In praise of professionalization

Who knew Glenn Beck was an art historian? Here’s his long-form exploration of “art as propaganda.” Specifically, the evil “progressives” who are using “art in plain sight” to indoctrinate us into…well, depending upon the sentence: fascism, communism, and progressivism. He walks through three works:

(1) 1937 Carl Paul Jennewein intaglio carving, Industry and Agriculture (which he argues was “communist” art because one figure is holding a longhammer and because the other is holding an agrarian tool, a sickle)

(2) Attilio Piccirilli’s 1936 Youth Leading Industry, a Pyrex-brick relief (which he argues is “fascist” because the muscly hero represents Mussolini)*

(3) Diego Rivera’s now gone 1934 masterpiece Man at the Crossroads (which paints Karl Marx as the people’s hero and Beck seems to object to the depiction of police beating a crowd)

[By the way, the Rock Center folks have a nice website where you can learn even more about their art and architecture.]

Let me cut to his punchline: “Don’t let these people ever tell you anything but the truth, and that is…early 20th century progressives and the progressives of today…it makes sense that we’re headed down this road. It makes sense that you feel a little uneasy, and everything seems to be a little hidden. It’s not, if you all, all of the images that I’ve shown you here, thousands of people walk by every single day […] …you will point it out.  That’s your job. I’m trying to show you the things that seem to be hidden but they’re not.  They’re out in plain sight. Those with eyes will not see and those with ears will not hear. You’re awake.  You need to see the things that are hidden in plain sight: progressives, fascists, communists.  Now what do they all have in common? Today?  Well, that’s something you’re going to have to figure out. But look at these with wide eyes.  Look at these things and say, ‘wait a minute, hang on, just a second’, oh by the way, one other tidbit, completely unrelated, [points at the now destroyed Diego Rivera piece] commissioned by Rockefeller, all the things hidden by [John] Rockefeller, a progressive, a big civic leader. The Rockefeller Foundation? They, um, they gave a big award, and an awful lot of credibility to uh, oh, Van Jones, our new green job czar. Yeah. Wow, that seems weird, huh?”

Huffington Post tries to scan the argument and comes up with this:

Rockefeller was an early American progressive, which actually means he was a communist, and they have connections to the fascists. And we know this because Rockefeller left clues to his true legacy with these communist art pieces which are hidden in plain sight, and since we have people in our own time who call themselves progressives they must actually be communists (possibly fascists?).

I can’t possibly tell you what Beck’s point is here. I can tell you that he needs to brush up on his art historical knowledge, and that he needs to dispense with the notion that seeing depictions of political opinions you do not hold will somehow cause you to lose those commitments. The whole thing is so idiotic, I almost regret the amount of time I spent preparing this post.

* Tyler Green says of this claim:

I’ve done a quick survey of the literature on Youth and actually no, the figure at the right doesn’t represent Mussolini. It’s just a generic, heroic male figure representing industry. There is no evidence to indicate that Piccirilli was a fascist-sympathizer. At the time of the commissions discussed here, he’d lived in New York for four decades. He received these commissions only after a much-publicized dustup about Rockfeller Center pursuing Europeans such as Matisse and Picasso to create the art for Rockefeller Center.) Youth Leading Industry survived World War II intact and unobstructed and has remained on view ever since.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “In praise of professionalization

  1. while (as shown by the reductio ad glennbecktum) it’s possible to go overboard in reacting to this, there’s a legitimate proximate grievance in a recent conference call where the NEA encouraged its recipients to advocate for the president’s legislative agenda. regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the substance of the platform, it seems kind of unseemly for the NEA to actively encourage its recipients to engage in partisan advocacy, a qualitatively different thing than if artists (including NEA recipients) decided to support the agenda spontaneously or after being organized by groups outside the government (the democratic party, moveon.org, etc). aside from the ethical concerns about patronage/politicization, it also doesn’t seem smart for a federal agency that took five-ten years of careful reorganization to live down the Mapplethorpe thing to provoke its critics like this, who, let’s face it, won’t remain in the minority forever.

  2. I would be that Beck also dislikes most forms of non-realistic art — abstract impressionism and all that followed — even though it contains no explicit message. I’d also guess that what he really likes is “capitalist realism.”

  3. And the map to the treasure is on the back of the declaration of independence (ah, Olbermann).

  4. Jenn Lena

    Of course, I think there’s something really terrifying about his argument–he suggests any generalized unease felt by his audience should be blamed on propaganda in art. His solution is not simply to arm a horde of paranoid Beck watchers to give amateur art history lessons, but to build a sentiment that art is so dangerous it must be censored. And if that’s what we do with art, what do we do with people we don’t agree with?

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