All in favor of thought control…

…say, “Howard!”

…[T]here is a line—a very thin line—that art cannot or at least should not cross. And Shepard Fairey’s art in this case crosses that line. Art can and should stir passions. It should never incite or excuse violence. The Cincinnati murals do both.

That’s our old friend Howard Portnoy at the HotAir Greenroom, disagreeing, more or less, with a Cincinatti Enquirer writer about the “defacement” (Howard’s quotation marks) of murals by Shepard “Obama Hope Poster” Fairey.

So, apparently, for Howard, it’s the artist’s fault that someone destroyed his works… and the fact that someone was motivated to destroy them is a sign that there was something wrong with them.

Both my immediate and my considered responses are precisely the opposite.  I think the reactions of most people who are interested in art would agree with mine, and I suspect that Shepard Fairey probably thinks that way, too.  For this reason and others, including the status of these murals as temporary/disposable and easily reproducible, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that Fairey himself organized the defacements – actually full effacements –  as a kind of “conceptual” performance and self-promotion (the two frequently go together).

I’ll restrain any further wanna-be art critic instincts, and merely offer in lieu of aesthetic discussion my feeling that the pieces are kinda neato, possibly not quite the cat’s meow.  I see no reason why everyday Cincinattioids needed to be protected from them, or why anyone would need to take the Enquirer writer to task, as Howard does, for implicitly disapproving of their destruction.  I also don’t see why it bothers Howard that the writer refers to the vandalism – or, as one local put it, “vigilantism” – as “off the wall.”  Struck me as rather a lame joke, but Howard seems to think the phrase equates with “condemning” the acts – and he has a problem with that.

Presuming that my speculation about the real effacer proves totally off-base, and possibly even if it’s right, I have to recognize the acts as symbolic violence.  It’s hard to see how not to construe them as political violence of some kind. I would think that anyone who cares about civil peace and a free society ought to be able to condemn the destruction by anonymous volunteer censors of works of art. I further suspect that if the artist and imagery were perceived as rightwing-friendly or Obama-critical, Howard would not be applauding.  I imagine that, if leftists or anyway Obama-voters would be found to have been behind the defacement/effacement of imagery beloved by conservatives, Michelle Malkin would be shrilling about the incident on Hannity tonight, and Huckabee would be scheduling whichever symbolically violated super-patriot C/W singer or Christian Rocker for his first empty weekend slot.  If the works in question were Mohammed cartoons, HotAir would probably host a front page Thread of Outrage on the subject.

One other thing that I find… well…  I don’t want to be the one to characterize it, but, since Howard used to be one of ours, I feel I have to note it.  At the crucial point in his narrative description, he focuses on one supposedly incendiary image in particular (emphasis added):

Citizens of Cincy, a working-class metropolis, were speechless over the murals—some of which were captioned (an armed policemen tells a person of color “I’m gonna kick your ass and get away with it”). This is in no way to suggest residents didn’t react to the vile, hate-filled excuses for “art.” They did—by painting over the murals.

He appears to be referring to this image:

Getting a little art-critical here, I don’t see implicit calls, by way of ironic inversion, for disobedience to corporate-authoritarian mass-produced messages as “vile” and “hate-filled.”

I also don’t notice a “person of color.”

56 comments on “All in favor of thought control…

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. Hey, folks, how goes it. Although I think you come off a little strong, CK, I see your point. I also must confess that I didn’t see the images before now. (Bad journalism–mea culpa.) I think we should have all learned a lesson by now about checking facts (as per Shirley Sherrod).

    My point about art crossing the line is still valid. This art probably doesn’t, though I can offer examples that do. Also, I didn’t know I “used to be” one of yours. I thought I was still a member in good standing, if one taking a long hiatus.

    As for the irritating “noise” following your article, it’s one of the reasons I’ve been on hiatus.

  2. @ Howard Portnoy:
    Hi, Howard.

    Considering how strongly I disagree with your post, and considering your own language of condemnation, I think the language I used was pretty mild. Other than in the title – which I stand by – I restrict myself to describing your post, describing the artworks and incidents, and pointing out either where I happen to disagree or where I think others might disagree.

    You’re supporting vigilante censorship by destruction of artwork, something I already find impossible to justify. Apparently, you reach this position wholly on the basis of ideological pre-judgments, you express it using terms that clearly qualify as strong – “vile” and “hate-filled” – and you reach these judgments without even having looked, at least in the most egregious instance, at the work you’re pretending to describe. By your own admission, you upped the ante with accusations of racial incitement based on nothing more than your imagination.

  3. My point about art crossing the line is still valid.

    People have been saying that for centuries about any and all of the ARTS,but when we look back at that art that has so crossed the line,I’m thinking right now of Henry Miller’s Tropic Novels,Lady Chatterly,and Ulysses,how benign are those once notorious “pornographic” works. I admit that to some,Letters from the Earth,Catcher in the Rye,To Kill A Mockingbird,and Cuckoos Nest need to be removed from the library shelves,and in one case along with Anne Frank(Unpleasant Piece of Business).
    Cincinnatti has had this problem before,what’s with that?

  4. some other examples come to mind

    I recall that angry patrons burnt down the theatre where Ibsen’s Doll House was presented. Not long ago.

  5. @ narciso:
    I think you mean to refer to Socialist Realism, but neither Socialist Realism (Stalinist) nor Social Realism (American) have much to do with Fairey’s style. Look ’em up.

  6. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Maybe some proud local was trying to preserve Cincinnati’s reputation for hostility to cosmopolitan culture. But I’m not ready to give up on the idea that Fairey did it himself. Would make sense also as a “commentary” on his plagiarism trial and its impact on his personal reputation.

  7. It’s the kind of Iconography all too prevalent in Caracas, Havana, the former Soviet Union, China; it bespeaks an ignorance of our own history, if the subject matter was reversed I wouldn’t like it much either, When Robbie Conal used it to paint ‘enemies of the people’ type imagery that appeared in Sneakers and Bob Roberts, I wasn’t afan of it. There is a small irony in the fact it is not original

  8. @ narciso:
    He’s just not interested in the same statements you are. In his personal work he refers to Avant-Garde styles, agitprop, Pop Art, institutional and industrial art, and other graphic arts/low culture styles, in a familiar subversive/ironic mode. Irony isn’t a trademark either of Socialist Realism or of agitprop and other totalitarian popular aesthetics – which is, ironically enough, one reason it comes across as so funny or even as charmingly naive when transplanted into obsessively self-ironical Western culture.

  9. No, except for the irony of the plagiarism, it is not remotely funny. And yes, Milos Forman mined the irony of Cincinnati’s Babbittish culture with
    Keating and the Flynt antihero, which has yet another curious intersection with politics, I know zany mad cap humor

  10. It strikes me, when John Carpenter did ‘They Live’ he was two decades
    too soon, it was a satire of Reaganisms, mindless conformism, ‘irony it’s what’s for dinner’ just as this new interation of V, lacked the punch
    of the original, as much as I like Morena Baccarin. Now Ken Johnson, who’s always been a little crazy, thought it was some peculiar metaphor on Gitmo or something. Now that’s just crazy talk, imagine
    if the Visitors had come up with a way to tax every energy output
    we generate, only a conspiracy theorist would come up with. . .

  11. @ bob:
    It’s “art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” so it can’t be fully effaced merely by attacking one copy. Whoever destroyed the particular murals was destroying pieces that (if I understand correctly) weren’t intended to be permanent anyway – it was an attack on the copies-where-sited, on the siting or the appearance of the artist at the sites, less than on the works themselves, which exist more as conceptual templates. It’s only a little – very little – like slashing a Rembrandt or bombing a Da Vinci. It may be more similar to defacing the LeBron Nike murals in Cleveland – thought the political statement is different. The reproducibility/disposability of the work is what keeps me from going into ideological red alert, even if my suspicions about the real authorship of the “crimes” are wrong. It’s also why, from Fairey’s point of view, conceptual completion might be more valuable than aesthetic “success.”

  12. @ narciso:
    Are you referring to the mysterious “art assassin”? In your world disliking an artist or his work is justification for going out and destroying it?

  13. No, Colin, I would never do that, but some people do deface art for what ever reason, The Joker poster from last spring was much more
    daring, ‘speaking truth to power’ done by a Palestinian, not a bitter clinger

  14. @ CK MacLeod:

    I see it as likely that Fairey sees the process from initial conception to final removal (by whatever means) as a singe peice of performance art. So, it is n fact impossible to deface it in the sense of negagting it.

    Instead, the defacer and his actions are part of the art even though he conceives it as a negation of the art.

    For Fairey to do it himself I see as dishonest.

    In any event, my life has taken so many ironic turns that irony just kinda tires me out.

  15. bob wrote:

    For Fairey to do it himself I see as dishonest.

    It would be dishonest, that’s true. But, if he’s the de-/effacer and admits as much, then it would be a familiar gesture – the conceptually elevated practical joke, with the dishonesty as an essential and therefore justified moment.

  16. “Our three weapons are surprise,” the thread’s line is misplaced, the matter concerns what are the obligation of an artist vs. the audience.
    Now knowing Cincinatti’s colorful history, you would think he would know better. Ken Blackwell, who should hold the seat that Steele does
    come from there

  17. narciso wrote:

    the thread’s line is misplaced, the matter concerns what are the obligation of an artist vs. the audience.

    I agree sincerely and without reservation with that.

    It it the duty of an artist to exhibit work that will not challenge the opinions of the probable audience and will offer offense to none?

    Or does artistic duty lead in the opposite direction?

  18. what are the obligation of an artist vs. the audience.

    No Audience=s No Artist & vice-versa. How can you tell the reader from the book?

  19. On occasion we would like to have art that doesn’t submerge but elevates us, those Renaissance works are probably too high to aspire
    too, but this ‘speaking truth to power’ gets real old, As Claudia Rossett
    one of your favorite people, points out why doesn’t Assuange go after
    the Iranian Guard, the North Koreans, I know he values his life

  20. Or does artistic duty lead in the opposite direction?

    Depends. The artist’s duty is to the artwork. The audience will have to take care of itself. The work that is intended to lead in any particular direction, or to submerge, or to elevate, is as likely to achieve the opposite effect, or little or no effect at all. Which’s one reason why SF’s work and much “concept art” comes across as so trivial, even if it’s “successful.” It’s too intentionalized. Any intended meaning or purpose will tend to be limiting compared to potentials that by definition escape and exceed any intentions that can be stated ahead of time.

  21. @ Howard Portnoy:
    You’ve missed a veritable mountain of old cabbage, my ol’ frem!
    A great sea of pickle juice as well
    Van Jones has his well deserved day in court
    He can’t be all that bad if Glenn Beck hates what he stands for
    The Panther flap is just more right wing nonsense
    And whomever you call rathest is entirely your bidness

    So what if the left is so threatened by reality
    They must repeatedly resort to low blows
    Character assassinations and feigned outrage
    Over made up racism?

    As long as the meaning of various words is open to debate
    Why not indulge in endless argument?

  22. @ CK MacLeod:
    his stuff is trivial, judging from the stuff in the Cincy slideshow, but the narc argument that he should know better than to attempt to inflict artworks contrary to the colorful Cincyzenry’s sensibilities is zilly

  23. Oh, and you can’t forget that the Okhanitsa must admit to every cretinous lie foisted against her in the last two years, because
    as Wilford Brimley has put it, it’s the right thing to do

  24. Just a parting word. Caruthers, my non-friend, you remain the same insulting, witless bag of horse dung you were the last time I stopped by. You are perhaps even more of a butt sore than fuster. Maybe you should attend grade school, learn some basic syntax, learn to spell and maybe try contributing rather than just letting fly your pointless zingers.

    Fuster, not a clue what you meant in #24.

    Adios, amigos.

  25. Howard Portnoy wrote:
    Just a parting word. Caruthers, my non-friend, you remain the same insulting, witless bag of horse dung you were the last time I stopped by. You are perhaps even more of a butt sore than fuster. Maybe you should attend grade school, learn some basic syntax, learn to spell and maybe try contributing rather than just letting fly your pointless zingers.
    Fuster, not a clue what you meant in #24.
    Adios, amigos.

    Maybe if I did all the above,I would understand that most of America’s problems began in Jan. 2009,before that, it was an Exceptional Nation,without exception. And maybe I would understand that you are a WorldClass political commentator. It’s a shame that I dropped out.

  26. This is a goof lesson as to why the less government the better. Just see how easily threatened our little egos are. How easy it is to hate. No wonder our Founders were wary of any with too much power. There is a dark side to human nature which will always frustrate idiotic utopian fantasies. The best we can do is work to be left alone, free of the wishes of those who wish to organize and lead us.

    Can the world be divided into those who wish to manipulate others and those who wish to be left alone?

  27. Can the world be divided into those who wish to manipulate others and those who wish to be left alone?

    Example of a Utopian Fantasy

  28. @ narciso:
    Did you actually read AMERICAN FASCISTS? Just wondering.

    Hedges has gotten somethings laughably wrong – he seemed convinced, for instance, that the U.S. was going to thump Iran under W – but what I read of WAR IS A FORCE… struck me as thoughtful, not what you might have expected from a lefty-pacifist. I emphasize “what I read” because I never sat down with the book for real.

    The book Rex links looks interesting.

  29. Can the world be divided into those who wish to manipulate others and those who wish to be left alone?

    There are two groups of people in the world: those who believe that the world can be divided into two groups of people, and those who don’t.

    There are two groups of people in the world: those who can be categorized into one of two groups of people, and those who can’t.

    There are two groups of people in the world: those that don’t do math, and those that take care of them.

    There are three kinds of people in the world: them that aren’t good at math and them that aren’t goof at English.

    There are 10 groups of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

    There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand trinary, those who don’t, and those who mistake it for binary.

    Ran into the above at a rather amusing blog while trying to find out where the first quote came from originally. Still looking.

  30. and of course you’re far from likely to learn to see how much you miss.

    That’s almost poetry, you noisy butt-sore.

  31. There are two kinds of people, those who immediately understand what Hayek meant when he wrote, “…a fatal conceit…” and those who don’t.

    And, thus, we have people, so cocksure they know what’s best for us all, they are willing to violate each and every measure of goodness in this world in order to get it.

  32. So what we have here is a bunch of conservatives cheering on an example of 2 parties (the business owner who’s wall the mural was on, and the Cinn Contemporary Arts Center) entering into a lawful contract, only to be interferred with by somebody who seems to be so cocksure he knew what was best for everyone else.

    As I said above, irony makes me tired.

    There oughta be a law…

  33. Not sure I get what Hayek has to do with Fairey – except possibly that there’s a fundamental contradiction between a libertarian sensibility and a culturally reactionary one, though this is well known. They sometimes exchange particles at level where anarchy meets brute anarchy: In a world without a sovereign government.

    I was just reading somewhere that Thatcher used to urge her friends to read Hayek when they got around to criticizing the NHS, since Hayek believed, apparently, that health care was a proper “market” for government to regulate, possibly because fear of sickness and death tends to overwhelm simple exchange relationships.

  34. @ bob:
    Come to think of it, I don’t think your comment is up to your usual standards of fairness. I didn’t noticed anyone but Mr. Portnoy really cheering on the destruction, as I think you’re implying some may have done. From perusing the HA thread, I didn’t see a whole lotta attaboys even there – maybe a cretinous servzimrite or two in the general direction of SF, but Howard may have found the sweet spot of a view hardly anyone would support, hardly even Howard himself upon actual consideration of the actual materials.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *