The CIA is apparently responsible for modern art

I’d wanted to write about something else tonight, but then I stumbled across this article in the Guardian on the CIA’s role in the rise of modern art and felt as though I had to pass it along… Here’s a clip:

…Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.

The existence of this policy, rumoured and disputed for many years, has now been confirmed for the first time by former CIA officials. Unknown to the artists, the new American art was secretly promoted under a policy known as the “long leash” – arrangements similar in some ways to the indirect CIA backing of the journal Encounter, edited by Stephen Spender.

The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world…

jacksonpollockI personally like this because I never much cared for Jackson Pollock, and now I have a legitimate response to those who would tell me that his work is significant. I can now say with some confidence that he was merely a pawn, plucked from obscurity by the CIA, in much the same way that Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom selected Franz Liebkind… On a serious note, though, how cool would it be if the government took an active interest in furthering your artistic career? I wonder if it goes on today. I wonder if, for instance, Piss Christ might have been commissioned by an entity within the government that wanted to demonstrate the expansive boundaries of our religious freedom. Or, what about Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff? No one thought that he was the least bit funny, and yet he was inescapable in the 1980s. I bet he never sold a single record. (Do you know anyone with a Yakov Smirnoff record?) Come to think of it, he may not have even been real.

[This post was brought to you by the men and women of ONCE.]

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4 Comments

  1. Knox
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I have no time, as I have to get out the door, but this is absolutely incredible if true. I’m wonder if it might also somehow account for the career of Pauly Shore.

  2. Edward
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination, but, if I were to think about such things, I might find it interesting that a man with Muslim ancestry was elected to be our President at a time when we’re hoping to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. I could see how someone might think that he was manufactured by the CIA or some other group for just such an eventuality. But that’s just crazy talk.

  3. Ted
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Connecting this to the ONCE festivals was a subtle stroke of genius.

  4. Posted November 2, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    That’d be some fun if the government took an interest in, say special ed teachers who write fictionalized books based on real life experiences in, just thinking aloud here, inner city schools in Michigan! How cool would that be?

    Btw Mark, you just made my day by suggesting that Yakov Smirnoff isn’t even real…perhaps CarrotTop doesn’t exist either? Perhaps he was just invented to win the hearts and minds of douchebags the world over?

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