Subliminal Art in the Watchtower Publications
by Randall Watters (5/20/04)
Over the last 20 years of writing about the Watchtower Society in the Bethel Ministries Newsletter and its successor, the Free Minds Journal, I have received a lot of mail regarding the supposed intentional subliminal images found in many of the paintings that are created by Jehovah's Witness artists and reproduced in the Watchtower's publications. I would like to make a few comments about this subject.
First of all, I am a skeptic when it comes to the power of subliminal art and music, even when it is intentional. Perhaps it is just my nature to take art and music for what it is rather than to stare at it and look for hidden meaning. I have no doubt that some artists do use subliminal images as part of their art form. Perhaps they even hope that some will see it and notice, adding richness and subtlety to the experience. But for the most part, according to statements by artists themselves, much of what people find in their art as "subliminal" was not intended at all by the artist him/herself!
I do not doubt that there were some JW artists who put in some type of subliminal design or faces in their artwork, at least a few years ago when this was noted in the book, Hour of Darkness by Darek Barefoot. Some pretty interesting and even scary images seemed to appear upon taking a more magnified look at parts of faces or shrubbery or whatever. Having lived at Bethel, I know just how independent and rebellious some of the Bethelites can be! We did our own versions of the art in the Watchtower publications ourselves in the Pressroom (example 1, example 2), why would I assume that all the other departments at Bethel did not have certain ones who did the same thing, only in their own independent way? Yet when we were discovered with such artwork, we were severely reprimanded. Yet I would never have imagined that such could be a "planned" agenda by the heads of departments. They are simply too loyal to the overall Watchtower agenda and leadership to allow such a thing in a more organized way. As evil as they may be in the ruination of the lives of others, I personally do not believe the Watchtower Society does anything intentionally satanic. I worked there for six years and knew many of the heads of departments and workers, and they are mostly of the same old garden-variety fundamentalist drones who are there because of the Watchtower's ideology, and would never dream of doing anything remotely considered "satanic." Let's give them a little credit, less we lose our own credibility in critiquing them. They had so much mail about this subject they even addressed it in the pages of the September 1, 1984 Watchtower, page 20 (quoted in part):
|Even the Watchtower Society’s publications have been the subject of rumors—for example, that one of the artists had secretly been introducing pictures of demons into the illustrations, was subsequently found out and disfellowshiped!|
Did you share in spreading any such stories? If so, you were—perhaps unwittingly—spreading an untruth, since they were all false. Certainly, the rumor concerning the Society’s publications was harmful, as well as slanderous to the zealous Christians who work long hours producing artwork to make the magazines, brochures and books so attractive. This was as ridiculous as it would be to say that God, in creating celestial bodies, deliberately formed the appearance of a ‘man in the moon.’
Recently there has been a major effort to "expose" the Watchtower for purposely putting all kinds of satanic subliminal images in the Watchtower's publications. Anonymous CDs full of magnified, twisted and redoubled images from the publications have been sent out to over a hundred persons (including myself) with intent to cause governmental investigations into the Watchtower for planning this major conspiracy. To me, this is total bunko! Personally, I am not into conspiracy theories in general, and this one seems to be the result of Christian fundamentalism or conspiracy theorists gone wacko. Why would the Watchtower intentionally do something that is exactly the opposite of their agenda to begin with? They are more afraid of Satan than most any other group in my opinion! Most Witnesses I know are afraid of objects being demonized, setting foot in a church, wearing crucifixes or anything else that might have some supposed satanic roots. It is like accusing the Mennonites of being secret satanists; it just doesn't wash to a critical-minded person who is educated about the group. Here is the web page for your consideration. HERE is a discussion of that web page on the Jehovah's-Witnesses.com discussion board.
I myself had this fearful mindset towards anything demonic when I became a Jehovah's Witness in 1972. I burned, among other things: A full set of Ellen G White's books by the Seventh Day Adventists, all my rock-and-roll records, a picture of me with long hair and smoking, and all manner of other books and items that were religious in nature and subject to being demonized. Had I become a Christian instead at the time (which I am now), I would not have given nearly so much credit to the devil! (Now I have all kinds of "religious" books in my library for research purposes, not the least of which are Watchtower publications themselves! So far I have not been demonized by them, and doubt that I ever will. I also do not stare at pictures looking for hidden meanings. I also do not believe that anything that is currently considered as "subliminal" that I have seen has much if any effect on the reader to begin with. Apparently there are some professional people out there who agree with me as well. Following are some quotes from Robert Gann, as well as some VERY INTERESTING RESPONSES by artists about subliminal images in their OWN ARTWORK.
by Robert Genn
|Robert Genn is one of Canada’s most accomplished painters, having gained international recognition for his genre subjects on Canada’s West Coast. He has painted in most parts of Canada, and in the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia. from: http://www.painterskeys.com/about_robertgenn.asp|
partially quoted from: http://www.painterskeys.com/letters.asp?let=030825
In 1980 a university media professor, Wilson Bryan Key, wrote a book that caused quite a fuss. It was an inquiry into the use of subliminal images--mostly in advertising--but also in fine art. The title of the book, (which I won't repeat here because it may snag on some email filters) came from a popular restaurant place-mat that showed a plate of clams, which, on close examination, appeared to be a pile-up of boys and girls. ...
Many of Wilson Key's examples--such as suggestive patterns in ice in a glass of Johnnie Walker require a fair stretch of the imagination. Crotches, protuberances, as well as grimacing faces in margarine patties and other products are less subtle. "Viewer manipulation," he warns. Is it possible that our unconscious voyeuristic natures take us automatically to forms that tease our libido? Even the suggested inclusion of a certain three-letter word with an 'x' at the end can do the trick, he finds. He uses Bruegel, Bosch, Durer, and even Rembrandt to flesh out his ideas.
PS: "Superficially insignificant or accidental looking detail (in art) may well carry the most important unconscious symbolism." (Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art)