Now that the election is over people are starting to discuss the Obama art phenomenon in greater detail. There is a need to examine what occurred, how it occurred, and the implications said info will have in the future. Due to this I'm pleased to know that some fellow art bloggers will be discussing issues concerning the so-called 'Obama art phenomenon.
Sharon Butler, who maintains the Two Coats of Paint art blog, has plans for a “Blogger Conference/Think Tank/Pre-Inauguration Party” at Pocket Utopia this Sunday. The event will be used as a platform to discuss the influence of art during the Bush administration and how it has changed since the rise of Obama-- as well as how the Obama administration will shape the art world based on policy decisions. Paddy Johnson from Art Fag City mentioned that someone needs to address the “Obama portrait phenomenon” that is “currently gripping the art world” and applauded Butler for taking on the task.
My bet is that a core group of art bloggers will stoke the flames of this needed dialogue before the traditional press does. So far all we have had is a constant bombardment of regurgitated information concerning Shepard Fairey, his ’Hope’ portrait of Obama, and the idea that the Obama campaign has inspired a 'grass roots' political art movement. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the art blogger think tank-- but I still want to make my concerns known.
So here it goes…
HOPE by Shepard Fairey
Maybe I’m being cynical-- but when art and politics mesh on a grand scale concern is warranted. This concern is solidified when one is aware that key figures in this ‘movement’ are employees and clients of a public relations firm that once served as Media Consultants for the Obama campaign. I'm speaking of the PR firm Evolutionary Media Group. Yet the press has predominately portrayed the Obama art phenomenon as a “grass roots” effort born from within the arts community that occurred without direct support from a firm, corporation, or any specific individual with time and resources invested in the Obama campaign.
The connection between art and Barack Obama played an instrumental role during the election. It was indeed an art phenomenon. My concern is that the momentum of this “art phenomenon” may have been fostered by artificial means-- a playing of the system by individuals with the right (in this case left) press connections, controversial funding, and the know-how of implementing a strategic and stealthy art campaign.
With a source of funding-- not counting donations-- and inside media support-- guaranteed press acknowledgment-- political opportunists with a specific agenda could have easily accomplished this. In other words, the attention directed toward the ‘Obama art phenomenon’ and specific artists and individuals involved in the ‘movement’ could have been manipulated in such a way as to create false media buzz concerning the ‘grass roots’ visual impact. In other words, individuals and businesses with a vested interest in the Obama campaign could have spurred the grass roots effort artificially by utilizing stealth PR tactics and funding from controversial sources. Thus making the grass roots effort more than what it would have been otherwise. Furthermore, it may not have even existed otherwise.
To put it bluntly, there is reason to suspect that the art phenomenon surrounding Barack Obama was not as “grass roots” as some people might think. It may have been carefully plotted by individuals-- professionalis-- directly associated with the Obama campaign. If that is the case history, and the public, has been fooled. After all, the media is already portraying Obama’s election as a triumph for the power of user-generated art from within the arts community as a purely 'grass roots' movement fueled by artists who did not have direct contact with the Obama campaign.
X Obama by Ron English
If this phenomenon was created and guided by a well-funded PR machine-- with the ever-watchful eye of the Obama campaign observing and directing it-- does it matter? Would it take away from the legitimacy of those outside of the PR machine who were lured into the ‘movement‘ believing it to be a purely grass roots effort-- artists who had intentions other than fostering media hype for themselves... artists who were not interested in establishing the groundwork for a for-profit merchandising empire based on selling hope?
If a scenario like this were to unravel would we see the merit of some of the most influential street artists in the United States questioned? Would the message of their art be tarnished by being associated with the very entities and corruption they speak against? Or would they continue to be hyped as anti-corporation visual revolutionaries? After all, one can be a rebel and still earn a living, right? However, one can’t sustain an authentic dialogue if he or she is subservient to what he or she protests against. What are your thoughts?
Links of Interest: