How the CIA Secretly Used Jackson Pollock & Other Abstract Expressionists to Fight the Cold War

What’s the dif­fer­ence between the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca and a cup of yogurt? If you leave the cup of yogurt alone for 200 years, it devel­ops a cul­ture. So goes one of many jokes long in cir­cu­la­tion about the sup­posed Amer­i­can ten­den­cy toward low-mind­ed, expe­di­ent philis­tin­ism. I grant, as an Amer­i­can myself, that such humor sur­rounds at least a grain of truth. But there was a time when the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment of the U.S., an orga­ni­za­tion not often accused of exces­sive high-mind­ed­ness, took an active role in pro­mot­ing the coun­try’s home-grown avant-garde — an appro­pri­ate term, notes Lucie Levine at JSTOR Dai­ly, since it “began as a French mil­i­tary term to describe van­guard troops advanc­ing into bat­tle,” and Amer­i­can mod­ern art had become a con­tin­u­a­tion of pol­i­tics by oth­er means.

“Up until World War II, Amer­i­ca had nev­er pro­duced large, influ­en­tial art move­ments like in Europe,” says the nar­ra­tor of the Con­spir­a­cy of Art video above. After the war, “some­thing unex­pect­ed hap­pened: a brood of rad­i­cal Amer­i­can painters helped make New York City the cen­ter of the art world.”

Mark Rothko, Willem de Koon­ing, and Jack­son Pol­lock: they and oth­er artists “cap­tured the world’s atten­tion with large-scale works of pure col­or and form.” This move­ment came to be known as abstract expres­sion­ism, and in the eyes of the new­ly estab­lished Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, it came to show promise as pro­pa­gan­da. If shown abroad, it could func­tion as pro­pa­gan­da, high­light­ing “the dif­fer­ences between Amer­i­can and Sovi­et pol­i­tics”  — and more specif­i­cal­ly, “the appeal of Amer­i­can cul­ture over Sovi­et Cul­ture.”

“Was Jack­son Pol­lock a weapon in the Cold War?” asks the New York­er’s Louis Menand. While Pol­lock was indeed pro­mot­ed abroad with CIA mon­ey (usu­al­ly pro­vid­ed through lay­ers of orga­ni­za­tion­al mis­di­rec­tion), you don’t look at a paint­ing like Laven­der Mist and “think about ‘artis­tic free enter­prise’ or the CIA, or the cul­tur­al pol­i­tics of Par­ti­san Review. You think about how a painter could have tak­en all he had expe­ri­enced across a cre­ative thresh­old that no one had crossed before, and pro­duced this par­tic­u­lar thing.” But its “impor­tance for a cer­tain strand of Cold War cul­tur­al pol­i­tics is part of the sto­ry of how it got to us, a gen­er­a­tion or more lat­er, and that his­to­ry is worth know­ing.” It’s also worth ask­ing, should the Unit­ed States once again find itself face-to-face with a for­mi­da­ble polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al adver­sary, whether it will be pre­pared to draft a few Pol­locks back into ser­vice.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch “Jack­son Pol­lock 51,” a His­toric Short Film That Cap­tures Pol­lock Cre­at­ing Abstract Expres­sion­ist Art on a Sheet of Glass

How the CIA Secret­ly Fund­ed Abstract Expres­sion­ism Dur­ing the Cold War

Watch Por­trait of an Artist: Jack­son Pol­lock, the 1987 Doc­u­men­tary Nar­rat­ed by Melvyn Bragg

How the CIA Fund­ed & Sup­port­ed Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zines World­wide While Wag­ing Cul­tur­al War Against Com­mu­nism

Was Jack­son Pol­lock Over­rat­ed? Behind Every Artist There’s an Art Crit­ic, and Behind Pol­lock There Was Clement Green­berg

How the CIA Helped Shape the Cre­ative Writ­ing Scene in Amer­i­ca

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Talking Heads Reunite on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and Revisit Their Early Days as a Band

Late this sum­mer, the Talk­ing Heads released a remas­tered ver­sion of their con­cert film, Stop Mak­ing Sense. Although the film has already left some the­aters, the band has­n’t stopped pro­mot­ing it. Above, David Byrne, Jer­ry Har­ri­son, Chris Frantz and Tina Wey­mouth join Stephen Col­bert and rem­i­nisce about their adven­tures at RISD, CBG­Bs, and tour­ing with The Ramones. It’s great see­ing the band shar­ing a stage (and a laugh) again, even if there are no instru­ments in sight. Find Part 1 above, and parts 2 and 3 below…

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

David Byrne Explains How the “Big Suit” He Wore in Stop Mak­ing Sense Was Inspired by Japan­ese Kabu­ki The­atre

Watch David Byrne Prac­tice His Dance Moves for Stop Mak­ing Sense in New­ly Released Behind-the-Scenes Footage

The Talk­ing Heads’ First TV Appear­ance Was on Amer­i­can Band­stand, and It Was a Lit­tle Awk­ward (1979)

Talk­ing Heads Per­form The Ramones’ “I Wan­na Be Your Boyfriend” Live in 1977 (and How the Bands Got Their Start Togeth­er)

A Brief His­to­ry of Talk­ing Heads: How the Band Went from Scrap­py CBGB’s Punks to New Wave Super­stars

Behold Gustave Doré’s Illustrations for Rabelais’ Grotesque Satirical Masterpiece Gargantua and Pantagruel

When François Rabelais came up with a cou­ple of giants to put at the cen­ter of a series of inven­tive and rib­ald works of satir­i­cal fic­tion, he named one of them Gar­gan­tua. That may not sound par­tic­u­lar­ly clever today, gar­gan­tu­an being a fair­ly com­mon adjec­tive to describe any­thing quite large. But we actu­al­ly owe the word itself to Rabelais, or more specif­i­cal­ly, to the near­ly half-mil­len­ni­um-long lega­cy of the char­ac­ter into whom he breathed life. But there’s so much more to Les Cinq livres des faits et dits de Gar­gan­tua et Pan­ta­gru­el, or The Five Books of the Lives and Deeds of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el, whose endur­ing sta­tus as a mas­ter­piece of the grotesque owes much to its author’s wit, lin­guis­tic vir­tu­os­i­ty, and sheer brazen­ness.

Nor has it hurt that the books have inspired vivid illus­tra­tions from a host of artists, one of whom in par­tic­u­lar stands out: Gus­tave Doré, whom Richard Smyth calls “one of the most pro­lif­ic — and most suc­cess­ful — book illus­tra­tors of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.”

Here at Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured the art he cre­at­ed to accom­pa­ny the work of Dante, Cer­vantes, and Poe, each a writer pos­sessed of a high­ly dis­tinc­tive set of lit­er­ary pow­ers, and each of whom thus received a dif­fer­ent but equal­ly lav­ish and evoca­tive treat­ment from Doré.

For Rabelais, says the site of book deal­er Herib­ert Ten­schert, the 22-year-old artist pro­duced (in 1854) “100 images that oscil­late between the whim­si­cal and the uncan­ny, between real­ism and fan­ta­sy,” a count he would expand to 700 in anoth­er edi­tion two decades lat­er.

You can see a great many of Doré’s illus­tra­tions for Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el at Wiki­me­dia Com­mons. The simul­ta­ne­ous extrav­a­gance and repug­nance of the series’ medieval France may seem impos­si­bly dis­tant to us, but it can hard­ly have felt like yes­ter­day to Doré either, giv­en that he was work­ing three cen­turies after Rabelais.

As sug­gest­ed by Herib­ert Ten­schert, per­haps these imag­i­na­tive visions of the Mid­dle Ages — like Balza­c’s Rabelaisian Les con­tes dro­la­tiques, which he also illus­trat­ed — “res­onat­ed with Doré because they remind­ed him of the mys­te­ri­ous atmos­phere of his child­hood, which he had spent in the mid­dle of the medieval city of Stras­bourg.” What­ev­er his con­nec­tion, Doré cre­at­ed images that still bring to mind a whole range of descrip­tors: somber­ly joc­u­lar, rig­or­ous­ly volup­tuous, com­pelling­ly repel­lent, and above all pan­ta­gru­elist. (Look it up.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Exquis­ite Engrav­ings of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote

The Adven­tures of Famed Illus­tra­tor Gus­tave Doré Pre­sent­ed in a Fantasic(al) Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

The Dro­lat­ic Dreams of Pan­ta­gru­el: 120 Wood­cuts Envi­sion the Grotesque Inhab­i­tants of Rabelais’ World (1565)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Choir with 1,000 Singers Pays Tribute to Sinéad O’Connor & Performs “Nothing Compares 2 U”

The build­ing that hous­es Dublin’s 3Olympia The­atre began life as Dan Lowrey’s Star of Erin Music Hall.

It has under­gone sev­er­al name changes over the course of its 145 years, and played host to dra­ma, opera, bal­let, films, ora­to­rio, pan­tomime, vari­ety shows, and world-famous pop­u­lar musi­cians like David Bowie, REM, Foo Fight­ers… and Dublin native Sinéad O’Connor, who arrived at the venue in 2011, uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly tot­ing her alu­minum foil-wrapped lunch.

Her fif­teen-year-old daugh­ter, Róisín Waters, sang back up.

Review­er Nico­la Byrne wrote in Gold­en Plec that “a sin­gle spot­light illu­mi­nat­ed O’Connor on the mid­dle of the stage, as she launched into “I Am Stretched On Your Grave,” a song she ‘Usu­al­ly ded­i­cates to any dead peo­ple that may be present:’”

With no instru­men­tal, all atten­tion was on that spot­light. If a pin had’ve been dropped in the Olympia, I would’ve known about it.

O’Connor ded­i­cat­ed that evening’s per­for­mance of “Noth­ing Com­pares To You” to her 7‑year-old son, Shane Lun­ny, who died by sui­cide in Jan­u­ary 2022, a year and a half before his moth­er also took her leave.

A few weeks ago, Nobu Adil­man and Dav­eed Gold­man, founders of Choir! Choir! Choir!, swung by 3Olympia The­atre, to lead a 1000-mem­ber strong spon­ta­neous choir of tick­et hold­ers in a mov­ing cov­er of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 You,” at the top of the page.

It was a mean­ing­ful way for fans to con­nect to an artist who spoke to them.

Choir! Choir! Choir! pre­vi­ous­ly paid trib­ute to David Bowie with “Space Odd­i­ty,” and Prince (com­pos­er of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 You)” with “When Doves Cry” not long after their deaths.

Pri­or to Dublin, Choir! Choir! Choir! hon­ored O’Connor with a sin­ga­long of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 You” at the Toron­to Opera House, in the town where their move­ment got its start.

Tick­et pur­chas­es ben­e­fit­ed CAMH: The Cen­tre for Addic­tion and Men­tal Health. Adil­man and Gold­man were joined onstage by the pro­duc­er of “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U,” Chris Bir­kett, and Toron­to-based singer-song­writer Feist, whose first album pur­chase was O’Connor’s debut, The Lion and the Cobra.

“I remem­ber so clear­ly the first time I heard her at a friend’s house after school,” she told Index Mag­a­zine in 2005:

 She blew my mind. Her voice sound­ed like it was from anoth­er uni­verse. She rede­fined every­thing for me.

Turn­ing the clock back to 2016, we find Choir! Choir! Choir! par­tic­i­pants tack­ling “Noth­ing Com­pares 2” as a way of get­ting the jump on February’s most fraught hol­i­day:

Valentine’s Day kin­da sucks so last night, in antic­i­pa­tion, we cel­e­brat­ed EPIC HEARTBREAKS with the one and only Sinéad O’Con­nor. Props to Prince (yes, we know he wrote this amaz­ing tune!) for not tak­ing this video down in 7 hours and 15 days.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch David Byrne Lead a Mas­sive Choir in Singing David Bowie’s “Heroes”

Sinéad O’Connor’s Raw Iso­lat­ed Vocals for “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U”

Sinéad O’Connor Makes Her First US Tele­vi­sion Appear­ance: Watch Her Sing “Mandin­ka” on Late Night with David Let­ter­man (1988)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A Free Digital Archive of Graphic Design: A Curated Collection of Design Treasures from the Internet Archive

We’ve got a thing for cre­ative prob­lem solvers here at Open Cul­ture.

We also love a good com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed project.

Graph­ic design­er Valery Mari­er ticks both box­es with, a free graph­ic design archive that was born of her frus­tra­tions with online research at a time when Covid restric­tions shut­tered libraries and archives.

The non-prof­it dig­i­tal library Inter­net Archive is rich in inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al, but its lack of cura­tion can often leave the user feel­ing like they’re sort­ing through the world’s most dis­or­ga­nized junk shop, root­ing for hid­den trea­sure.

Mari­er was also dis­cour­aged by “a com­bi­na­tion of con­fus­ing boolean oper­a­tors and an absolute hodge­podge of dif­fer­ent meta­da­ta tags and cat­e­go­ry names:

I fig­ured that if I was hav­ing these prob­lems, then there were like­ly oth­er folks who were as well. So I decid­ed to put my design skills to good use and work on a solu­tion. The biggest issues that I felt need­ed to be solved were the user expe­ri­ence, and the con­tent cura­tion. For the archive’s cura­tion, I opt­ed to curate each item man­u­al­ly. While I could have like­ly fig­ured out a way to curate these items using an auto­mat­ed script, I feel that there is an inher­ent val­ue to human cura­tion. When a col­lec­tion is curat­ed by a com­put­er it can seem con­fus­ing and arbi­trary. Where­as with human cura­tion there is often a delib­er­ate con­nec­tion between each object in the col­lec­tion. For the nav­i­ga­tion I want­ed to ensure that it was sim­ple enough that any­one could under­stand it and oper­ate it. So instead of hav­ing a ton of com­plex oper­a­tors, I instead decid­ed to orga­nize them by their aspect in design.

Graph­ic design nerds, rejoice!

Mari­er deter­mines which of the finds should make the cut by con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vance and image qual­i­ty.

A quick peek sug­gests graph­ic design­ers are not the only ones who stand to ben­e­fit from this labor of love.

Edu­ca­tors, his­to­ri­ans, and activists will be reward­ed with a sup­ple­ment to the Guardian from Feb­ru­ary 1970, which pro­vid­ed an overview of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in their own words. There’s a ton of infor­ma­tion and his­to­ry packed into these 8 pages, from its for­ma­tion and its 10-point pro­gram, to an inter­view with then-incar­cer­at­ed par­ty chair­man Bob­by Seale.

The IBM Ergonom­ics Hand­book from 1989 address­es an ever­green top­ic. Office man­agers, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and dig­i­tal nomads should take note. Its rec­om­men­da­tions on con­fig­ur­ing the work space for max­i­mum effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and employ­ee com­fort are sol­id. It’s not this hand­some lit­tle yel­low and blue employ­ee manual’s fault that ref­er­ences to now-obso­lete tech­nol­o­gy ren­der it a bit quaint:

Think of two fair­ly recent inno­va­tions in our lives — the push but­ton tele­phone and the pock­et cal­cu­la­tor. Both have a stan­dard key set lay­out, but not the same lay­out.

Mari­er elect­ed to let each pick be rep­re­sent­ed by its cov­ers, fig­ur­ing “what bet­ter way to browse designed objects than by how they look.”

We agree, though we’re wor­ried about where this might leave 1924’s Posters & Their Design­ers. How can its staid blue cov­er com­pete against its sexy neigh­bors in the posters cat­e­go­ry?

Small busi­ness own­ers, set dressers and pub­lic domain fans should give Posters & Their Design­ers a chance. Behind that dis­creet blue cov­er are a wide assort­ment of stun­ning ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry posters, includ­ing some full col­or repro­duc­tions.

While not specif­i­cal­ly typog­ra­phy relat­ed, Mari­er wise­ly gives this resource a typog­ra­phy tag. Hand let­ter­ing loy­al­ists and font fanat­ics will find much to admire.

We hope to pique your inter­est with a few more of our favorite cov­ers, below. Begin your explo­rations of here.

via Eye on Design/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


How the “Lost Cities” of the Amazon Were Finally Discovered

About a decade and a half ago, The Lost City of Z seemed to have been placed front-and-cen­ter in most book­stores of the Eng­lish-speak­ing world. It was the first book by jour­nal­ist David Grann, and it hand­i­ly proved that he knew how to deal with his­to­ry in a way that could cap­ture the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. (His sec­ond, Killers of the Flower Moon, pro­vid­ed the basis for the acclaimed Mar­tin Scors­ese film now in the­aters.) Sub­ti­tled A Tale of Dead­ly Obses­sion in the Ama­zon, the book tells of British explor­er Cap­tain Per­cy Faw­cett, who went miss­ing with his son in that vast jun­gle back in 1925. They’d been look­ing for the “lost city” of the title, of whose exis­tence Faw­cett had been con­vinced by what may now strike us as rather scant evi­dence.

“The idea was based on rumors that had cir­cu­lat­ed for cen­turies that there were once large cities, filled with peo­ple, deep in the Ama­zon,” says the nar­ra­tor of the Vox Atlas video above, fired by the dis­cov­ery of grand cap­i­tals like Tenochti­t­lan in mod­ern-day Mex­i­co and Cus­co in Peru. Experts, for their part, “believed that this rain­for­est was sim­ply too hos­tile and too remote to ever have sup­port­ed cities.”

More recent­ly, sci­en­tists start­ed iden­ti­fy­ing man-made ditch­es and mounds all over the Ama­zon, which com­pli­cat­ed the pic­ture con­sid­er­ably. Instead of the extrav­a­gant metrop­o­lis inti­mat­ed by explor­ers in the cen­turies before him, Faw­cett only encoun­tered small groups of natives liv­ing in sim­ple vil­lages. The con­sen­sus came to hold that a host of envi­ron­men­tal, geo­log­i­cal, and bio­log­i­cal fac­tors con­spired against the growth of large-scale civ­i­liza­tions in the rain­for­est.

But “it turns out, Faw­cett was look­ing in the right place, just for the wrong thing.” He nev­er took note of patch­es of inten­tion­al­ly cul­ti­vat­ed fer­tile soil, ditch­es where once stood walls lead­ing to a plaza, and “delin­eat­ed areas for gar­dens and orchards.” Though none of this quite sug­gest­ed the fabled El Dora­do, “over the past few decades, experts have uncov­ered evi­dence of large set­tle­ments all over the Ama­zon,” a sin­gle one of which could have had up to 60,000 inhab­i­tants. By the time Faw­cett arrived in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, most of those locals had long since died of Euro­pean-import­ed dis­eases, leav­ing their wood- and-Earth struc­tures to decom­pose. Giv­en how far trans­port and con­struc­tion tech­nolo­gies have come since then, per­haps it’s time to try out a dif­fer­ent obses­sion: not over find­ing old Ama­zon­ian cities, but build­ing new ones.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Sis­tine Chapel of the Ancients: Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er 8 Miles of Art Paint­ed on Rock Walls in the Ama­zon

Tour the Ama­zon with Google Street View; No Pass­port Need­ed

Explor­er David Livingstone’s Diary (Writ­ten in Berry Juice) Now Dig­i­tized with New Imag­ing Tech­nol­o­gy

Hear Ernest Shack­le­ton Speak About His Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion in a Rare 1909 Record­ing

Lis­ten to Pla­to Invent the Myth of Atlantis (360 B.C)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


The History of the Electric Guitar Solo: A Seven-Part Series


No instru­ment is more close­ly iden­ti­fied with rock and roll music than the elec­tric gui­tar, and no form of per­for­mance is more close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the elec­tric gui­tar than the solo. You can hard­ly dis­cuss any of those three with­out dis­cussing the oth­ers. Hence the broad sweep of Axe to Grind, the new sev­en-part video series from Youtube music chan­nel Poly­phon­ic on the elec­tric gui­tar solo, a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non that can’t be explained with­out telling the sto­ry of a vast swath of pop­u­lar music through prac­ti­cal­ly the entire twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and con­tin­u­ing on into the twen­ty-first.

Like any prop­er full-scope rock his­to­ry, this one begins with the blues, trac­ing the styl­is­tic devel­op­ments that emerged among gui­tarists on the Mis­sis­sip­pi Delta with the advent of new tech­nolo­gies like elec­tric­i­ty.

Axe to Grind’s first episode cov­ers such ear­ly elec­tric gui­tar play­ers as Char­lie Chris­t­ian (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), Fay “Smit­ty” Smith, Mud­dy Waters, and Junior Bernard, who was “one of the first to real­ize that if you cranked vac­u­um-tube ampli­fiers up to max­i­mum vol­ume and played as loud as you could through them, the vac­u­um tubes would com­press the sig­nal so they did­n’t explode. The result was a new sort of grit­ty tone that came to be known as over­drive.”


The sec­ond episode cov­ers the nine­teen-fifties and the rise of rock and roll itself, a broad musi­cal church that came to encom­pass musi­cians from Chuck Berry, Junior Walk­er, and B. B. King to John­ny Wat­son, Link Wray (who record­ed the only instru­men­tal song ever banned from the radio), and Bud­dy Hol­ly. Then comes the nine­teen-six­ties, the pow­er of whose transat­lantic pop-cul­tur­al explo­sion still comes through loud and clear in the elec­tric gui­tar solos on the records by the Rolling Stones, the Bea­t­les, Led Zep­pelin, the Byrds, Cream, Jimi Hen­drix, and many oth­er acts besides. The fourth episode, still to come on Youtube, is already avail­able on the sub­scrip­tion stream­ing plat­form Neb­u­la. How­ev­er you watch Axe to Grind, rest assured that it will leave you not just with a deep­er under­stand­ing of the elec­tric gui­tar solo’s evo­lu­tion, but a much deep­er appre­ci­a­tion of the “John­ny B. Goode” scene from Back to the Future.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn to Play Gui­tar for Free: Intro Cours­es Take You From The Very Basics to Play­ing Songs In No Time

The Evo­lu­tion of the Elec­tric Gui­tar: An Intro­duc­tion to Every Major Vari­ety of the Instru­ment That Made Rock-and-Roll

How Fend­er Gui­tars Are Made, Then (1959) and Nowa­days (2012)

The Sto­ry of the Gui­tar: The Com­plete Three-Part Doc­u­men­tary

Hear the Bril­liant Gui­tar Work of Char­lie Chris­t­ian, Inven­tor of the Elec­tric Gui­tar Solo (1939)

Behold the First Elec­tric Gui­tar: The 1931 “Fry­ing Pan”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

David Lynch Teaches You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Strange, Surrealist Video

A sta­ple of Andean diets for thou­sands of years, quinoa (KEEN-wah) has been tout­ed as a super­food recent­ly for its high pro­tein con­tent and poten­tial to solve hunger crises. It’s rep­re­sent­ed by the usu­al celebri­ties: Kate Moss, Gwyneth Pal­trow, Jen­nifer Anis­ton … and David Lynch. Oh yes, have you not tried David Lynch’s quinoa recipe? Well, you must. If you’ve remained unswayed by the glit­terati, per­haps this very Lynchi­an of pitch­es will turn you on to the grain. Watch the first part of Lynch’s video recipe above, part two below. It opens at peak Lynch: puls­ing omi­nous music, gar­ish light­ing, and the obses­sive kind of patience for the slow build that may be David Lynch’s alone.

By Part Two of Lynch’s video recipe, we are ful­ly immersed in a place seem­ing­ly far away from quinoa, a place of the por­ten­tous topog­ra­phy of David Lynch’s inner life. Every­day objects take on a mys­te­ri­ous glow­ing res­o­nance. Small rit­u­al­is­tic exchanges stand in for glob­al shifts of con­scious­ness.

So in a way, maybe we’re still close to the mag­ic of quinoa. Lynch made the short video as an extra for the 2006 Inland Empire DVD. As Dan­ger­ous Minds points out, its cur­rent YouTube iter­a­tion “looks like crap” and “there’s at least a cou­ple of min­utes miss­ing… it’s still worth a look.”

If you don’t have David Lynch’s patience but do have his taste for quinoa, read the full recipe below. It’s like­wise full of delight­ful asides and digres­sions.

Yield: 1 bowl
Cook­ing Time: 17 min­utes

1/2 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups organ­ic broc­coli (chilled, from bag)
1 cube veg­etable bul­lion
Brag­gs Liq­uid Aminos
Extra vir­gin olive oil
Sea salt

* Fill medi­um saucepan with about an inch of fresh water.
* Set pan on stove, light a nice hot flame add sev­er­al dash­es of sea salt.
* Look at the quinoa. It’s like sand, this quinoa. It’s real real tight lit­tle grains, but it’s going to puff up.
* Unwrap bul­lion cube, bust it up with a small knife, and let it wait there. It’ll be hap­py wait­ing right there.
* When water comes to a boil, add quinoa and cov­er pan with lid. Reduce heat and sim­mer for 8 min­utes.
* Mean­while, retrieve broc­coli from refrig­er­a­tor and set aside, then fill a fine crys­tal wine glass—one giv­en to you by Agnes and Maya from Lódz, Poland—with red wine, ‘cause this is what you do when you’re mak­ing quinoa. Go out­side, sit, take a smoke and think about all the lit­tle quinoas bub­bling away in the pan.
* Add broc­coli, cov­er and let cook for an addi­tion­al 7 min­utes.
* Mean­while, go back out­side and tell the sto­ry about the train with the coal-burn­ing engine that stopped in a bar­ren, dust-filled land­scape on a moon­less Yugosla­vian night in 1965. The sto­ry about the frog moths and the small cop­per coin that became one room-tem­per­a­ture bot­tle of vio­let sug­ar water, six ice-cold Coca-colas, and hand­fuls and hand­fuls of sil­ver coins.
* Turn off heat, add bul­lion to quinoa and stir with the tip of the small knife you used to bust up the bul­lion.
* Scoop quinoa into bowl using a spoon. Driz­zle with liq­uid amino acids and olive oil. Serve and enjoy.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal­vador Dalí’s 1973 Cook­book Gets Reis­sued: Sur­re­al­ist Art Meets Haute Cui­sine

The Recipes of Famous Artists: Din­ners & Cock­tails From Tol­stoy, Miles Davis, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, David Lynch & Many More

10,000 Vin­tage Recipe Books Are Now Dig­i­tized in The Inter­net Archive’s Cook­book & Home Eco­nom­ics Col­lec­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Watch the Sesame Street Episode Banned for Being Too Scary, Featuring The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West (1976)

In 1939, Mar­garet Hamil­ton made cin­e­ma his­to­ry as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wiz­ard of Oz. In 1976, she made tele­vi­sion his­to­ry by repris­ing the role on a Sesame Street episode that was pulled from the show’s rota­tion imme­di­ate­ly after it aired.  It seems to have drawn Sesame Work­shop, then known as the Chil­dren’s Tele­vi­sion Work­shop, a fair few com­plaints from the par­ents of dis­turbed chil­dren. As a result, writes Men­tal Floss’ Michele Debczak, “the episode was banned for being ‘too scary’ for kids, and for decades it was dif­fi­cult to find,” seen only on low-qual­i­ty video tapes and in the trou­bled minds of cer­tain Gen­er­a­tion Xers.

Now Hamil­ton’s Sesame Street appear­ance has become avail­able on Youtube, ready for you to watch with the braver chil­dren in your life this Hal­loween. But then, it’s hard to imag­ine any twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry view­er being tru­ly fright­ened by it, no mat­ter how young. (This in con­trast to the Wicked Witch’s army of fly­ing mon­keys in the orig­i­nal film, which con­tin­ues to give kids the creeps gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion.)

Some may even be delight­ed by the evi­dent rel­ish with which Hamil­ton plays her part, even 37 years after the first time; as William Hugh­es writes at The AV Club, she “was always game to reprise the role of the Witch on behalf of edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram­ming; she also appeared, around that same peri­od, on sev­er­al episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood.”

In Big Bird’s neigh­bor­hood, the Wicked Witch acci­den­tal­ly los­es her broom to David, whom read­ers of a cer­tain age may remem­ber as the spir­it­ed law stu­dent who once dat­ed the icon­ic Maria Rodriguez. Only when the Witch shows him some respect, David insists, will he return that pre­cious pos­ses­sion. Thus begins the Witch’s cam­paign of ter­ror and trick­ery on Sesame Street, which con­tin­ues until David finds a way to out­smart her into a whol­ly unchar­ac­ter­is­tic show of cour­tesy. This sto­ry with­in the episode deals with the time­less theme of over­com­ing fears; and as the long unavail­abil­i­ty of the episode itself shows us, giv­ing in to fears — espe­cial­ly those of pub­lic back­lash — can have real con­se­quences.

Relat­ed con­tent:

When Mis­sis­sip­pi Tried to Ban Sesame Street for Show­ing a “High­ly Inte­grat­ed Cast” (1970)

Alfred Hitch­cock Presents Ghost Sto­ries for Kids (1962)

Watch Twin Beaks, Sesame Street’s Par­o­dy of David Lynch’s Icon­ic TV Show (1990)

Watch Vin­cent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries (1970)

When L. Frank Baum’s Wiz­ard of Oz Series Was Banned for “Depict­ing Women in Strong Lead­er­ship Roles” (1928)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A New Horror-Themed Tarot Deck Draws on a Century’s Worth of Scary Movies, Comics & Magazines

Hal­loween looms.

Have we got a tarot deck for you!

Todd Alcott, the mad sci­en­tist respon­si­ble for Open Culture’s favorite mid­cen­tu­ry graph­ic mashups, infus­es his Hor­ror Tarot with a century’s worth of hair-rais­ing, spine-tin­gling imagery.

The artist admires the genre’s capac­i­ty for con­vey­ing sub­ver­sive mes­sages, explain­ing that “hor­ror is where we think about the unthink­able and rev­el in the things that are bad for us:”

Dra­ma can exalt the finest in human­i­ty, but hor­ror shows us who we real­ly are. From The Golem to Franken­stein to The Shin­ing to The Silence of the Lambs, hor­ror uses metaphor to explore the dark­est and most unfor­giv­able aspects of human nature.

As he did with his Pulp Tarot deck, Alcott put in hun­dreds of research hours, study­ing movie posters, pulp mag­a­zines, fan mags, paper­back books, and clas­sic comics to get a feel for peri­od design trends and exe­cu­tion:

I love see­ing the dif­fer­ent devel­op­ments in print­ing, from etch­ing to lith­o­g­ra­phy to silkscreens to off­set print­ing. All those dif­fer­ent meth­ods of cre­at­ing images, all ridicu­lous­ly com­pli­cat­ed back then, are now tak­en care of eas­i­ly with a few mouse clicks. In my own per­verse way, I want to bring those days back. I want to see the flaws in the process, I want to see the lim­i­ta­tions of repro­duc­tion, and, most of all, I want to be able to feel the paper the images are print­ed on.

The cards of the Major Arcana are inspired by film posters span­ning the silent era to the present day. Each card has close ties to Hor­ror Tarot Stu­dios, a fic­tion­al pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny that pur­ports to have been in busi­ness since the dawn of the motion pic­ture.

The Jus­tice card ref­er­ences mar­ket­ing tac­tics for grit­ty 70s dri­ve-in sta­ples like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. The deck’s instruc­tion book­let con­tains a few anec­dotes about the pro­duc­tion of these movies, a help­ful bit of con­text for those who might have missed (or skipped) that fer­tile era of women’s revenge pic­tures:

I want­ed the Hor­ror Tarot Jus­tice to be some­one the read­er can root for, even if they’re hor­ri­fied by what Jus­tice promis­es: not death, but “what you deserve.”

Famous Mon­sters of Film­land, a prime pre-inter­net resource for hor­ror fans, was Alcott’s jump­ing off place for the Minor Arcana’s Suit of Wands.

You may have no knowl­edge of that sem­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion, but you’d prob­a­bly rec­og­nize some of the cov­er art­work by painter Basil Gogos, fea­tur­ing such MVPs as Frankenstein’s mon­ster, the Crea­ture from the Black Lagoon, the Phan­tom of the Opera and Drac­u­laAlcott says that many of Gogos’ icon­ic mon­ster por­traits are more deeply ingrained in the pub­lic mem­o­ry than the art the stu­dios chose to pro­mote their movies:

…for the Suit of Wands I want­ed to cre­ate a series of por­traits done in his style, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters he nev­er got around to paint­ing. The Four of Wands is a card about home­com­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and I had the idea to paint Fred­er­ick March’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as two sep­a­rate men, meet­ing for the first time in a back alley in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don. 

A home­com­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly require a phys­i­cal return to a phys­i­cal home — it can be com­plete­ly inter­nal. I want­ed to show Dr. Jekyll com­ing to terms with his inner strug­gle.

The Suit of Swords recre­ates the look of anoth­er indeli­ble hor­ror trope — the EC comics of the 1950s:

These comics were so lurid and per­verse that they actu­al­ly sparked a con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion, which end­ed up putting them out of busi­ness. Again, before the inter­net, this is what hor­ror fans had avail­able to them, and comics pub­lish­ers had to keep push­ing the lim­its of what was accept­able in order to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. 

For the Five of Swords, I par­o­died and gen­der-swapped the infa­mous cov­er of Crime Sus­pen­Sto­ries #22. The Five of Swords is a card about being a bad win­ner, about gloat­ing at your oppo­nen­t’s defeat, about overkill. I fig­ured that a house­wife mur­der­ing her hus­band and then behead­ing him with a sword count­ed as overkill.

Todd Alcott’s Hor­ror Tarot is avail­able here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Download 222 Belle Époque Art Posters: An Online Archive of Masterpieces from the “Golden Age of the Poster” (1880–1918)

Europe at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth: what a time and place to be alive. Or rather, what a time and place to be alive for peo­ple in the right coun­tries and, more impor­tant­ly, of the right class­es, those who saw a new world tak­ing shape around them and par­took of it with all pos­si­ble hearti­ness. The peri­od between the end of the Fran­co-Pruss­ian War in 1871 and the out­break of World War I in 1914, best known by its French name La Belle Époque, saw not just peace in Europe and empires at their zenith, but all man­ner of tech­no­log­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al inno­va­tions at home as well.

We here in the 21st cen­tu­ry have few ways of tast­ing the life of that time as rich as its posters, more than 200 of which you can view in high res­o­lu­tion and down­load from the “Art of the Poster 1880–1918,” a Flickr col­lec­tion assem­bled by the Min­neapo­lis Col­lege of Art and Design.

“In the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, lith­o­g­ra­phers began to use mass-pro­duced zinc plates rather than stones in their print­ing process,” says the accom­pa­ny­ing text. “This inno­va­tion allowed them to pre­pare mul­ti­ple plates, each with a dif­fer­ent col­or ink, and to print these with close reg­is­tra­tion on the same sheet of paper. Posters in a range of col­ors and vari­ety of sizes could now be pro­duced quick­ly, at mod­est cost.”

Like oth­er of the most fruit­ful tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments of the era, this leap for­ward in poster-print­ing drew the atten­tion, and soon the efforts, of artists: well-regard­ed illus­tra­tors and graph­ic design­ers like Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chéret, Eugène Gras­set, and Hen­ri de Toulouse-Lautrec took to the new method, and “The ‘Gold­en Age of the Poster’ was the spec­tac­u­lar result.”

While many of the best-remem­bered posters of that Gold­en Age come from France, it touched the streets of every major city in west­ern Europe as well as those of Eng­land and Amer­i­ca, all places whose well-heeled pop­u­la­tions found them­selves new­ly and avid­ly inter­est­ed in art, pho­tog­ra­phy, motion pic­tures, mag­a­zines, bicy­cles, auto­mo­biles, absinthe, cof­fee, cig­a­rettes, and world trav­el.

The com­pa­nies behind all those excit­ing things had, of course, to adver­tise, but unlike in ear­li­er times, they could­n’t set­tle for get­ting the word out; they had to use images, and the most vivid ones pos­si­ble at that. They had to use them in such a way as to asso­ciate what they had to offer with the abun­dant spir­it of the time, whether they called that time La Belle Époque, the Wil­helmine peri­od, the late Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian era, or the Gild­ed Age.

All those names, of course, were applied only in ret­ro­spect, after it became clear how bad times could get in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. But then, none of us ever real­ize we’re liv­ing through a gold­en age before it comes to its inevitable end; until that time, best just to enjoy it. You can enter the poster archive here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Scenes from Belle Époque Paris Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (Cir­ca 1890)

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

René Magritte’s Ear­ly Art Deco Adver­tis­ing Posters, 1924–1927

An Intro­duc­tion to René Magritte, and How the Bel­gian Artist Used an Ordi­nary Style to Cre­ate Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly Sur­re­al Paint­ings

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

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