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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

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Subject:

RE: Ancient Moderns

From:

"Anthony Frazer" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Anthony Frazer

Date:

Fri, 7 Aug 1998 10:01:39 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (61 lines)

I think it was Keston who wrote:
> 
> ... how about these cases:
> 
> 1. Effect of ny abstract expressionist painting on diplomatic relations
> between u.s. and europe
> 
I'm not sure that these examples respond to Alison's original remark in the
terms that she meant, but never mind. 

The NY painters had no impact of their own design, volition, on US/European
diplomatic relations.  What did happen was that the State Department in the
50s realised that, in its ideological campaign against communism, it had to
have an artistic wing to enable to counteract the fashionable leftist
intellectual position that favoured Soviet Russia above "consumerist"
"arriviste" America. It then co-opted Clement Greenberg and gave official
support to the abstract expressionists as the latest, most innovative, non
plus ultra in the development of painting, thus establishing New York as a
credible new world alternative to the traditional centres of the arts in
the old world. (They also had a go at the centrist culture in the UK
through Encounter, but that's another story.) 

The actions of the State Department were in fact no different from those of
their opposing cultural commissars pushing Voznesensky and Yevtushenko, but
the Russians screwed it up by stifling their own avantgarde rather than
using it as a countermove against the Americans. Not that there was much of
an avantgarde in Russia at the time, to be honest.

I would like to think that the popularity of the NY painters in Europe had
more to do with the intrinsic quality of their work than with official
promotion from the US government, but I suspect that the two factors
interacted, and that the vital push that got them noticed/appreciated was
indeed funded by the State Dept or by CIA-related organs. I just hope they
don't do the same for the late Amy Clampitt at some point.

To cut a long story short, the use of artistic endeavour in what was an
ideological and cultural battle does not demonstrate the impact of art on
diplomacy per se. It has a lot more to do with the flexibility of diplomats
and officials in finding ever more tools for the task at hand. Looking at
it from a marketing perspective (which is something I have to do in my
other life rather frequently) I admire the skillful way it was managed and
supported. They marketed a product, and they didn't actually care what it
was, but they did have the gumption to understand that it could be used to
improve the standing of the US in specific influential circles. (In a
piddling way this is what the British Council tries to do on a shoestring
and with airplane glue and brown paper.) To go back to my first line - the
painters had no impact on diplomacy, but the diplomats certainly did. The
painters had an impact on artistic circles in Paris, London and Berlin
above all, which probably continues, and their breakthough was facilitated
by the government. Not quite the same thing.

The work itself goes on, and was unaffected by the political issues, I
think, apart from making the painters themselves truckloads of money. 

Yours historically
Tony



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