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With Artist Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

An item from the Obama Store:

American Digest has more details (thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer). Call me a philistine, but this does not look like particularly effective pro-Obama art.

calmom:
This poster looks like old Soviet or Maoist propoganda to me.
3.13.2008 7:53pm
ys:
More specifically, an image of Vladimir Mayakovsky, that "talentiest poet of the Soviet Epoch" in Stalin's generous posthumous praise, immediately came to mind. [OK, I invented the adjective, but that better conveys the flavor of Stalin's phrase]. And it occured to me before I looked at the link to American Digest.
3.13.2008 7:58pm
Dave N (mail):
That or a really "modernistic" postage stamp.

But I agree, not particularly effective.
3.13.2008 7:59pm
OrinKerr:
I dunno, I think it's kinda cool.

("Truth Seeker" will tell you that this is because I'm a lefty Obama lover, but really I just think it's interesting imagery and an intriguing use of color.)
3.13.2008 8:03pm
CaDan (mail):
Perhaps Soviet emigre libertarian law professors are not the target demographic here.
3.13.2008 8:03pm
Belvedere jones:
This poster looks like old Soviet or Maoist propoganda to me.

So it's not just me. Grim expresssion; and even the colors appear grim. Like these.
3.13.2008 8:10pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
It's the color that I find most alienating, I think: The red makes me think of something hellish (compare the same artist's picture of George W. Bush, shown in the American Digest piece); but even when I try to set that aside, the red seems angry and unpleasant.
3.13.2008 8:12pm
glangston (mail):
I like it.

There's little regarding Obama that cannot be spun positively. It's insensitive not to.
3.13.2008 8:18pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Are you sure it is pro-Obama? The artist may have something else entirely in mind and Obama's campaign may have cluelessly missed it. In which case, the artist is chuckling all the way to the bank.
3.13.2008 8:22pm
Arkady:
Philistine. :)


But seriously, given the other colors in the picture, what color other than red would have worked in that place? (Not to say that the image per se works at all.)
3.13.2008 8:28pm
Maury Levy esq.:
Who'da thunk that this would result in more "Obama is a socialist/communist" backspin?
3.13.2008 8:30pm
SMatthewStolte (mail):
When I first saw the picture, I assumed that it was right wing propaganda, as if to say, "A vote for Obama is a vote for Communism." This is a wonderful example of how simple images or phrases resonate differently with different people.
3.13.2008 8:31pm
Ron MeXXXico:
Are you kidding? That thing is beautiful. If you can't see the difference between propaganda and that piece, then you don't really have any type of eye. It's powerful, it sums up Obama's campaign themes, and more than anything it is iconic. Your dislike of the candidate may be blinding you to what is an extremely effective piece. At the very least, I doubt it is in any way negative.
3.13.2008 8:32pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
The red and blue go well together, in a sort of "Barak Obama: Man of Steel" way, but the pale not-white used for the right half of his face is out of place, making an ugly composition.

And I have to wonder what the guy was thinking -- from the article, it's clear he's been using Soviet propaganda styles to make fun of the Republicans, but now he's using it in support of Obama? Huh? Did he put any thought into it?
3.13.2008 8:35pm
Mark H.:
Hmm, my first thought on seeing it was "Che."
3.13.2008 8:36pm
CEB:

This poster looks like old Soviet or Maoist propoganda to me.

Looks more like a KMFDM album cover to me.
3.13.2008 8:52pm
SMatthewStolte (mail):
Ron, I can't speak for others here, but I don't dislike Obama. I admit that he's not my ideal candidate, but then, my ideal candidate never seems to run.
3.13.2008 8:57pm
Bender (mail):
It took me a second to realize that the evocation of kitschy socialist-realism was what created this image's resonance for me. I like the image Obama projects and think it is more presidential than any of the other candidates. (His policy stands scare the hell out of me, but so do Clinton's and to a lesser degree McCain's.) Unfortunately for Obama's campaign, the soviet/nazi styling of this image could play into the hands of his opponents.
3.13.2008 9:03pm
FantasiaWHT:
The Phantom of the Primaries?
3.13.2008 9:10pm
ys:

Mark H.:
Hmm, my first thought on seeing it was "Che."

Che is a bit more romantic, what with the haircut and the beret. Look up my Mayakovsky link earlier for the same level of sternness.

Ron MeXXXico:
Are you kidding? That thing is beautiful. If you can't see the difference between propaganda and that piece, then you don't really have any type of eye.

No contradiction there. Early Soviet propaganda posters are collector's pieces now, and Che is a wordlwide bestseller.
3.13.2008 9:16pm
ys:
And while it may be artistically "interesting" the juxstaposition of the red and the bluish-white halves of the face is truly jarring. If this was the intent - fine, but I doubt it. Need I remind you that red is also the color of a bloody revolution.
3.13.2008 9:23pm
Raoul Ortega (mail):
Looks like it might pop right out of the screen if viewed through those red-blue 3D glassses.
3.13.2008 9:26pm
Colin (mail):
Need I remind you that red is also the color of a bloody revolution.

Also passion, apples, stoplights, and graphic designers who want to add impact to their images. Even given the subjective nature of art criticism, lots of people (especially the grating American Digest piece) seem to be reading way too much into the piece. I don't agree with Prof. Volokh's opinion, but his purely (or mostly) aesthetic approach makes much more sense to me than the overblown political analysis.
3.13.2008 9:31pm
Mark H.:
YS,

I can't say as to why, just noting that that was my first impression.
3.13.2008 9:33pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I had to look twice. I thought it was Chairman Mao. Then again, other than the mass murder, there is little difference between a Communist/Socialist poilcies and Barack Obama's.
3.13.2008 9:35pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
You only say that because he's black.
3.13.2008 9:39pm
liberty (mail) (www):

Are you kidding? That thing is beautiful. If you can't see the difference between propaganda and that piece, then you don't really have any type of eye.


(a) And what if very few people "have an eye"? Then it simply isn't effective, since the target audience is the public at large, not some elite group who have the right eye.

(b) Perhaps it is both beautiful and very like much propaganda. It could capture your love of Obama, and be like much propaganda. And much propaganda is indeed beautiful.
3.13.2008 9:53pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
I suspect it's meant to imply that Obama will bring "red" and "blue" America together, but then, I always had trouble with symbolism in English class.
3.13.2008 9:59pm
hawkins:
What's the matter with political propaganda? I find the poster very appealing. I prefer these though http://notchcode.com/blog/archive/2008_02_01_index.html
3.13.2008 10:03pm
JK:
I like it. Then again, from an asthetic perspective I rather like the old soviet propoganda posters also.
3.13.2008 10:04pm
Truth Seeker:
OrinKerr:
I dunno, I think it's kinda cool.

("Truth Seeker" will tell you that this is because I'm a lefty Obama lover, but really I just think it's interesting imagery and an intriguing use of color.)


See, see!! Leftists always like this kind of avant garde modernist symbolic art while conservatives prefer realism and precision.
3.13.2008 10:04pm
hawkins:
better link: http://www.gotellmama.org/
3.13.2008 10:05pm
ys:

I can't say as to why, just noting that that [Che] was my first impression.

Che's ubiquitousness? Mayakovsky is no match outside of Russia, but what I really had in mind is this logo
3.13.2008 10:09pm
Jagermeister:
I bet you can even buy it on a five year plan.
3.13.2008 10:11pm
Truth Seeker:
Personally I think it's stark, harsh, cold and unfriendly. but if I was asked in my college art class to discuss it I would say...

The artist used the juxaposition of the hot red passion he evokes with the cool blue calm that will settle on the country when he takes office and added the darker blue for soliditiy and firmness of America's standing in the world under president Obama. In his eyes we see the desire for progress and the remembranc eof the past, while the large firm lips signify the voice that we all need and the bloodline across two continents... blah blah blah.

Tom Wolfe wrote a great critique on the foolishness of the modern art scene as a tiny paperback but I can't remember the name. Anyone remember it?
3.13.2008 10:12pm
glangston (mail):
om Wolfe wrote a great critique on the foolishness of the modern art scene as a tiny paperback but I can't remember the name. Anyone remember it?




Yes, it was "You Can't Go Home Again", a series of short stories.
3.13.2008 10:24pm
Baseballhead (mail):
There is no red Obama, there is no blue Obama. There is only the united colors of Obama!

Speaking as a designer, I think it's quite nice. The color contrasts give depths to an otherwise bland and simple 2D picture, and you can't go wrong with the basic color palette. I would think that, given the man's running for President, calls out to traditional American flag colors would be patriotic, but I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder.
3.13.2008 10:45pm
MXE (mail):
Ffirst of all, yes it's a pro-Obama poster. I've seen lots of Obamaniacs sporting it.

It was done by Shepard Fairey, a graffiti and poster artist most famous for his OBEY GIANT series based on images of the wrestler Andre the Giant.

Fairey's work consciously draws on propaganda art, particularly Soviet stylings. When he does portraits, they are usually of political or musical figures. He has, in fact, done pieces depicting Stalin and Lenin.

His style has always had an ironic/subversive side to it, because it tends to put off people who are sensitive to totalitarian imagery. The fact that it's been adopted by a mainstream political candidate known for charisma/demagoguery (depending on who you ask), as well as his adoring followers, apparently without irony, is itself pretty funny.
3.13.2008 11:02pm
MXE (mail):
And yes, I am a fan of Fairey's work. I have several numbered prints of his on display in my house. Even though I don't much like Obama. FWIW.
3.13.2008 11:02pm
that other tom (mail):
It IS CHEnge! the famous image of Che fits perfect if you flip it.

you tell me
3.13.2008 11:18pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
The same artist, Fairey, has done other Obama posters which look better than that one. I'd recommend the one here:

http://obeygiant.com/post/obama

I personally like the color scheme both because it is eye-catching and because it gives a real feeling of depth to the image as Baseballhead remarked above.
3.13.2008 11:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"It's powerful, it sums up Obama's campaign themes, and more than anything it is iconic."

That's the problem. His campaign themes are in the eye of the beholder.
3.13.2008 11:40pm
Roy Mustang:

Brian G
I had to look twice. I thought it was Chairman Mao. Then again, other than the mass murder, there is little difference between a Communist/Socialist poilcies and Barack Obama's.



Chairman Mao wasn't a mass murderer. His pursuit of social and economic equality simply lead to the deaths of about 20,000,000 people. Mao simply thought that his judgement was superior to the judgement of the individual...much like Obama.
3.13.2008 11:42pm
Blue (mail):
I'm sorry but a developing cult of personality leader above the simple command "Change" is more than a little creepy to me.

I agree it is a striking poster...but I'd feel a whole lot more comfortable about it if it wasn't for a candidate in my country.
3.13.2008 11:49pm
roy (mail) (www):
Maybe I'm uncultured, but my first thought was "Pepsi".
3.14.2008 12:02am
The McGehee (mail) (www):
Personally I think it's stark, harsh, cold and unfriendly.

My sentiments exactly. Furthermore, it's worth considering that, to the extent Soviet-style propaganda worked in Russia, it was because Russia did have that whole, thousand-years-of-autocracy vibe going. Having the ruling class put forth images that brooked no dissent, was tradition.

In America, not so much.
3.14.2008 12:18am
Ron MeXXXico:
Tom Wolfe's rant against modern art was "the painted word." It's laughably bad, but it resonates with people who don't care to enjoy modern art (the I-don't-get-it-within-a-first-glance-so-it-must-be-garbage crowd). Wolfe has deservingly lost most of his legitimacy at this point and is more frequently being regarded as the hack that he is. Don't get me, "Bonfire. . ." is okay, but it is his best work and nowhere near the masterpiece many make it out to be.
3.14.2008 12:19am
Orangutan (mail):
The "Obey Giant" had but one purpose: To make you think, "what the f@%k?"
What's wrong with that? Usually when I ask myself that question, it means I'm learning something new.
3.14.2008 12:37am
Hoosier:
Ron Mexxxico--Well, then, put me down as one of those benighted Philistines. But Wolfe's thesis--assessments of the merit of modern art are excessively determined by ideologies--is not "laughable." "I like what I know" is not more sophisticated an aesthetic than "I know what I like."

But perhaps I'm just a hack, too.
3.14.2008 12:37am
ys:

Furthermore, it's worth considering that, to the extent Soviet-style propaganda worked in Russia, it was because Russia did have that whole, thousand-years-of-autocracy vibe going. Having the ruling class put forth images that brooked no dissent, was tradition.

In America, not so much.

I sure hope so. But then, what if you are just not the right demographic for this type of propaganda? I know I am not, but what do I know...
3.14.2008 12:53am
pgepps (www):
despite a commenter or so above, it doesn't take a very jaded observer to know that tons of read in the foreground of a *political* painting does not evoke roses or stop signs...

the use of it in a Soviet-style postor, with its iconic and grim presentation, and its (therefore) ironic relationship to the red-white-blue patriotic color scheme (reinforced by the hues used), all just heighten the unpleasantness of the image.
3.14.2008 12:54am
Gaius Obvious (mail):
I get that the "Change" at the bottom is an imperative verb rather than a noun describing a policy or the future. It's a stern command to change, and change now or else suffer the consequences of the re-education camp.
3.14.2008 2:05am
Baseballhead (mail):
I get that the "Change" at the bottom is an imperative verb rather than a noun describing a policy or the future. It's a stern command to change, and change now or else suffer the consequences of the re-education camp.

Hillary, is that you?
3.14.2008 2:37am
Riley Still (mail):
The artist forgot the Che beret.
3.14.2008 2:57am
Stevey Dicks (mail) (www):
Obama has POTASSIUM
Clinton campaign produce inferior POTASSIUM
3.14.2008 3:46am
Asher Steinberg (mail):
I like it and I'm not an Obama fan.
3.14.2008 4:26am
Californio (mail):
Companeros:

Tsk! Tsk! Naturally "some" do not "get" it. The poster identifies the exalted ONE - I am unworthy to say his name aloud - and draws upon the submerged longings of the international fraternal brotherhood of workers.

Expect to see the urban landscape covered with graphic depictions of the ONE - here immortalized bringing wheat to starving inner-city kids, there personally leading a vanguard of tractors to bring in the harvest! Oh how my heart thrills - at last, at long last!!!! And best of all he will use the power of the state to expand the state to truly help each and every one of us!! Of course the schemers and dealmakers will lead a hidden counter-revolution - but we will not tolerate their existence! Does not the state not seek our elevation? Truly, comrades, only those mentally ill would try to hinder such glorious fraternal progress - and everyone knows the mentally ill have no civil rights - for they are mentally ill! I GUARANTEE a future full of positive, empowering, hope filled, genuinely loving propaganda to allow the state to crush counter-revolutionaries. Oh, and all the up-lifting crap too - if it doesn't conflict with the crushing part.

ONWARD!!!!
3.14.2008 4:55am
Morat20 (mail):
Something else to bear in mind -- a large chunk of the voting population has an entirely different view of that sort of imagery than others.

I'd imagine that particular piece would work better on the sub-35 crowd than the 35+ crowd.

I suspect the least effective demographic for that would be the 60+ crowd that still reflexively fears communism and socialism, because of decades of living through the Cold War.
3.14.2008 6:12am
Toby:
THere was a reason this style of art developed, and it is tied as much to how the brain processes information as it is to some hipster concept of style. This makes the imagery powerful for the same reason it is iconic--and Julian Jaynes was probably right on icons if on nothing else...

As Morat20 idicates, experience has taught some to recognize the style, whow it works, and whether that is good or bad. And for the under-35 crowd..."Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
3.14.2008 6:59am
Hoosier:
"THere was a reason this style of art developed,"

Yeah. Lack of talent.
3.14.2008 7:13am
George Talbot (mail):
Man...get out the tinfoil hats. You guys wouldn't happen to be a punch of paranoid kooks, would you?

Geez. It's just a poster.
3.14.2008 9:20am
Krahling (mail):
I prefer the OBEY version at the end of the American Digest piece. It's more honest.
3.14.2008 10:05am
A.C.:
My first thought was to put "sex" in front of "change." The poster is what Obama would look like as a woman.

It may be the extreme color contrast in the lips, but he looks like he's wearing makeup. Rather a lot of makeup, in fact.
3.14.2008 10:13am
Just_Sayin (mail):
Does anyone else see Obama sporting an "Afro" haircut in this poster, or am I just seeing things...

Not that there's anything wrong with that
3.14.2008 10:34am
anonthu:
Obama has POTASSIUM
Clinton campaign produce inferior POTASSIUM


well-played!

I agree with JK. I like the poster, just as I "like" the old Soviet propaganda posters (and that's what it immediately reminded me of). FWIW, I'm voting for McCain.
3.14.2008 11:00am
More importantly...:
Anyone else think Obama looks a bit like Spock? Is he getting a latent Trekkie bump?
3.14.2008 11:10am
Immolate:
Somber face gazing into the distance (future); Idealized style making the person's image into an iconized caricature (whose face it is isn't important, unless it's important); single word or short phrase berift of context bannered boldly across the bottom. Yeah, you'd pretty much have to be smoking crack to associate it with a Soviet or Red Chinese propaganda poster.
3.14.2008 11:35am
Ernesto:

The poster is excellent. Thanks for presenting it on the page and not linking to it. Any advertising is good advertising.
3.14.2008 11:44am
Spartacus (www):
The same artist, Fairey, has done other Obama posters which look better than that one. I'd recommend the one here:

http://obeygiant.com/post/obama


I think these posters look cool, though I am opposed to Obama's politics. I like the eyes of Andre the Giant on the "lapel pin" in the poster on the above website.
3.14.2008 11:49am
Prufrock765 (mail):
IANA-Professor of Aesthetics, but wouldn't e.g., a "Futurist" poster or an "Objectivist" poster of Obama probably look a lot like this "Marxist-Maoist" poster?
I am not an Obama supporter and am decidedly not a lib/dem, but I think the poster is okay. The red and the blue merging is the most obvious symbolic aspect to it.
3.14.2008 11:56am
liberty (mail) (www):
The red and the blue merging is the most obvious symbolic aspect to it.


I am decidedly bad at picking up what others see as the main symbolic traits, and I am more likely than most to notice Soviet-style imagery, but I did not even notice the red/blue merge.

What I saw was a very propagandistic gaze into the future, with a stern "I Am Worker" authoritarian feel.


Man...get out the tinfoil hats. You guys wouldn't happen to be a punch of paranoid kooks, would you?

Geez. It's just a poster.


I don't think it takes a paranoid kook to see the propagandistic-in-the-Soviet-style look to this poster. Things like the color scheme are pretty much secondary to that.

And, call us all kooks, but the guy who made the poster consciously uses that kind of imagery and has done posters of communist figures before. It doesn't take a paranoid to see that, but it does take someone rather ignorant to miss it, I think.
3.14.2008 12:07pm
ak47pundit (www):
Its a soviet-poster inspired po-mo propaganda picture for fun and frolic.

American Digest has some critical reviews of these artworks that are pretty enjoyable reading:here and here
3.14.2008 1:14pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

I agree it is a striking poster...but I'd feel a whole lot more comfortable about it if it wasn't for a candidate in my country.



Bingo, that was my thought as well, it looked like the kind of poster one used to celebrate the cult of personality surrounding an authoritarian ruler of a third world country who is admired by over-privileged academics and brain-dead liberal arts students in western universities.

Oh wait.
3.14.2008 1:33pm
Mr. X (www):
Call me a philistine, but this does not look like particularly effective pro-Obama art.


You're a philistine. Soviet realism is a very powerful artistic style and can be co-opted to good effect by non-Communists.
3.14.2008 1:43pm
whatthe (mail):
I'm not sure why everyone is associating it with Soviet socialist realist art. The 3-color "posterized" effect with overlapping color fields is not realist at all. You could say the 3/4 pose is propagandistic, but if so it is ubiquitous and not particular to communism or any other ideology. And while the prominent use of red seems to be causing a Strangelovian freakout here, the poster also uses white and blue in equal amounts. Red, white, and blue--get it?

Anyway, I suspect that this is probably more to the taste of folks here.
3.14.2008 1:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Similar?

Its not the one I was looking for. There is one that is actually really close. I can't think who the picture is of - a worker or a leader. Hrm..
3.14.2008 3:45pm
ChrisLee (mail):
The colors of the poster:

1. Not just red, but BLOOD red
2. A kind of light blue that reminds you of steel
3. A kind of off white that reminds you of concrete or cinder-blocks)

They give an overall impression of bloody, industrialization. For some reason that reminds a lot of people of soviet style communism.
3.14.2008 4:02pm
ChrisLee (mail):
A better poster would have been a full color depiction of Obama wearing white flowing robes. His eyes are glowing with a golden light and he is wielding a huge sword labeled TRUTH in both hands and riding a white horse called HOPE.

He is fighting a two headed dragon. One head looks like Bush and holds in it's jaws a tattered and bloody American flag. The other head looks like McCain and is trying to tear the bloody flag away from the Bush head. The front foot of the dragon is crushing the crumpled, lifeless form of an innocent Iraqi civilian. In the background Hilary is playing marbles with several old white fat men in suites.

I'm not a big Obama fan but that poster would be awsome. However, a more realistic poster would be one of Hillery and Obama in Brazilian bare knuckled cage fight. Both fighters are on the ground and Obama almost has Hillery in a rear naked choke. Hillery, however has her chin tucked in, resisting with all her might, and is scrabbeling with her right hand, reaching back for Obama's hair while her left had is trying to gauge out Obama's eye. The democrates are screeming monkies, hooting and clamoring, throwing rotton food at the fighters and clamoring all over the cage. McCain is in the background putting all his money on Hillery.
3.14.2008 4:30pm
Kurt2 (mail):
I can't believe nobody has mentioned , which isn't all that far from the image discussed in the first paragraph of ChrisLee's post
3.14.2008 4:47pm
Kurt2 (mail) (www):
whoops - the url got eaten. See the link next to my name.
3.14.2008 4:47pm
astrangerwithcandy (mail):
the kids love this poster...i know this is the wrong reference for this crowd BUT ...go to facebook and you will see this poster is at this point bordering on over-exposed and has been for at least a month.

the kids love the Che t-shirts and the Soviet era style propaganda posters. the soviet menace and the real dangers of a collectivist society are historical relics to the current college generation. obama is going to win the democrats nomination bc he understands the idiots that vote for that party better than hillary. (note - im not saying all people who vote Dem are idiots. lets squash that trolling right now)

anyone want to start a pool as to how long it takes him to drop this type of imagery after he gets the nomination and then a sub-pool for how long it takes for the college crowd to backlash against "that sell out"?
3.14.2008 5:59pm
Eluchil:
It definitely makes me think if Soviet realism which I don't like aesthetically. Assuming the resemblance was conscious, it is an odd choice since it provides potential firepower to his enemies but it could also be coincidence. Many of its features such as a simple design and bold palette incorporating ed and blue are standard features of American political art/propaganda.
3.14.2008 8:38pm
mullingitover:
This is a great litmus test for determining if you're old or not. Obama's campaign has broad appeal, and one of the groups in his camps is the youthful, twenty-to-thirtysomething hipster group. Obey Giant is a hipster brand, this is their style. If you don't know this, it probably means you're and/or not familiar with contemporary American culture.
3.15.2008 6:44pm