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 1example 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.

DISCUSSION of this matter among former Bethelites (June 2008):

Hi TOM!!!

It sure is good to see you here on JWD.  I read your bio experience at bethell - amazing how they tried you in kangaroo court.  The GB never thanked you for all that hard work you did setting up those new presses . Hek you and Randy ran that whole damn show back then!!. 

I have always wanted to ask you Tom, about subliminal artwork in the WT publications.  There is subliminal artwork that can be found in the WT publications.  A good example of this is Pascal Petits pic on page 93 of the live forever book.  She had already done several Lesbian movies by the time that she shows up in the live forever book back in 1982..  The live forever book and the rev climax book both have Jests.  Examples: the face in the hand in the rev climax book. Jests can also be found in the WT mags both in the text and pictures. Notable example is the lame horse in the feb 15 2008 WT. Also there has been discovered a triangle that has made 3 appearances in WT publications. The purpose of this triangle evidently is to convey a subliminal message.  The triangle is being used a sort of a hypnotic visual cue to convey the intended message to select target audience.  This is just one way the GB portrays itself as being so omnipotent.

So, when you were at bethell, were you aware of any members of the art dept who might have put jests into the WT publications??

 

reply:

Thanks for the kudos, 1914, but I had lots of help to do what we did. I did learn a lot along the way, but we all did. Randy was a great foreman. So was Jim Petrie, Darryl Block, Dana Primiano, Harry Johnson, and many others. And just about all the press operators were good guys, hard working, honest and sincere. I think one reason I was as successful as I was at Bethel is that I never forgot that these guys were volunteers, that they (at some point at least) wanted to be there, and that if I could just smooth the way for them, they would work hard and have a good time in the process. And just about all the time, it worked.

Regarding your questions about subliminal artwork, I am not much of a conspiracy theorist. I have a book or two that show WT artwork with things like goats and other stuff in it. Some of it is pretty convincing, as far as the shapes themselves. Of course, when I was there, most of the artwork was pretty simple. It has gotten much more complicated since the switchover to offset printing that happened when I was there.

It is of course possible for some artist to put some little hidden drawing in his work, for any number of reasons (the late caricaturist Al Hirschfield used to always hide his niece Ninas's name in his drawings just for fun), but since it will be printed and distributed to millions, he or she had better have a good reason for it if someone catches it, and with that many copies around, that could happen pretty easily.

Psychological manipulation using subliminal messages is some pretty sophisticated stuff. Things like that require mental resources that are just not available there at Bethel. I would find it nearly impossible to believe any of the people I knew there capable of doing something like that.

Even assuming that there is some evil genius there that could design and implement subliminal psychological messages, (and there isn't; trust me on this) what would the messages purpose be? Loyal JWs will obey just about anything the WTS wants them to do. If you can tell people in plain English that they may not take a blood transfusion and they obey even if it means their child will die, what more could you possibly expect from them through some subliminal messages? I saw some silly brochure recently that says that women cannot wear denim skirts when they tour Bethel. Believe me, if they have that much control, why waste time on subliminal messages?

Really good cons are hard to pull off and are mostly the stuff of movies (like The Sting, one of my all time favorites). In the real world, they are pretty rare. Remember the debacle about the staged rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital? If the US Government with all their brains and resources couldn't pull one over, what chance does the WTS have to do so? That is my opinion anyway...

Tom

 

reply 2:

Tom,

Since I worked in Photoplate for a few years and did several pieces of art for the Art Department, I'd have to concur with you. Granted there may have been some artists before I was there or after I left who managed to slip something in to make their mark, but I never saw it attempted on purpose from 1977 to 1980. And I think it would have been even more difficult in the following years after 1980. They still had some of the same people behind the the cameras for years after I was there, and I know how difficult it would have been to slip something like this past Brother Robinson or ANY of the others for that matter. (By camera, I mean the cameras that took pictures of original artwork to ultimately create printing plates for the presses.) 

When I used to post more often on this site, I wrote up my feelings about it here:

http://www.jehovahs-witness.com/10/56369/827656/post.ashx#827656

I believe it was David Taciak I was talking to (also in Photoplate at the time) who joked with me about a certain artist at 124 who might have been crazy enough to try putting his initials, or some other form of signature, on a piece of art. (David finally got transferred from Photoplate to a permanent position in the Art Dept.) But as I mention in the link above, it was more trouble to keep accidental "subliminals" OUT of the artwork. We'd often see something that came too close to looking like a face in a bush or cloud, or the smear of erasures that didn't "drop out" as well as the artists hoped. We'd often have to shoot something 10 times on the camera to avoid places where we suspected the final print was going to have unrealistic looking water reflections, or shadows that were too strong, or the like. We were pretty good, but sometimes the artist would sometimes see something on the proof that we missed, and sometimes they'd redo it, or we'd touch up the art for them.

In reality, very few of the artists were actually very good at folds in cloth and clothing, or folds in the skin of a hand or wrinkled brow. When an artist is drawing, they will often see a face forming in the cloud and redo it. Even a photograph that might be copied for a picture can have branches making swastikas, and crosses, or clouds that look like a fist "flipping a bird" and the artist is sometimes aware of these problems in a graphic or photograph and UNDOES these things in the art even where the original innocent photograph accidentally created them. (Photos are sometimes too perfect, and don't look natural enough without changes.) But that doesn't mean the artist is going to catch all the subtle things that can show up in his final art AT ALL ANGLES. Some bored person at the Watchtower Study is going to scrutinize a picture from upside-down or sideways and see a face that the artist didn't catch, or a "NINA" in someone's hair. 

Also, we were always trying to get used to how the new printing methods were going to treat color and shadow. And then sometimes you guys would just lay the ink on too thick (lol) and it was unpredictable.

I think that a lot of people don't realize that the mind is pre-wired to pick out faces from the surroundings and certain "out of place" objects, shapes and edges - even if these differencxes are extremely subtle. Too many straight lines in nature will jar the mind and make us conjure up a man-made object. Even babies are psychologically wired to pick up on the slightest variations in faces. Everyone sees a man in the moon. Animals with honed hunting instincts have extremely keen senses for picking out "edges" that don't belong: such as fur among leaves, eyes hiding behind bushes. And there have been numerous studies of how the human mind will automatically get tricked to fill in white spaces with imaginary "suggested" edges.

I haven't given much thought to why so many people tend to find "demonic" images. But faces tend to be unavoidable, and especially the ones that are missed in quality control will often be distorted and therefore might naturally look demonic. It's almost a cliche that a frightened, restless child can see a few extra claws and scary faces in the shadows and branches of a tree scratching near his window after the lights go out. Perhaps it's somewhat analagous that those who now see the dark and scary side of the Watchtower will, therefore, pick up on a few more of these problems in Watchtower artwork, even if it's no more purposeful than those random scratchings of branches through the glass, darkly.

Greg 

_________________

Subliminal art

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)

Perhaps the most constructive comments that represent the true reality of these subliminal images can be read from artists themselves who comment on subliminal images in their own artwork, in response to Robert Genn's article. These responses can be found at: http://www.painterskeys.com/clickbacks/subliminal.asp

What to make of it all? I like the response to the question of the Watchtower intentionally using subliminal images as part of a satanic conspiracy made by a couple of people quoted below:

By Mike Tea (Miketea) on Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - 08:18 pm:

All that has happened is that someone else, who we don't know, has said the story is genuine. It seems to me that such claims must meet a much more strict standard of evidence than "I read it in an email from a guy who used to be..." etc. I ask myself these questions:

1. If the people producing and distributing these CDs are so devoted to the truth why are they so keen to stay anonymous?

2. What exactly is achieved by distributing them?

3. How are they helpful if a) we don't know their provenance (I got them from a friend who got them through the post from someone he's never heard of and can't name), and b) we have no way of proving whether they are accidental or deliberate.

4. What do people think these things achieve for the people who are supposedly producing them for the original publications? This sounds like faith in superstition to me. looking at a picture of the devil, whether obvious or subliminal, will not trap you in some web of deceit and manipulation. It seems to me these poor people are already trapped and manipulated.

5. What's the most important thing to share with a JW? Surely it is the Lordship of Jesus and not some theory about subliminal messages that is, at best, dubious and easily laughed off, at the very worst a sure way to an abrupt end of an otherwise good opportunity to share the truth and cause ridicule of "Christendom" down at the old Kingdom Hall.

Whenever a Mormon asks me where the Book of Mormon comes from if it isn't genuine I ask "who is Jesus and what did he do on the Cross?"

I recommend this approach. It is certainly more plausible and challenging than "turn this picture upside down, stand five feet away and squint".

Your right Fran in being concerned about the effect this will have. People will overreact and JWs will feel persecuted and blame a conspiracy on the part of Christendom to make all this up and discredit them. That is how these things proliferate.

 

By belinda mary maddox (Belindamary) on Thursday, May 20, 2004 - 12:18 am:

Quote from GC's link.....

>>Just think of the time and effort gone in to designing it!<<

All I can say is think of the time and effort someone has gone to to manipulate photographs to show patterns which can (if you're fixated with them) look like demonic beings.

This really is going too far, IMO, and it's such a bad witness. Anyone reading it will think Christians are loonies.

When I was an atheist and thought that Christians WERE loonies, this is just the sort of thing that would have convinced me I was right.

I'm having nothing more to do with this.

 

For more information on PAREIDOLIA (The erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random.) click here.


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