Friday, July 9, 2021

A Review of The Painted Word 38 Years Late - by Miles Mathis

 Caveat and disclaimer: this is an opinion piece, based on my own personal research. In it I follow what looks to me like a logical line of reasoning, but—as with all things of this nature—the truth is hard to find. It has been made hard to find on purpose, and I am not claiming I know everything or anything. My conclusions are based only on the evidence I give to you here. You may come to different conclusions, either more or less standard than mine. It only took me about 20 years to figure it out, but I think I have finally penetrated what Tom Wolfe was up to in writing The Painted Word in 1975. Like most other Modern literature, poetry, art, reportage, criticism, and history, you cannot unlock The Painted Word without studying closely the career of the writer, his bio, and his milieu. I will be told that is true of everything, but you will soon see what I mean. I will show it is far truer now than it was in the past, and why. I loved The Painted Word when I first read it, and that is not surprising since it was written for people like me. It expressed perfectly what we were already feeling, while giving our feelings a sort of scientific basis. Wolfe didn't just express a feeling: he did some research and presented a fairly well argued thesis, one that made some sense. The realists and other anti-Moderns of the time rallied round the book, using it as support for their own agendas, and we realists were still rallying round the book and its argument 30 years later. Wolfe has also lent his name to the more recent Slow Art movement, of which some of my peers and friends were inventors and major players. Although the name “Slow Art” was borrowed from art critic Robert Hughes, the movement was begun—as I understand it—at Hirshl & Adler Gallery in New York by director Greg Hedberg and artists Jacob Collins, Graydon Parrish, and several others. I was never involved, so maybe I have some of the details wrong, but that is the gist of it. Although the movement peaked about a decade ago and you no longer hear much about it, it was pro-tradition and anti-Modern. It was allied for a time with the Stuckist Movement in London, although I don't know what tangible things ever came of it. A manifesto was published and there were some meetings, I gather, but it never really went anywhere.* It hit big walls every way it turned, though no one knew why those walls were there or who built them. I think I can now tell you. I was full of naïve hope in 1992, just four years after entering the art market. It was then I sent a letter to Mr. Wolfe, thanking him for writing his book and discussing Modernism and the proper response to it by us realists. I enclosed pictures of a few of my works, so he would know who he was talking to. I hadn't written anything special at that time and had published nothing. My stint with was still a decade in the future, and my websites more distant still. But I had plans to write even then. I had hoped to get some worthwhile suggestions from Mr. Wolfe, maybe even a bit of help. Although I got a polite response, it was short and airy. I had some formless suspicions even then. I found it strange that The Painted Word should be the only book by Wolfe I liked. One of his previous books, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test of 1968 seemed to be promoting experimental drug use and other things that I had no interest in. Although I had no use for the book, I didn't analyze it beyond that, which was a mistake. The Right Stuff (1979) was also not my kind of thing. I wasn't interested in the heroism of test pilots or astronauts. Since I was even less interested in Wall Street, I didn't get ten pages into The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987). I thought it strange fare for Rolling Stone—especially during the Reagan era—but again, I didn't analyze it beyond that. Back then I just avoided things I didn't like without asking why I didn't like them, why other people did, or why they were being published. In that, I was not so different from everyone else, which is why I understood about as much as everyone else how the world worked: that is to say, I understood nothing. My understanding has grown slowly over the years, but to tell the truth, the gigantic awfulness of it all did not hit me until recently. In fact, I suspect I have only just got over the fence, and the whole truth is still far beyond my line of sight. To comprehend what I am talking about here, you should have already read my recent paper on Theosophy and the Beat Generation, for which I was doing research when I stumbled across an article at the London Independent from 1995. In that article—which appears to have only hit the internet last year or the year before—we find the CIA admitting it was behind the promotion of Modernism and Modern Art in the 1950s and 60s, and of artists like Rothko, Pollock, Motherwell, and Warhol. Although that information is played down and spun by the newspaper, and although most people will suffer only a few moments of shock over it, if any, it is still rolling through my brain and soul like a boulder coming down the mountain, loosed at last from the ice and snow. In my art papers over the last two decades, I have variously blamed the artists, the galleries, the museums, the critics, and the patrons, but I now see all these parties were only the puppets of a great master. They were not acting on their own volition, or at least not as free agents. They were hired hands and nothing more. Whatever they said or did, they said or did not because they believed it, but because they were paid to say or do it. In the 20th century, art was no longer a field or even a market. It was a MATRIX. Also remember that this use of the CIA was completely outside its charter. The CIA was not created as the personal marketing tool of the Rockefellers and their art, it was created and voted into existence by Congress as the government's arm for foreign intelligence. The CIA isn't even supposed to be working domestically, much less running domestic programs out of the Museum of Modern Art. With more research, I found that the article at the Independent had been tampered with and watered down. Its author, Frances Stonor Saunders, had produced a film for BBC4 and published a book, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War. Although the article says that writers and artists were on a “long leash,” this is contradicted in Saunders' book, where we find that the CIA itself blew their cover, saying the artists knew full well who was supporting them (pp. 397-404). For a more extended analysis of what is only briefly discussed (and spun) in the article at the Independent, you may consult this 1999 article at the Monthly Review. There we find this:.........

(Read full text at link below)

Wolfe's most famous book is still The Right Stuff (1979), which looks to me like it was assigned and promoted to continue the space program propaganda into the late 1970s and beyond. The very expensive Space Shuttle Program had been initiated in 1972, but the first launch was scheduled for 1980 (it happened in early 1981). So it was no accident that The Right Stuff came out in 1979. The Space Shuttle Program cost around 200 billion dollars over its three-decade lifespan, leading to little more than several spectacular crashes and permanent damage to NASA. I consider myself a scientist and am therefore very much in favor of space exploration. However, due to what I know of recent art history, you can see why I would not be in favor of using propaganda to sell any program, no matter how worthy. I think we would have been far better off with straightforward public education and honest reportage. I don't like being jerked around by slick writers like Wolfe, and I think you can now see why. 

But it isn't just Wolfe. As I said in my last paper, I think this confession by the CIA concerning promotion of Modern Art allows us to unmask many decades' of propaganda, sullying the work of thousands of major writers and artists. The article at the Independent tried to shoo us away from that conclusion, but I don't think it did a very good job. Any reasonable person must see that this changes everything. The Intelligence Agencies can't admit they lied for decades and then expect us to keep believing new lies. Fool me for a century, blame on you; fool me for another century, blame on me. 

Upon reading that article, I really did find myself feeling like Neo in The Matrix, when he wakes up in the vat of fluid with the giant robot bug standing over him. If the article didn't make you feel like that, I don't think you read it closely enough, and I encourage you to read it again and again. Read it until you feel literally sick at your stomach, and then you will know that the truth has finally penetrated your eyes. After that, you can sleep for a couple of days—through fitful dreams—and upon waking you will be in a position to look again at all you think you know. You can make a list of all your heroes, of all your goats, of all the famous people you have heard of in your long or short life, and reweigh them in the scales of your new knowledge. I have lost many of my heroes, but also gained a couple. At first I felt like I had been raped by the razor fingers of a hurricane wind, each cell penetrated and dessicated and pulled into a infinitely long ellipse. But when the wind had gone and my cells had returned to circles, I felt suddenly restored, like an old painting that had been cleansed of a century of soot and cigar smoke and the noxious exhalations of a million polluted men. 

*Its name has now been co-opted and turned: stolen by the mainstream and defined in a way opposite to its intent. On Slow Art Day, April 14, 2014, you can join other propagandized people to “look at art slowly.” **See letter six. †Partisan Review was one of the journals financed by the CIA under Tom Braden's Commission. ‡You will say he promoted Frederick Hart in the New York Times Magazine in 1999, but I answer “only after Hart was dead.” Don't you find it odd that Hart was given these articles and NEA medals after he died, but never when he was alive? 1 Since both Partisan Review and Commentary have now been outed as CIA fronts, Greenberg is also outed. See Saunders, The Cultural Cold War, p. 158. 2 See for example “Is Modern Art Communistic?” New York Times Magazine, 1952.