Monday, March 2, 2009

The Art of Politics in the Age of Obama

I continue to be amazed by the way artists took up Barack Obama as a theme for their work. Most artists would position themselves on the political left, and thus would be more inclined to the Democratic Party than to the GOP. But we have never seen a political candidate inspire such artistic productivity as Obama has. Even before he was sworn in as President, there was enough material fill a Barack Obama Museum of Art, or rather a Museum of Barack Obama Art.

Here is an interesting recent display, though it may simply be another Abu Graib atrocity.

Magazine covers could be another post entirely.

The most striking adoration of the Bam has been in political posters, however. Consider the effect of these. This one is a more traditional political poster, but very well done.

These posters, by contrast, are not traditional.

These two seem to me to bring out the candidate's African heritage quite strikingly.

This last one suggests that the candidate is a spiritually exceptional person, a prophet, or perhaps even a divine being.

These do not feature Obama's face, but they are beautiful and at the same time troubling in their Utopian promise.

Senator Obama's unwaveringly leftist voting record together with the fainting hysteria surrounding him personally produced a talented response from the more conservative, or at least more politically skeptical, artists. This one places him on the far left.

This one on the far right. (Of course, the left and right converge at some point. The rightist Adolf Hitler was a National Socialist.)

This one, alluding to a recently popular film, mocks Obama's political inexperience.

The best known poster has been Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster. The same poster also appears with "Progress" as the caption. Fairey's model was this Mannie Garcia AP photo. The Associated Press is suing Fairey over the use of their image.

And here is The Poster.

Fairey appears to have used a Communist genre of political poster art as his inspiration. Here is the Russian Bolshevik, Vladimir Lenin.

Here is Cuba's iconic Che Guevara.

This socialist/communist connection is becoming increasingly relevant as the Obama administration leads the government in nationalizing, taking charge of, and redesigning most of the country's economy.

It is a tribute to the Fairey poster that it has become the model for a growing number of parodies. There are these, for example, that are critical of Obama himself. "Obey" is likely the best-known of the parodies.

There are many other variations. Some are racist, some are just in bad taste, and some just aren't funny, as far as I can tell. These are a few of the wittier ones. They go in various directions, all playing on the word "Hope," but the last two using the "Change" mantra as a take off point.

Finally, as President Obama stumbles and wrecks his way to what he tells us will be a just society and a vibrant economy, the Reagan variation stands as a continuing reminder that there are principles of political and economic liberty that are also principles of political and economic flourishing, and they are...

You can go to Rene Wanner's page to find her collection of 149 Fairey themed posters that she assembled the day after the 2008 election, including the Soup Nazi, Jeremiah Wright, and More Cowbell. Of course, the number has grown since then.

Laying fun aside, this artistic aspect to the 2008 Obama campaign should put every lover of republican liberty on guard. Up to this point, it has only been in totalitarian countries that we have seen a political leader's face celebrated so artistically and plastered so ubiquitously. It is the sort of personality cult that is incompatible with a modern republic structured around a constitutional separation of powers. If he is the One, if he is the Dawn, if he is both the exemplar and the source of moral and political progress, then the separation of powers, which is premised on the recognition of human moral frailty and political epistemological skepticism, becomes inherently unjust. Start researching "the Hugo Chavez political model."

Wendell Phillips said that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." This artistic expression of what is arguably the first "personality cult" in American politics does not constitute President Obama as a totalitarian, but it does prompt the wise to view his every attempt at concentrating political and economic power in Washington with a heightened and aggressive scrutiny.

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