What was the role of Pollock in US Cold War Politics? (20th cent. art)

If you’re an art intellect mesmerized by the role of art on society, this post is just for you! In addition to the reading Tremendous impact of Poquelin on French society, this post, too, explores the ways in which artistic creativity is impacted by the context it was created in, and in turn effects the society it was created for. Without further ado, lets get right into it!

Cold war; an ideological war between the East and West in relation to art

Jackson Pollock, the celebrity of Abstract Expressionism, and the ideological war between US and the Soviet Union during the cold war- although may seem like unrelated subjects as first, it has been proved to be otherwise. In this article we’ll trace through the uncoincidental blow up of avant-garde artists who seemed to reach top success at a time where freedom and self-expression were center topics of discussion.

Following the destructions caused by the 2nd world war, although the US was a major standing power, it was a wasteland in terms of culture. European intellectuals especially, viewed America as an unsophisticated population of people who were defined by the large capitalist institutions with little to no understanding of true culture. While America was synonymous with companies like McDonalds or Coca-Cola, the Russians were boasting of their rich cultural dominance, referencing great names like Kandinsky and Tolstoy. So how did American artists go from producing conventional artwork –or even ‘trivial’ as perceived by Europeans- to becoming the new center of the art world?

how pollock generates his art
Pollock in  his art studio


art by pollock
“Mural”, artwork by Jackson Pollock


Political Message behind Abstract Expressionism Art

When talking about Americas artistic development post world war 2, the CIA is an inevitable main character that needs to be referenced. At a time where the soviet Union was spending more than 200 million dollars of its annual budget on Communist propaganda, The CIA skillfully brought attention upon abstract expressionism to emphasize the distinction of American values of individualism and freedom and those of the Soviet union. Soviet Art as seen in the early years of the cold war was constrained under the politics of Stalin and was restricted to represent idealized communist values under the name of Socialist realism. Artistic expression was regulated in the same way education, language and political ideologies were. Admissible art consisted only under 4 categories:

  1. Partisan: supporting values of the state and leaders
  2. Typical: representing everyday life depictions of common citizens
  3. Realistic: rational and life-like graphic representational methods
  4. Proletarian: relatable and engaging to the working class

With these circumstances in mind, paintings of avant-garde artists like Jackson Pollock were seen as radical and law-defying. Not only was the end result different from the conventional artworks of the time, by the methodology of painting on the floor without stretching bars, and using cheap house paint to flick off, ignoring all bounds of the canvas was also a depiction of the personal expression and unique individualism of this developing new art movement. It was in short, a portrayal of American independence and freedom over soviet state inhibition.

This art movement accentuated the stylized and inflexible manner of socialist realism, and in turn associated itself with anti-communist and western values. Employing a non-representational subjective nature, abstract art was quite easily propagandized by capitalist art critics and the CIA who wished to attach to it the political values they stood by. It was for this reason that the CIA, together with affiliation of the Rockefeller Brother Fund, supported the Museum of Modern Art in actualizing an ‘International Program’ that hosted countless international exhibitions showcasing abstract expressionism both in the Us and all over the globe. The CIA, by these means had made Jackson Pollock and similar artists such as Mark Rothko world famous figures who initiated the art movement which aligned so well with the countries ideological values.

socialist realism art
A classic example of socialist realism art, Geli Korzhev’s “Raising the Banner”
socialist realism art
Georgy Ryazhsky, Before Shift, The Team of Stakhanov, 1937










Was Pollock’s art just a political weapon for propaganda?

Now reflecting on all that has happened in a successful attempt of making pollock the most influential American artist of the mid-20th century, it is ironic to see how America, in attempt of depicting a new international picture for itself,  had belittled the potential of art by making it a weapon of its ideological regime.. which was exactly what it had criticized Russia for doing. It is however important to note that, despite all the political strategies that have been realized, the innovative attempts of these artists to construct a metaphysical experience through painting should not be diminished.

Following the influence of Pollock, European artists like Marcel Duchamp and Hans Hoffman moved to New York city, contributing to the establishment of the city as the new center of art. With all this being said, it is undeniable that the involvement of money, politics and power has played a significant role throughout the entire history of art, not only constrained to post-war America. Therefore, while acknowledging the political support which has helped promote abstract expressionism, it is important to value the new discussion and understating of art which these artists have put on the table.

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