The battle for art – part three: on the use in capitalist ideology for spiritual art and art education

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop - ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Janis Lander: Vision Art Workshop – ‘Observing the energy body (centres and channels)/Observing thoughts and emotions/Understanding the dynamic interaction of colours and “sacred geometry” in the making of an image’

Schiller was confident that men in the contemporary world could develop new types of harmony and new types of community predicated upon new connections between the powers of the mind. This could not, however, be developed by ignoring the enormous changes which had overtaken society since the decline of the Greek city state. Schiller saw the long-term solution to the problem in terms of a programme of aesthetic education which, by uniting facets of personal experience, would lead eventually to the development of harmonious social experience. Schiller’s typology of human development was, in a sense, therefore, triadic. It presupposed at the beginning of the historical world an undifferentiated society peopled by whole men whose capacities and powers had not been fragmented by the division of labour – such a society reached its zenith with the Greeks and has since declined as a result of the growth of science and the division of labour. These factors had led to the fragmentation of the community and of the person. The third stage of this process, which has yet to arrive in Schiller’s view, was to be induced by aesthetic education, which would procure a regeneration of both the community and the individual personality appropriate to this change in the human condition.

Raymond Plant, Hegel, An Introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, 74

Part three/to be continued…



The battle for art – part two: art and ideology

Mark Rothko, White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, oil on canvas, private collection, Qatar

Mark Rothko, White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), 1950, oil on canvas, private collection, Qatar

Laurence Zuckerman, ‘Book tells how commie-hating CIA became a patron of the arts’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1.4.00

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has a chilling finale in which the farm animals look back and forth at the tyrannical pigs and the human farmers and find it “impossible to say which is which”.

That ending was altered in the 1955 animated version, which removed the humans. Another example of Hollywood butchering great literature? Yes, but in this case the film’s secret producer was the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA, it seems, was worried that the public might be too influenced by Orwell’s pox-on-both-their-houses critique of the capitalist humans and communist pigs. So after his death in 1950, agents were dispatched (by none other than E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate fame) to buy the film rights to Animal Farm from his widow to make its message more overtly anti-communist.

Rewriting the end of Animal Farm is just one example of the often absurd lengths to which the CIA went, as recounted in a new book, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (The New Press) by Frances Stonor Saunders, a British journalist.

Much of what Saunders writes about, including the CIA’s covert sponsorship of the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom and the British opinion magazine Encounter, was exposed in the late 60s, generating a wave of indignation.

But by combing through archives and unpublished manuscripts and interviewing several of the principal actors, Saunders has uncovered many new details and gives the most comprehensive account yet of the period between 1947 and 1967.

This picture of the CIA’s secret war of ideas has cameo appearances by scores of intellectual celebrities like the critic Lionel Trilling, the poets Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott and the novelists James Michener and Mary McCarthy, all of whom directly or indirectly benefited from the CIA’s largesse.

Travelling first class all the way, the CIA sponsored art exhibitions, conferences, concerts and magazines to press its larger anti-Soviet agenda.

Saunders provides ample evidence, for example, that the editors at Encounter and other agency-sponsored magazines were directed not to publish articles directly critical of Washington’s foreign policy.

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles (Number 11,1952), Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles (Number 11, 1952), Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

She also shows how the CIA bankrolled some of the earliest exhibits of abstract expressionist painting outside the United States to counter the socialist realism being advanced by Moscow.

In one memorable episode, the British Foreign Office subsidised the distribution of 50,000 copies of Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s anti-communist classic. But the French Communist Party ordered its operatives to buy up every copy of the book, giving Koestler a windfall in royalties.

The agency also changed the ending of the film version of Orwell’s 1984. 

In the book, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is entirely defeated by the nightmarish totalitarian regime. At the end, Orwell writes, Winston realised that “He loved Big Brother”.

In the film, Winston and his lover, Julia, are gunned down after Winston defiantly shouts: “Down with Big Brother!”

Such changes came from the agency’s obsession with snuffing out a notion then popular among many European intellectuals: that East and West were morally equivalent.

But instead of illustrating the differences between the two systems by taking the high road, the agency justified its covert activities by referring to the unethical tactics of the Soviets.

Some of the participants, like Arthur Schlesinger, who knew about some of the CIA’s cultural activities, argue that the agency’s role was benign, even necessary.

Compared with the coups the CIA sponsored, he said, its support of the arts was some of its best work.

“It enabled people to publish what they already believed,” he said. “It didn’t change anyone’s course of action or thought.”

The New York Times

Part two/to be continued…


Images: top/bottom

The battle for art

Commemorating its tenth year, the opening of the CCF’s second Berlin conference in June 1960 featured (L to R): George F. Kennan, Raja Rao, Willy Brandt, Jacques Maritain, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and J. Robert Oppenheimer

Commemorating its tenth year, the opening of the CCF’s second Berlin conference in June 1960 featured (L to R): George F. Kennan, Raja Rao, Willy Brandt, Jacques Maritain, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and J. Robert Oppenheimer

‘As we have seen, negation had to be replaced by positive integrating factors once the removal of the “offending element” from the social arena had made negation pointless. …

“The battle for art” was by no means a National Socialist invention. The slogan and the issue had been of central concern in German cultural life for decades. But the National Socialists were the first to make this battle for art a focal point of political conflict and to define an individual’s position in it as evidence of his approval or rejection of National Socialist political goals and principles. This issue became a touchstone for determining who were the friends and who the foes of the Third Reich.

Paul Schultze-Naumburg expressed precisely this view in 1932 in his book Kampf um die Kunst (The Battle for Art): “A life-and-death struggle is taking place in art, just as it is in the realm of politics. And the battle for art has to be fought with the same seriousness and determination as the battle for political power.”

This statement, which at first glance seems exaggerated and, indeed, absurd in view of the actual importance of art in the overall social structure, assumes reality only if art and art criticism are used as weapons in a political struggle.’

From Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich, Trans., Robert and Rita Kimber, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1974

*   *   *

In her new book Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granata), Frances Stonor Saunders tells the fascinating story of the vast postwar Kultur-kampf, the Cold War conflict over cultural values and ideologies amid which several literary and cultural generations grew up. It pulled in books and magazines, congresses and concerts, artists and writers, political visions of economic growth and social progress. And it dawned when the US, the one outright victor from World War II, suddenly found itself a superpower, found it had somehow entered history.

Needing a culture to match, it stared over the wire at Russia (which had pursued intellectual politics since Catherine the Great) and sought worldwide intellectual admiration and support. As the Cold War froze and ideologies divided, the US government poured huge resources into a cultural propaganda campaign. It was covert. As Saunders explains: “A central feature of this program was to advance the claim it did not exist.”

Yet there was nothing covert about the overall enterprise; the decision to revive flattened Europe and develop democratic institutions through the enormous program of aid – economic, political and cultural – has shaped it to this day and explains its federalism and its Americanised shopping-mall culture.

So came the Marshall Plan, the “special relationship”, the Atlantic Alliance, the denazification in Germany and Austria, the long-term presence of US troops and bases. There was also the Fulbright program, the US Information Agency, the Amerikanhausen all over Germany, promoting jazz, movies and Saul Bellow, and the growth of an academic subject that was new even to Americans: American studies.

The program was aided by the defection of many western intellectuals who had been red in the 1930s. Alienation began with the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi-Soviet pact; by the late 40s, Marxism was the god that had failed.

In cultural warfare, the US seemed at first to have small resources. “What is America but millionaires, beauty queens, gramophone music and Hollywood?” asked Adolf Hitler. Many European intellectuals felt a similar cultural distaste for the land of chewing gum and Mickey Mouse.

Hence the Kulturkampf, which Saunders traces back to Berlin in the time of denazification and to three key figures. Michael Josselin and Nicholas Nabokov (Vladimir’s musician cousin), both emigres, were with the US military command and working on denazification and cultural policy in the psychological warfare division. Then another soldier, Melvin Lasky, urged on the US government a policy designed to win over the often passionately anti-American European intelligentsia. The magazine Monat was established and the culture war began.

In 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency was founded: in its early days it resembled the clubby, patrician, pipe-smoking, senior common room spirit of the wartime intelligence community. It had excellent contacts with the NCL (non-communist Left), the “new liberals” and the emigres who, having fled the Europe of Hitler and Stalin, had become a powerful force in the US.

This book shows in splendid detail how CIA policy went everywhere. Awash with funds, the CIA turned into the covert Maecenas, the new crypto-patron of an age when the old private patrons had disappeared. Artists, writers, intellectuals, seminars, concerts and magazines were supported by “foundations”. It was the age of get-me-a-grant-while-you’re-up. Scholarships, travel grants and exchange schemes shipped European intellectuals across the Atlantic for their graduate education.

Meanwhile, US writers, plays, books, concerts and art exhibitions came in profusion to Europe. A key instrument was the Congress for Cultural Freedom, administered by a band of leading European intellectuals. It circulated ideas, ran congresses, aided magazines. In Britain, it published Encounter, the leading intellectual and cultural review of the day, and simply indispensable. By various labyrinthine means, the CCF and much else had CIA funding.

The charge is that organisations celebrating “cultural freedom” were steered by the US arm of espionage, that writers who were attacking the trahison des clercs were themselves traitors, that a systematic attempt was made to intrude on intellectual independence. The injection of money into US intellectual reviews by the Ford Foundation and much else is traceable to the CIA.

In 1967, the edifice effectively collapsed. The Camelot court mood, as a result of which American intellectuals had rallied to John F. Kennedy, was gone. The Vietnam War brought wide-spread protest, the intelligentsia was increasingly at odds with government and nation. When Ramparts magazine blew the story, it opened an era of intellectual guilt and embarrassment, and a suspicion of much in modern intellectual life.

As Saunders says, much of western intellectual life and many individual figures were compromised. Yet the situation was filled, as she notes, with strange ironies. Saunders asks: Who paid the piper? But how does the piper call the tune if you don’t know who the piper really is?

Many intellectuals and artists went to the US on the Fulbright program, contributed to the lively and intelligent literary magazines, attended conferences, concerts and exhibitions sponsored by various unusual foundations. In many cases, it is quite possible to argue that the CiA innocently financed much radical, indeed anti-American, opinion as well as a whole new experimental era of the arts. For writers, John Updike’s Bech books best capture the atmosphere: the radical, unreliable American writer wanders a divided Europe on cultural tours, a CIA spook on one side, a Communist Party apparatchik on the other, looking for truth, love, literature, decency, the smell of independence and freedom, and maybe just a little irony.

Another irony is more obvious. American spooks could have had little idea of the strength of the culture they were out to promote. Yet they were sponsoring an American Risorgimento. This was the great age of American writing, music and art – the age of Arthur Miller, Bellow, Updike, Norman Mailer, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Jasper Johns. The culture was worth selling and it was not innocent: subversive, self-critical ironic, ambiguous, it caught the uneasy corruption rather than the innocent wonder of the American age. The CIA was, so to speak, the promoter of postmodernism, the investor of a new culture.

The last irony is grimmer. What began as part of a high-cultural Americanisation of Europe turned into the commercial globalisation of Europe and the larger world. America Americanised itself as a vast franchise or global corporation, to which all Europe became party. The oddest truth is that the age of cultural and counter-cultural politics was one when literature was serious, tense, politically charged, morally dangerous and mattered. Now it doesn’t: we live in the age of the logo and the corporate sponsor.

How compromised was postwar US and European culture? Certainly there were those who enjoyed walking in the shadows with the devil while they seemed to be walking in the sun. There were the amazingly innocent and the bitterly deceived. Saunders’s book overestimates the degree of compliance and conformism, and often suspects motives that were not impure. Throughout, the US continued to be an intensely self-critical society, challenging its own conformities, dismayed by its own lonely crowds. Those who worked with government agencies often passionately challenged McCarthyism and defended liberals.

Yet Saunders is right. This reality is a crucial story, about the dangerous, compromising energies and manipulation of an entire and a recent age.

Malcolm Bradbury, ‘Spooks in the Culture’, The Weekend Australian 21-22.08.99

Part one/to be continued…



Plato and Aristotle on emotional release – the philosophy and art of social control


Plato believed that in the poet’s presentation, what is at third remove from reality, he appeals not to (linguistic) reason – the highest part of the soul (and the reason of patriarchy) – but to the lowest, seeking to provoke the non-rational emotions. In so doing he undermines and corrupts character.

When citizens enter into the emotions expressed by a character on stage their reason is obstructed by their own emotional arousal and they will carry this arousal from the theatre into their daily lives. Since emotions struggle against their control by reason, they are dangerous for the polis. For this reason, the poet should be banished from the commonwealth.

Contrary to Plato’s rigid opposition between (linguistic) reason and the emotions, but with equal though far more nuanced recognition of the relation between art, emotion, society and control, Aristotle’s theory of art in his Poetics is built on an understanding of the emotions which considers them not only bound, appropriately, to the functioning of reason (evocative of the Ethics, there is a ‘right’ emotion for a particular circumstance) but essential to the life of the citizen.

Where for Plato art is the poorest imitation of the Forms, for Aristotle, although he agreed that art is intentional, representational and that it appeals to the emotions, it imitates human interactivity by means of universals (kinds of people) and the possible consequences. We enjoy and learn by mimesis – art is educational, with nature as the teacher of practical not theoretical knowledge.

Aristotle defined tragedy as ‘the imitation of an action that is serious…in language with pleasurable accessories (my italics)…in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions’.

Through the arousal of fear we identify with the tragic hero, burdened by a fatal flaw (‘The best-laid plans of mice and men…’); through that of pity (for the hero’s suffering) we distance ourselves from him.

The tragedy brings about a catharsis or therapeutic purging of those emotions, with the spectator leaving the theatre emptied of them. It could be argued that the tragedy simply serves a pedagogical purpose provoking insights into the human condition without endangering society – ‘you don’t leave the theatre wanting to burn chariots’.

But Aristotle’s purpose was not merely pedagogical – his writing is too comprehensive, too considered, too hard for that interpretation alone.

Neither Plato nor Aristotle were ‘men of the people’. Both weighed their philosophising in relation to the practice and maintenance of power. Aristotle’s dry and formal language in the Poetics conveys an understanding which is anything but dry and formal.

He chose the most powerful art form in his society to conduct a study of how two of the most powerful emotions can be used – socially, pedagogically and for the maintenance of power (compare with the Ethics – while the ‘common man’ can gain a lot from reading it, it was not primarily intended for him – rather it is a guide to the perfection of self for the self-focused ‘man of substance’, culminating in the philosopher).

Not only did Aristotle choose tragedy (the most concentrated and powerful presentation of life – more so than the epic), employing chorus, song, stage-setting and acting, he analysed every possible element and means to maximally concentrate its potential for the arousal and purging of fear and pity – wrapped in pleasure: plot, characterisation, diction, thought, spectacle, melody, that the tragedian must be as realistic as possible, must develop, like Homer, an aspect rather than a whole, should not speak in his own person, should use a convincing impossibility rather than an unconvincing possibility, should employ consequential surprise.

Maximum realism (with which the audience can most immediately and powerfully relate) with optimal sensory engagement to most powerfully draw out and release two particular emotions. Why? And why fear and pity?

At a social level, arousal and purging are facilitated by the pleasure of tragedy both as theatre and illusion and through the experience of fear and pity as an audience member (symbolic of one’s larger society), thereby allowing both identification and distancing from the emotions because they are shared.

At a pedagogical level, in experiencing fear and pity ‘safely’ and in the most concentrated way, one can later reflect on these two emotions that are both ‘unhealthy’ (consider Epicurus on fear) and would be best purged from our lives.

At the level of control, ‘catharsis’ can be understood both as ‘purification’ – getting rid of the ‘baser’ (more primal, less ‘decent’, less ‘nice’) aspects of one’s character, symbolised by fear and pity and, through that experience, as ‘safety valve’.

As the bourgeoisie leave their operatic and symphonic performances, the working class leave their rock concerts…

Rock concert audience


Images: top/bottom

The battle for art – part four: capitalist ideologues and Cuban hip-hop


‘…in 1932 in his book Kampf um die Kunst (The Battle for Art) (Paul Schultze-Naumburg wrote): “A life-and-death struggle is taking place in art, just as it is in the realm of politics. And the battle for art has to be fought with the same seriousness and determination as the battle for political power.”

This statement, which at first glance seems exaggerated and, indeed, absurd in view of the actual importance of art in the overall social structure, assumes reality only if art and art criticism are used as weapons in a political struggle.’

Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich, Trans., Robert and Rita Kimber, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1979, 45

*   *   *

‘Secret US plot to swing Cuban hip-hop’ The Weekend Australian, 13-14.12.14

A US agency’s secret infiltration of Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene to spark a youth movement against the Castro regime was “reckless” and “stupid”, Democrat senator Patrick Leahy said yesterday.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program. They also confiscated computers that in some cases contained information that jeopardised Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine US operation.

“The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail,” said Senator Leahy, chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Sub-committee.

“USAID never informed congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless. It’s just plain stupid.”

The plan called for contractors to recruit scores of Cuban musicians for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government.

They filmed TV shows and set up a social network to connect about 200 musicians and artists on the island, who would be encouraged to start a social movement. Artists were flown to Europe ostensibly for concerts and video workshops but the real aim was to groom them as activists.

The hip-hop operation was conceived by one of USAID’s largest contractors, Creative Associates International, using a team of Serbian music promoters.

The Washington-based contractor also led other efforts aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government, including a secret Cuban Twitter text messaging service and an operation that sent in young inexperienced Latin American “tourists” to recruit a new generation of activists.

The collection of USAID missions, which were all undertaken over the same period and cost millions, failed.

“These actions have gone from boneheaded to a downright irresponsible use of US taxpayer money,” said Republican senator Jeff Flake, a longtime critic of the USAID’s programs in Cuba.

To keep their Cuban targets in the dark, Creative Associates used a front company in Panama with directors in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands – and a lawyer in Liechtenstein to head it.

Contractors used codenames, encrypted email and cover stories to fool Cuban authorities.

A mountain of evidence is revealed in hundreds of pages of contractors’ documents obtained by Associated Press that detail the hip-hop project. Nevertheless, in a statement, USAID said, “Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false.”

Creative referred questions to USAID.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki yesterday said Creative Associates provided USAID with assurances that it had “security protocols in place” for “operating in a closed society and would strictly employ those protocols for all professionals travelling to Cuba”.

But Aldo Rodriguez, the front man for the group Los Aldeanos, was detained on at least two occasions, spending a night in jail. A Serbian contractor was detained coming into Havana with equipment, including a potentially incriminating memory stick that worried the contractors. He cut his trip short just weeks before Alan Gross, a US citizen working on another secret USAID program, was arrested.

In 2011, a Cuban knowingly working for the US program was detained in Havana after a meeting with a Creative manager in Miami. Computer equipment was seized with documents linking him to USAID.

In the end, the USAID program accomplished the opposite of what it intended, compromising Cuba’s vibrant hip-hop culture. When the program started in 2009, it had already produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. In August 2010, Los Aldeanos took the stage at Rotilla, one of Cuba’s largest independent music festivals. Before a crowd of about 15,000 people, they lacerated government officials by name and taunted the police.

Within months, a USAID contractor told his handlers that the Cubans said USAID had infiltrated the festival, and soon enough the Cubans took it over. In the end, Los Aldeanos moved to South Florida after complaining that the Cuban government made it impossible for them to work in their own country.

In a statement yesterday, the organisers of the Rotilla festival said they expected a “storm” in reaction to the revelations, one that could severely damage Cuban artists unknowing targeted by the USAID program.

“The destruction that it will bring won’t be seen in homes, structures or property. The whirlwind will drag away names, reputations and even history itself,” the group wrote. “The events to come will transform or extinguish independent art and culture in Cuba.”

Part four/to be continued…