Jan 25, 2012

CIA influence on the history of art, has got me thinking

Hacking away at large lumps of marble day in day out seems to provoke the mind to wander especially when you stumble over articles like this.


It kicks off with this, "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."

No I'm not going to go along the lines of the stereotypical wowser shock, horror, outrage, but instead to accept that governments, the church and monarchies have manipulated the course of the history of art to suit their own ends since the year dot. It's just I hadn't thought how extensive it could have been in my life time and that's when my own alarm bells started ringing.

As a UK 60's art student I had first hand experience of the new artworld being completely besotted with all things American - American Modern Art was simply the coolest thing around so it was easy to promote, especially with unlimited US government backing. The most disturbing thing about the American model was that it was adversarial, not only did it promote itself but it backed it up with insidious criticisms of all other cultures and that's probably where the greatest manipulation occurred. Leaving us to wonder which non-American art or ideas suffered most from this approach.

Following this along we notice that initially the CIA promoted an art that was being made with no outside influence but some time in the 70's its not hard to notice that things started to change; the idea of fairness and politically correct issues crept in as desirable values in contemporary art - possibly with other government agencies becoming involved. Whether this was good or bad doesn't really matter but it flies in the face of any notion of supporting genuine artistic freedom. 

It would take some scholarship to unearth the effect of Australian government agencies on the history of Australian art but its not hard to see the pro-British Menzies era iron fist of William Dargie Arts control and the equally vigorous Whitlam Australia Council as prime candidates for history biasing precedents.

And I suspect that the practice of government interference has become so entrenched that we don't even notice it. 


  1. Hello Clive,
    I don't expect you to reply to this email but I will send it anyway. I am currently working on family history and was searching through my old, very old, address book. My 1960s address book as a matter of fact. I have thought about you once in a while over the years, as I do when wondering what people have done with their lives since I first met them. When I came upon your address in London I thought to 'google' you and, sure enough, you have continued to do what you were doing then and obviously, very well. Now to let you know what our connection is because I can't imagine you working it out from the few clues above.

    You and I became quite good buddies on the Fairsky in 1963. You were going to England (I think you were on your own) to stay with your Father in London. I remember you seemed to be quite sad for much of the time. I was also on my own for the big adventure. I was 17 when I got on the ship and I think you were not much older. I had my 18th birthday a couple of weeks after we started out.

    Anyway, I thought I would write this to you when I came upon your London address in my book.

    I am a Melbourne girl and I notice you have settled in Victoria. There is a lot of water under the bridge since we shared time together on the Fairsky.

    I tried to send you an email via Facebook and this was the only way to communicate that I could find. Sorry if it will be in public space.


    Gillian (nee Flanagan)

    Feb 1, 2012 11:27:04 PM

    Please prove you're not a robot

    1. Hi Gillian,

      I was just looking to see if I had any comments, rare but look what I found!! my goodness that's a blast from the real past - I was either nearly 17 or just 17 clive@cowwarr.com will find me, I'll try to find you one facebook.