This article is the first in a series exploring propaganda in general, and the work of Shepard Fairey in particular. I am going to jump right in under the assumption that most here are at least familiar with his Hope painting above, if not with his larger body of work. Because I have some clear biases against his message, I fully expect you to look him up independently to get a clear perspective on his message and intentions.
Some of you are familiar with my writings on Propaganda and Marketing. For those who are not, please follow the links provided and take the time to read some of the articles. I am putting a great deal of time and research into these articles because I believe it is crucial to the future of our country and our culture to promote a conservative movement in the arts. You cannot fully understand the importance of such a movement without historic perspective and an understanding of what the progressives have been working so hard to achieve through art and culture.
Fairey is not the only mainstream artist promoting progressive ideas through his work. He is, however, one of the most successful and easily recognizable. In addition, he is a highly talented artist, which makes his message more readily acceptable and easily absorbed. I do not question his right to freedom of expression; quite the contrary. What I question is the message itself and its acceptance by our society as not just valid, but defensible by Any Means Necessary.
More importantly, I question Mr. Fairey’s many contradictions of character and hypocrisy of action. Other writers have explored the question of how he can justify becoming wealthy by participating in a capitalist system he considers evil. The defense of playing the system from within is weak at best, given the sheer volume of work he creates (presumably with help from a large crew) and the copious quantities of merchandise he makes available at his shows in high-dollar galleries. His hypocrisy is not the subject of this article, however.
My concern at this stage in the conversation is his clear disdain for a conservative point of view and his dishonesty expressing it, evinced in an artist statement from his web page:
“Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The PARANOID OR CONSERVATIVE VIEWER however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.”
This is directly contradictory to other statements expressed on his web page regarding the need to promote a message through his art. Do not mistake my criticism as a reaction to his views. I actually enjoy learning what the ‘other side’ thinks. It helps me with my own work. I am merely pointing out the fact that you cannot say the Obey campaign means nothing, then later describe it as being the vehicle for a propaganda campaign. Surely, the image has evolved over time from the innocuous to the propaganda tool – that is not the issue. The issue is a clear disdain for those who would criticize the message. Mr. Fairey has no problem criticizing conservatives or their messages – surely he does not consider himself above the fray.
At this point I am organizing my thoughts and processing the information available on Mr. Fairey’s work. While this first article may seem disjunct and not having much point, I ask for your patience. Changing American culture will not happen overnight or without a clear understanding of what needs to change. Please take the time to follow the links provided and get acquainted with some history and ideas that may not be familiar to you. These topics are crucial to your understanding of points in future articles.