Dear Bill and Hillary

So the rumours are true. The CIA did bankroll American art as a secret weapon in the Cold War. But with such cultured spies, a former 'agent' advises the White House, why stop the propaganda?
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The Independent Online
Of course, I know how folks in Arkansas felt about poor Mapplethorpe and Jesus in urine and so on, but really, we as a country, as Americans, ought to be doing something for the arts. And you two are art-lovers, so start doing.

It's sort of old history, so let me catch you up on what your intelligence boys were doing way back when. They were using the arts to win the Cold War. They used all the big-name painters, they used writers, they founded intellectual magazines, and by golly, they put on Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron: in Paris, with our taxpayers' money.

Now, clearly this was a good idea. The Enemy, which was then called the Soviet Union, had its money going on the other side. They had old Jean- Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, Bertie Russell and all sorts of intellos, as the French call them (egg-heads to us) spouting maxims at us because we had the Bomb and they didn't, we were Coca-Cola-ising the world, debasing culture, and so on. The smart people in the CIA figured that a little opposition might not come amiss. The question, back then, was: how do you get artists to co-operate?

Artists are an obnoxious lot: whether they're spattering paint on paper, writing down note-clusters, or musing on the loss of the Garden of Eden, their minds are wrapped up in themselves. We just don't have official artists in America. Hell, you both know the best job we ever gave an artist was a lousy consulship in Liverpool.

So, what the spooks thought up was this: no artist is really averse to a little money, foundations (along with the Academy) are what keep most of them alive. So what we ought to do is set up a few foundations and hand them some money, discreetly, and let them do their thing.

Which artists? It didn't matter. Artists are a force. They get their names in the papers. Places like France send them all over the world defending la culture francaise. You couldn't make all this public for obvious reasons. Most Americans thought Abstract Expressionists were mere daubers, modern composers made noise, and writers despised the public. If anybody knew we were spending money on such people, Middle America would have risen up in arms.

Europeans - you know what they're like, they don't really like us using our imperial power - are shocked by this. Because the artists didn't know they were being used. But, as I said, that's the heart of the matter. How could you wholeheartedly subvert all those smart Marxists and comsymps if you knew you were spreading "Made in America"? Stands to reason, your brush or pen would shrivel up. But if you were doing it unconsciously?

Mind you, afterwards, a lot of us - I say us because I did my bit on both ends, unconsciously, of course - looked back on our CIA connections and said, "Hey, wow! You mean the CIA did something smart!" Like helping a magazine like Encounter in England or Monat in Germany to survive, right on! Stephen Spender might resign in a huff, or a huff-and-a-half, but the Congress for Cultural Freedom prevented Them from making the big Take- Over. And back then, that seemed likely.

What it was all about was, what a free and open society America was! It was about marketing freedom of expression, not socialist dirigisme. Why, we were so free we even tolerated hottentots, to use a famous expression of your predecessor the great Harry Truman. It turned out that way too: no one circulated any tours of Soviet realism, did they? Just didn't sell. Sure, it was an instrument of the Cold War. But we won, didn't we?

Now, how about having Christo wrap Bosnia?