herman's Hermits.

Ted Plank. said...

Yeah, I like "Holidays In Cambodia". Like I say, The Dead Kennedys and their peers were superior to sitting in gigantic sports stadiums to see the washed up, pot bellied dinosaurs of the 60's, visible only through binoculars. Their 1st three albums are as good as any classic rock around, and their live shows were good, adrenaline rush entertainment. Better than dropping Ecstasy and going to a rave!

I mean, come on, The Byrds barely played on their 1st LP they were so awful, and The Kinks obviously had some studio assistance on their early records. Watch some of their live TV clips and it was obvious Dave Davies could barely play his guitar.

I saw Peter Noone (singer of Herman's Hermits) open for punk kingpin Iggy Pop in the early 80's with his New Wave band. Whatever goes around, comes around.

Anonymous, you mixed up John Paul Jones (who is still alive) with John Bonham, who has been deceased for over 30 years. I once saw Robert Plant inside Club Lingerie, an old LA punker haunt, checking out some nameless 3 chord band. Maybe he was in there because of a girl. It certainly didn't seem like the music was bothering him.

Anonymous said...

Rockwell's works kinda remind me of Linus. Linus sucks his thumb and clings to his security blanket. Looking at a Rockwell painting makes you feel secure--thumb sucking and blanket holding. The difference is Schulz understood the appeal of this mentality--and its existence to some degree in all of us--but also presented his Peanuts world as something much more--even weird and strange. No suck luck with Rockwell. It's like Linus with thumb and blanket but no brains.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, you mixed up John Paul Jones (who is still alive) with John Bonham, who has been deceased for over 30 years."

The greatest injustice in rock history. The reaper took the wrong guy.

Anonymous said...

"Better than dropping Ecstasy and going to a rave!"

I did this just once in my life and it was kinda 'groovy' but I heard what that drugs do to your brains so no more of that. It was still kinda mellow.
Shallow mellow is still preferable to the musical equivalent of fisting the anus.

Anonymous said...

It's like Rockwell's paintings are like AMERICANA FOR DUMMIES. He didn't trust Americans to 'get' his painting unless he packed every inch of the frame with all manner of cliches.
Wrong-o, buck-o. They are 'cliches' because he became so popular.

The only time he became 'bad' was when he married his lefty third wife who politicized the previously a-political republican Rockwell and made him paint social themes.

To say that he never took on serious subjects or painted only 'sweet' moments of live is like criticizing PG wodehose for not writing tragedies. BOTH were masters at what they did.

And from a technical standpoint- Rockwell is undoubtebly one of the greatest draftsman/paint handlers of the 20th century. Hands down. No idiot like Pollack could even come close.

If you are ever up in stockbridge, check out the NR museum there. Look at the flesh tones, or the light coming in the window in his marriage cert. painting.

Rocwell never became a cliche of himself, like Picasso.

Kylie said...

"It was obvious after this wretched experience that Punk was the superior folk music of the day for suburban kids like me."

Yes, and you've made it obvious here in too-large number of superfluous entries full of pompous name-dropping and supposedly arcane references.

Steve is way more indulgent in posting your silly comments than I can be while trying to wade through them to get to the good stuff.

We. Don't. Care.

P.S. We wouldn't care even if you didn't reek of SWPLism.

P.P.S. I actually find myself embarrassed for you, which does not, however, cause me to disdain you any less.

P.P.P.S. STFU.

Anonymous said...

But they will fail. I can usually tell if an oriental painted something (not always and other artists fall into the trap) - its usually has an unimaginative, mechanical quality to it

I agree, there's generally a very mechanical feel to most yellow artists' work. Nobody should bring up manga as a counterexample, because it works in favor of your argument - it's mechanical, too. You could say that's because most of them never heard of a nib, much less a brush, but that raises the question "why not?" Anyhoo, this seems to be the result of high spatial:verbal IQ, right? Which kinda works against your argument about Jews. Maybe Jews don't want to do traditional because whites already did that.

Svigor

Dutch Boy said...

I like C.S Lewis's take on modern art: "In this house, the customer is always wrong!"

Anonymous said...

I like C.S Lewis's take on modern art: "In this house, the customer is always wrong!"

Back in the closet!

Anonymous said...

CS or BS Lewis was, of course, the Norman Rockwell of spirituality. Pat answers and gooey goo goo.

Anonymous said...

"And from a technical standpoint- Rockwell is undoubtebly one of the greatest draftsman/paint handlers of the 20th century. Hands down. No idiot like Pollack could even come close."

Nonsense. From a technical viewpoint, 20th century(or any century and even now)had tons of technically expert artists. It's like classical music has lots of expert performers and rock music has tons of expert guitarists who know all the tricks.
But greatness doesn't come with expertise alone. It comes with orignality, personality, uniqueness, etc. Hendrix was more than an expert guitarist. He was a black magician who conjured up new sounds. Same with Carlos Santana, especialy on LOTUS.

A musical composer does more than perform; he creates music.
And a truly genius performer makes the music of someone else his or her own. Sinatra didn't write a song--as far as I know--but he made them his. He came to own them as his signature tunes.

Schlockwell knew how to paint. He knew the tricks of the trade--like so many 'experts' with the brush--, but in the service of what? Tripe.

Anonymous said...

"The only time he became 'bad' was when he married his lefty third wife who politicized the previously a-political republican Rockwell and made him paint social themes."

Everything is political or has political implications.
This is true of Hollywood movies as well. A lot of feel-good movies that seem apolitical are actually vehicles for certain political or social assumptions. Some TV comedies with gays may not be blatantly political but in conveying an image of gays as wonderful and funny and cute, it is sending a political message tha jibes with the liberal gay agenda.
Similarly, Rockwell's so-called 'apolitical' art that fondly waxed romantic/nostalgic about Americana were political statements, whether he intended them as such or not.

Anonymous said...

Schlockwell knew how to paint. He knew the tricks of the trade--like so many 'experts' with the brush--, but in the service of what? Tripe.
Do you paint? no. Do you know how? no. Do you know what you're talking about? No.
If you did, you would know that being a great draftman and painter is not the result of knowing 'tricks of the trade'.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense. From a technical viewpoint, 20th century(or any century and even now)had tons of technically expert artist
you really don't know what you're talking about, do you? Rockwell could make a pollack, as evidenced by the painting in Steve's post. Pollack could not for the life of him make a Rockwell.

Ted Plank said...

For 5 years I was the Jazz, Blues, Country and Oldies buyer at what was probably the leading record store in Los Angeles in the early 90's. I enjoy Steve's site, it really is one of the best commentaries on culture around these days.

I generally make a point of not commenting anywhere unless I know what I'm talking about. Most of Steve's posts, though interesting to me, are outside my realm of expertise. I just shut up, read, enjoy and learn from them, having nothing to add.

On this post, however, and a previous Dylan post, I consider myself as informed as anyone who's yet posted on the various musical angles, and have a fair bit of familiarity with 20th Century Art.

What you call 'pompous name dropping' and 'supposedly arcane references' is real history, real art, real music and real personalities, all of whom would be recognizable to anyone interested in those fields. Certain people argue whether Joe Hooker might have wiped the field with Robert E. Lee at Antietam, others obsess whether Liebniz or Newton invented Calculus, or whether Sonny Liston threw the fight against Cassius Clay, etc. Here I'm defending Ornette Coleman, Andy Warhol and punk rock (all worthy of defending) against ignoroids who have stupidly slandered them.

All you're doing is proudly parading your ignorance.

I'm embarrassed for YOU.

Anonymous said...

"For 5 years I was the Jazz, Blues, Country and Oldies buyer at what was probably the leading record store in Los Angeles in the early 90's. I enjoy Steve's site, it really is one of the best commentaries on culture around these days.
I generally make a point of not commenting anywhere unless I know what I'm talking about. Most of Steve's posts, though interesting to me, are outside my realm of expertise. I just shut up, read, enjoy and learn from them, having nothing to add."

Look, I admit you're far more knowledgeable than me(or most of us)about popular music, avant garde stuff, and alternative culture. The problem is judgment and taste. Yours is awful when it comes to some stuff.
It's like a whole bunch people have far greater knowledge of movies than I do, but when they say Bruno Dumont, Hou Hsiao-hsien, or Chantal Akerman are great artists, I know they are full of shit. They may have seen 1000x more movies than I have, but I still say they have awful taste in movies(or they're eager to belong to the cinephile crowd.)
This whole business of regarding Warhol, Bunghole Surfers, Nirvana, and etc as 'important' artists is almost an obligation among the hip crowd. You're almost required to like, even worship, them, just like you have to be for 'gay marriage' if you wanna belong to the liberal community.

I say the hell to all that. I make up own mind, and I say Dead Kennedys, Bunghole Surfers, and Black Flag aint music. And I don't care what Townshend or Bonham or some critic or some expert thinks. I have ears, I have eyes. I know BS when I see it.

Anonymous said...

Ted, a lot of stuff you like deserve the Beavis and Butthead treatment--derision.
Indeed, thank god for B&B for deflating so much of celebrity culture and faux creativity.
I recall them watching one music video where some guy was trying to come across as far-out and 'radical', but when Beavis blurted out 'Boy George!!', it gave the game away.
Most of thse 'artists' imitate one another, reerence one another, steal from one another, recycle the same crap over and over. The far out dude was, in fact, just recycling the Boy George look.

And B&B are perfect 'critics' for that stuff cuz all they do is watch TV and know nothing but pop cultural references. Also, they are too dumb to 'intellectualize' dumb culture like so many intellectuals have a penchant for doing. Warhol really deserved the B&B treatment and nothing more. He made shit, and shitheads like B&B would have 'understood' it better than brains who projected their own fancy theories on vapidness, making fools of themselves and everyone else who fell for the conceit, such as EMPIRE STATE BUIDLING being a great movie. EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES!!

Punk got old fast. It went from a novelty act to a constipated insistence that it was 'radical' and 'subversive' and etc when it was just a lot of lame noise for spoiled bratty kids who had no talent for music. Attending a punk concert--and I've been to a couple--is like going down a sewer and getting bit by dirty rats.
Punk made it convenient for any no-talent to just go A*(#U)#*%&%&*$!!!!!! and pretend he was too cutting-edge and radical for 'conventional music'. Nice try!

Now, why did real talents like Townshend and Bonham fall for that stuff? Because rockers wanna cling to the ideal of the 'pure artist', the maverick who doesn't sell out. Once one 'makes it', one feels the need to make stuff that kinda panders to mass taste, which happened to the Who and Led Zeppelin.
They didn't wanna see themselves as 'sell outs', and so they associated with 'pure artists' like the punkers on the margins, and that made them feel connected to something pure and authentic. It made them feel young and relevant.

Ted Plank. said...

Well, you got me there. I've never even HEARD of Bruno Dumont, Hou Hsiao-hsien, or Chantal Akerman. I'll just have to take your word for it that they SUCK!!!

Chief Seattle said...

I started the first few chapters of The Painted Word. Clearly the inspiration for David Brook's Bobo's in Paradise.

scott davidson said...

As an encouraging mum, if I can say so myself, I had a nice time recently with my two kids to decorate their room in our new house that we just moved into. There were lots of the children's art work, made at home and school, that we happily put on the wall.
Then we spent time together sitting in front of the iMac and looked through the big collection of digital images that Wahooart had for their customers to select from and have printed as canvas prints. The kids together chose this painting for their room, Ivan Horse by Edmund Dulac, that we ordered online to have delivered to our new house.