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I have received quite a few emails about my earlier posting on Shepard Fairey. Seems to me that Fairey has come to embody the complexities of a whole slew of third rail issues—image appropriation, intellectual property rights, public arts by decree or default, the acceptable limits of “going commercial”, artist as deviant and miscreant, institutional co-option, freedom of expression, private property, tagging. The list goes on. But what really surprises me is that I find the conversation getting more interesting, not less.

Sebastian Smee wrote a piece about Fairey in the Sunday Boston Globe. As usual, he has some worthwhile insights, certainly a few of which are worth sharing here.

The truth is, though Fairey may have been arrested 14 . . . make that 15 . . . times for putting his work in the public domain, he is no longer a radical, if ever he was. He has a thriving business. “If you work hard and are industrious,” he has said, “you can create your own Utopian way of doing things under capitalism.”

At bottom, he is a graphic artist, in love with the graphic potential of imagery – its force, its seductiveness, its impact.

Those who see him as a sellout find his use of nostalgic images of Che Guevara, Lenin, and Martin Luther King as pathetically regressive – a surrender to clichéd imagery that has already been co-opted, aestheticized, and commercialized.

Fair enough. I also find a lot of Fairey’s posturing lame, his images overprocessed, like mass-produced cheese. But I would give him more credit than that.

You only need to look at the spheres of comics and animation, fashion, album art, Web design, and DJing to see that young people today are incredibly savvy about appropriations. Irony – a lot of it extremely intelligent irony – is at play everywhere.

In the case of political art like Fairey’s, the movement from quotation to nostalgia to commercialism is not a one-way street. What is, on the face of it, “radical chic,” or wistful nostalgia for the revolutionary spirit of, say, the Cuban revolution – can also be bracingly contemporary, gaining force from the borrowed image but adding wised-up street smarts: “No way would we be so naively idealistic, or historically dumb, as to believe the things Che believed,” such appropriations can imply, “but we still admire his ardor, and cling to the idea that meaningful change is possible.”

Fairey is so hot right now because his Obama image crystallized a moment of change in a democratic, but deeply divided, society. It helped shape, or at least reflect, a new public consciousness.

Does his image have disconcerting associations with Soviet-style graphics? Why, yes. But most people understand that such references come with a wink and a wry smile. And a smile can change everything.


Very interesting article on Slate about the emotion I crave most from everything in life—politics, friendships, painting, food, sex—and with a wonderful name all its own: Elevation. (I always did love that song by Bono of the same name…)

And near the end there is a discussion of elevation’s counterweight, disgust. This is particularly poignant today, having suffered from a terrible bout of food poisoning at lunch. (Anyone living in Somerville, better beware of Rudy’s on Holland Street.) But nausea aside, my compass always pulls me in the direction of the Big E.

Take a read here: Slate

Two of the five poems that appeared on the New York Times op ed page on Wednesday, November 5, the first day of this new chapter in US history:

Election Black Hopes And Fears

When the Fog

When the fog burnt off this morning
Outsize JumboTron screens were hanging off the clouds,
Scores of them, huge, acres and acres of screen,
Images trembling,
Pixels the size of wagon wheels, damaged, flickering
Off and on, red, blue and green;
Faces, flags, county fairs — like pointillist cartoons,
Melting away, reconstituting,
A continuously mutating liquid crystal montage:

The old warrior’s frozen grin,
The popped, saffron Star Trek collar,
Critter lipstick,
Kawasaki 704 eyeglasses,
Disembodied, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile,
And there, the golden one, the adored, in silhouette,
Drinking it in behind bulletproof glass;
Crowds, crowds in hats, t-shirts, delirious,
With drumsticks and banners —
Galvanically us,
Us whom we’ve been waiting for,
All of it smearing into vibrating puddles of color,
Then dissolving, like jet exhaust, into the air.

While outside the streets were empty.
Who is to say where everyone has gone?
Only the occasional sound truck, its barked entreaties
Too garbled to make out.
Then quiet.
Two scrub jays making a racket in the honey locust.
Sky darkening as weather gathers off the coast.
Quiet as an abandoned summer playhouse.

–August Kleinzahler

Infomercial 2

The old mule delivers the goods.
Nugatory diddlings are on the decline.
Stateliness has its day.

There are indeed many encouraging signs
in the weather and in handshakes.
Still there are those who mistake dark clouds
for raffish hucksterism. They have never savored
the elation of an empty crystal ball.

To them I say, seconds will call upon you
in the morning. Tonight there are dreams to be thumbed through
before the complicated, awful business
of summoning beautiful particles after the horse is stolen.

–John Ashbery


I am speechless with joy. So is everyone in my world. A message this morning from my friend Thalassa said, “I’m in love with my country again.”

I know what you mean, and it feels intoxicating. The crowd in Grant Park. The euphoric celebrations everywhere, even overseas. The newspaper headlines (The Morgen Post in Hamburg featured a full page picture of Bush with the headline, “The Madness Has Ended.”) Wow, wow, wow.

My daughter Kellin is in Italy. How can I adequately explain to her what has happened here in her absence? This is a new kind of optimism, much deeper than the hopefulness I felt when Clinton won his first term in office. Imagine! We now have a president with a brain and a heart. A leader who wants to end this horrible war in Iraq. (Please, oh please make that happen.) A leader who has the savvy to comandeer one of the most successful political campaigns in this country’s history but does not carry the odor of drunken power lust that usually accompanies such stellar success. He is unlike any other political figure I have known.

There was a time when I was afraid none of my children would ever have the experience of feeling hope in their country. They endured 8 years of their early adulthoods living through the worst administration in our nation’s history. Their excitement at the sea change we have witnessed still makes me teary.

And how about that New York Times op ed page this morning? Five poems and one prose column. It seems a fitting response to a legendary night’s events.

The only fly in the ointment (as my grandmother used to say) is the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I can’t believe my home state would step back from the new world order of equality that we need to create. This is a major loss, to be sure, but the fight continues. I know justice will prevail eventually but let’s just hope it doesn’t take a generation.