Visual Arts » 2D

Pollock as Propaganda

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The art movement abstract expressionism rejected figurative images in favor of techniques that emphasized emotion and movement. Its artists, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, were thought of as rebellious and anarchic.

In short, they don't seem like the kind of painters whose work would have been supported by the staff of the CIA. But they were.

In the 1950s and '60s, the CIA wanted to win "the hearts and minds" of the world in favor of the American political and economic system. Tax dollars and operatives' time were spent in support of major gatherings of artists and culture-makers, as well as traveling exhibits that included major abstract expressionist works.

These efforts ran counter to McCarthyism, which tended toward anti-culture attitudes, and were covert, operating without the knowledge or consent of Congress. The artists were no more aware than senators about the government using their art as propaganda. The CIA used rich benefactors and foundations to funnel their financial support.

You can read more about them - and how abstract expressionism stood in contrast to the Communist-backed social realist works - in this piece from the UK's Independent.

NUMBER 29, 1950 JACKSON POLLOCK
  • Number 29, 1950 Jackson Pollock

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