…[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.
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.”