Art with an agenda: the role of patronage throughout history

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Artists are relied upon to express themselves through the content they produce, communicating their observations, ideals and opinions through their work and helping audiences view concepts through fresh perspectives. And yet some of the greatest artworks throughout history were in reality vehicles for religious and political agendas, rather than the product of pure, unadulterated creative expression. Below are three examples that highlight the very important role of the patron – whether the Pope, a millionaire, or the CIA – in the creation and dissemination of artistic content throughout history. Content may be King, but it’s the King who pays for content.

The Patron Pope: Julius II and High Renaissance Art in Rome

Pope Julius II’s rule may have been relatively short (1503-1513), yet during this time he funded some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of the High Renaissance. Determined to make the Papacy the most important power in Italy and Rome its capital, Pope Julius II lured artists including Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael away from Florence and the reigning art patron of the day, Lorenzo de Medici. To demonstrate the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, he commissioned this group of renowned artists to paint extravagant religious-themed frescoes all over Rome, most notably in the Sistine Chapel and the private papal apartments in the Vatican. He also commissioned Raphael to paint his portraits and insisted his image be included in many of the frescoes both Raphael and Michelangelo painted.

During his reign Pope Julius II did everything in his power to ensure that Rome was the birthplace for all new developments in High Renaissance painting – at great expense to the Vatican. While many consider Pope Julius II to be one of the greatest patrons of fine art, historians have lamented that in his effort to make Rome the cultural capital of Italy, he robbed Michelangelo – considered one of the greatest artists of his day – of the freedom to create as he wished. Not only was the artist forced to abandon many projects when he was called to Rome by Julius, but it is said that the obligation to complete his painstakingly crafted frescoes allowed him very little time to pursue his true passion, sculpture, and that he disliked the work he was made to do for the Pope. Sadly, not only did Michelangelo’s health suffer as a consequence of his Sistine Chapel masterpiece, which took him nearly four years in total to complete, but it was widely known that he regarded the Pope with disdain by the end of his commission. 

Key Content Marketing Takeaway:

Don’t underestimate the power of building a strong foundation of content as the center of your marketing brand and empire – nor the importance of calling upon the best team of creative collaborators to help you achieve your goals. Build your strategic blueprint and pull your assets together into an asset library. Recruit your collaborative team members from both internal and external sources, so that you can maintain your core brand messaging while also incorporating fresh ideas and perspectives from the “outside looking in”, then foster a culture for your team that facilitates each member doing the work they are most passionate about. Your team’s loyalty is the first step towards achieving brand loyalty from your customers – and one that is vital as you continue to build and strengthen your brand messaging.

Art of War: How the CIA used Abstract Expressionism as a “weapon” during the Cold War

In the late 1940s, America was at war with the Soviets. Soon after the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established in 1947, it set up a division called the Propaganda Assets Inventory. Its main weapon of choice? The daring Avant Garde works of American Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. The idea was to promote the US as a thriving cultural capital: a hotbed of free thought, creativity and artistic expression, thus defusing the commonly held notion (at that time) that America was culturally bereft. But even the American public couldn’t quite grasp the Avant Garde movement at first, and turned up their noses at its wildly experimental style and lack of clearly defined subject matter and structure.

Yet this was the very reason the CIA chose to promote it. Abstract Expressionism represented everything that the Russians despised – it was the polar opposite of the censored and rigid Socialist Realism style of art coming out of Moscow.

The CIA dubbed their secret promotional efforts the long leash”, so-called because of its power and eventual worldwide reach. The artists themselves were unaware of their role, unwittingly playing the pawns in a subversive game of propaganda-fuelled Chess against the Soviets. In 1950, the CIA set up the International Organizations Division (IOD), and agents were planted into every information-dispensing organization possible: the film industry, publishing houses – the CIA even subsidized George Orwell’s animated version of Animal Farm. It also ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which published more than two dozen magazines and ran offices in 35 countries. The Congress for Cultural Freedom sponsored several exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism during the 1950s, including one titled The New American Painting, which visited every major European capital between 1958 and 1959.

The CIA covertly promoted American modern art for 20 years, keeping its role as the patron of Abstract Expressionism tightly under wraps for decades until 1995, when former case officer Donald Jameson confirmed the rumors that had already been circulating within the art world for years.

Key Content Marketing Takeaway

Have a long-term vision. Create a movement and then invest in its distribution and amplification. Your cause might not be quite as imperative as saving the free world from totalitarianism, but it doesn’t hurt to think like those who did. Start by building a list of themes, then create a plan that implements those themes throughout your customer’s journey, managing your content distribution efficiently along each step of the way with Marketing.AI’s calendars and workflows software.

 

Rockefeller vs. Rivera: When art and politics don’t mix:

In 1932, the Rockefeller family, tycoons of American industrialism, hired celebrated Mexican painter Diego Rivera – a devout Leftist who often used his vivid surrealist-style works to express his radical political leanings – to paint a mural inside New York’s illustrious new Rockefeller Center. The theme he was given, “New Frontiers”, was intended to depict the ideals of Capitalism, the cornerstone of modern American civilization. Rivera received a three-page contract outlining what the Rockefellers had envisioned: the artist was to paint a man ‘at a crossroads’, facing an uncertain future but looking ahead with hope.

Rivera signed the agreement and even sketched out a mock-up for approval. Unfortunately for the Rockefellers, what Rivera actually painted was very different from the sketch he had produced. His mural not only featured a portrait of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin, it also unflatteringly depicted Sir John D Rockefeller, patriarch of the Rockefeller family, surrounded by martinis and excess.

It is unknown whether Rivera had planned to stray from the agreement all along, or if his actions were the result of the negative attention he received from New York’s left-leaning artists, who proclaimed him a ‘sell-out’ for accepting a commission from the ‘bourgeois’ Rockefellers. Regardless, as soon as the breach of contract was discovered, the repercussions were swift and permanent. Rivera was promptly fired, and his work – which had been painted onto plaster rather than canvas at the artist’s own insistence – was chiseled off the walls of the Rockefeller Center.

 

Key Content Marketing Takeaway

In many ways, brands are the modern-day patrons of content, each with their own agenda and objectives. As a provider of content, it is imperative to ensure the correct brand messaging is being communicated effectively across all channels, at all stages of content production and distribution. This means aligning your team’s goals, progress, and objectives early on in the process, and maintaining your vision along every step of the way. 

 

 

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