I know this is going to be a hard article for many conservatives to read. It is understandable that an artist who is essentially the poster-child for progressive hypocrisy would be the last person whose work they would consider good. Nor would they expect a conservative art page to say as much. As in so many things cultural, they would be wrong. That is the point of this article. Conservatives need to hear some things they don’t like, beginning with Fairey’s talent and marketing acumen, if they are going to compete in the war for America’s culture.
There is much we can learn from the art and graphics of Shepard Fairey. As a propagandist, he may be one of the most successful contemporary street, and simultaneously commercial, artists in the world. The fact that he creates many of his beautiful mixed-media paintings on a canvas of urban decay and exterior walls is a testament to the power and foresight of his vision. As the artist himself says, “You have to get your work in front of as many people as possible”. Few artists, with the exception of Bansky, have cultivated the following and respect necessary to achieve global recognition in such a public and previously anonymous venue.
One of the reasons for Fairey’s enduring success, in my opinion, is the quality of his work. This is where conservatives are going to have a problem. Those of you who are familiar with his work know that he is the quintessential progressive with an obsessive grudge against conservatism, American idealism and capitalism. Clearly he has marketing acumen and has successfully embraced capitalism – but is that enough? Ignore the gulf between what he says and what he does and focus on this quote from one of his videos: “Art and commerce need each other”. This is something we need to take up as our standard and make it our own. There would be no greater testament to the liberty movement than a thriving art community that supports conservative ideas. I would argue further that one of the reasons we are loosing politically is because we are not fighting on the battle of cultural and societal issues. We have no message, no passion, no creative spark in the public eye.
If you divorce yourself for a moment from the message of Fairey’s work, you cannot contend that it is not good. Many of his pieces are absolutely gorgeous – although I have to admit that it took over ten hours of reading artist statements and looking at photo galleries on his web page, then watching videos of his installations to overcome my personal aversion to his message. Now that I am desensitized to the progressive dogma that he spews, I can explain to you the importance of learning from his work. I personally have no interest in wasting time reinventing the wheel. There is much to be learned from artists like Bansky and Fairey and far too little time to catch up to them in the nearly one-sided cultural battle that is wreaking havoc on our society.
Even those works that are not particularly good, or aesthetically beautiful can teach us something if we are willing to learn. Those that lack the beauty of layering and detail stand out for their graphic simplicity; and in some cases project a stronger message. The determination in what is a good piece of art does not just come from the question of whether it is aesthetically pleasing. Clarity of message and technical skill go a long way to making a piece of art good. One cannot honestly argue that Fairey’s work is not compelling on the grounds of ideological disagreement. Like the proverbial train wreck, you cannot look away, even when the work offends your personal beliefs and principles. It is understandably difficult to look past political differences, particularly in a time when conservatives are in the minority regarding art, cultural propaganda and social issues. But, it is precisely because we face the real chance of becoming the ideological minority that we must learn to embrace political activism, cultural endeavors and the use of propaganda.
So, how does a conservative make headway in the arts, which are dominated by liberal elitists? How does one stand in the face of gleeful derision and an overwhelming message of opposing all things conservative? I will argue in future articles that it is precisely for these reasons that we must get involved.
Back on topic: What makes Fairey’s work so successful? Strong graphics and an emotionally charged message are the key here. People react strongly to Fairey’s work because it appeals to them on a personal level. This is even more so in communities that are overburdened with victim status and entitlement mentalities. Fairey creates bogeymen from recognizable objects and public figures, then offers up saints and idols of great and memorable beauty as a counterbalance. Strong graphics are one of the most invaluable tools of the propagandist because they translate complex ideas into easily understood and reproduced images. In cases of work like Fairey’s they make those ideas cool, trendy and acceptable as fact.
The underlying beauty, borne of creative vision and technical skill are the main reasons for the success of Fairey’s propaganda. It is strong. It is pretty. It appeals to the human need to decorate one’s surroundings. Intricate layers of collage, screen printed icons and words peek through the final graphics, catching the inquisitive viewer’s eye and drawing them into the work. Upon further examination ideas are absorbed, and often, minds are changed. Compositionally, the underlying elements may fade into the background, but they remain influential on a subliminal level. Distressed layers of paint and medium soften the contrast between the background and the iconic images of the foreground. In this way Fairey successfully uses the elements of graphic design and illustration to spread ideas that influence people and ultimately change cultural trends. He deserves much credit for the surge in popularity and acceptance of street art, not just as a medium of rebellious creativity, but of fine art as well.
This didn’t happen overnight. Fairey’s career spans thirty years, give or take. We need conservative artists with the same quality of work, passion, clarity of vision and strength of message to create a cultural movement for liberty. Someone has to start the trend. I hope to hear from those of you who are willing to take on this challenge. There is a market and a desperate need for our work – if only we can find the passion to create it.
Previous articles in this series: