For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.
The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art – President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: “If that’s art, then I’m a Hottentot.” As for the artists themselves, many were ex- communists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.
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. (1)
Art is something we do not understand.
Art is what makes us humans.
That doesn’t mean that art cannot be used by people who are not humans.
That doesn’t mean that art cannot be used by people who do not understand it.
Because deep inside humans who deserve art actually understand it.
They do not know why. But they do understand it.
Art was indeed used as a weapon. But what those fools in CIA did not understand was they what they did not understand changed them. Even slightly to the better. Even slightly to the right direction.
And not, they will not understand that either…