Glenn Beck, Art Hysterian

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As one of the many justifications for why the Obama administration is leading us headlong into Socialism and Fascism, Glenn Beck has turned to the history of propaganda art. In a recent broadcast, the resident propagandist at Fox News takes Rockefeller Center’s vintage public art and architecture to task for promoting Communism and Fascism through murals, friezes, and engravings bearing symbols that subliminally project vile values. (Watch the video above or here.)

With the verve of Stuart Ewen (author of All Consuming Images) and the symbolic vocabulary of Roland Barthes, Beck deconstructs works that include workers and farmers, hammers and sickles, iron-fisted leaders, and swords beaten into plowshares, equating the “progressive” mass art of the 1930s with the so-called subversive art of Obama.

Discussing Diego Rivera’s destroyed mural in the lobby of 30 Rock, Beck notes that through its symbolism the evils of Marxist/Leninism crept into the public’s subconsciousness. While Rivera was never shy about calling “all art propaganda,” and espousing Communism (and his friendship with Leon Trotsky), Beck neglected to say that Nelson Rockefeller actually covered over and eventually blasted the original mural before the public even saw it (only years later was it recreated in the jewel-like Palace of Art in Mexico City, where it is today).

Oddly, Beck–the art hysterian–neglected to mention the fasces (the symbol of Fascist Italy in the ’20s through the ’40s) still prominent on the doorway of the Palazzo d’Italia building on Fifth Avenue, perhaps because he’d have to justify the ancient Roman symbol in the halls of Congress and on old U.S. dimes.

Beck’s powers of observation are intense (most people do indeed walk by these vintage images without a second glance). But his relentless, desperate effort to tie Obama, in this case alluding to his art and design strategy, to Fascism and Communism is without merit.
 
As designers, don’t we routinely call for smart, sophisticated, not to mention consistent design and branding? Isn’t it the cornerstone of our profession? Are we all Communists and Fascists for doing so? It is one thing to criticize bad propaganda; it’s another to make propaganda through questionable art criticism.


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. The Yosi Seargent/NEA reach out to artists is not unusual in NEA’s history. Nor is it unusual for government to sponsor social or narrative art. The WPA’s Federal Arts Programs supported “unemployed” artists to produce materials used to raise awareness in public health, interstate travel, and cultural pursuit.

    Artists are often solicited on behalf of Federal Design projects to create work that benefits the citizenry. While Seargent may have pushed the envelope, there is precedent dating back to when Nixon founded the NEA.

  2. The Yosi Seargent/NEA reach out to artists is not unusual in NEA’s history. Nor is it unusual for government to sponsor social or narrative art. The WPA’s Federal Arts Programs supported “unemployed” artists to produce materials used to raise awareness in public health, interstate travel, and cultural pursuit.

    Artists are often solicited on behalf of Federal Design projects to create work that benefits the citizenry. While Seargent may have pushed the envelope, there is precedent dating back to when Nixon founded the NEA.

  3. The Yosi Seargent/NEA reach out to artists is not unusual in NEA’s history. Nor is it unusual for government to sponsor social or narrative art. The WPA’s Federal Arts Programs supported “unemployed” artists to produce materials used to raise awareness in public health, interstate travel, and cultural pursuit.

    Artists are often solicited on behalf of Federal Design projects to create work that benefits the citizenry. While Seargent may have pushed the envelope, there is precedent dating back to when Nixon founded the NEA.