A co-worker asked me today, “Do you think that that Shepard Fairey poster had any impact on the election?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Absolutely,” I answered.
A lot has been written about Barack Obama’s ability to inspire people—with his soaring rhetoric, his remarkable life story, his ability to relate and, yes, empathize with the average person.
But beyond all that, and working mostly in the subconscious, is Obama’s transformation somewhere along the line into a straight-up, full-steam-ahead symbol. And not an empty one, like John McCain’s oddly disconcerting Joe the Straight-Talking-Plumbing-Man, either. A symbol with substance.
But let’s stick to the symbol.
An icon, a simplified image, has an inherent, unambiguous power. A really good one has a clarity and a truth that is self-evident. I would argue that the reason the Shepard Fairey image works so well and took off the way it did is that in a single illustration, Obama and Hope become so intertwined that they are one and the same. When you look at that image, you don’t see Barack Obama. You see hope—and everything it signifies to you, whoever, wherever you are.
So it seems only fair that, having been given so much by art and artists, Obama is promising to give a little back. No, not exactly a quid pro quo—this has been part of the Obama platform for over a year, after all. But rather, recognizing that soft power is hugely important in influencing perceptions of the U.S. around the world, Obama plans to greatly increase funding for arts education and the NEA, as well as create an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. (For more detail, including a new tax and health care policy, I recommend reading Obama’s policy plan for the arts.) After 8 years of a small, mean, brutish, incurious man in our nation’s highest office, it’s more than a little refreshing to see somebody (knock wood, knock wood) take office who actually recognizes the value of art.
And speaking of voting, today being November 4, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say anything about it. So, if you haven’t already, what are you waiting for? Go out there and
Dennis Pacheco is the Web Editorial Assistant and cartoonist-in-residence at Chelsea Green. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he majored in cartooning. He lives in downtown White River Junction with his partner, Robyn, and their cat, Marty McFly.