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Using Shepard Fairey to trash President Obama

October 25, 2009 |  2:57 pm

Fairey You have to hand it to the right-wingers. For them, any excuse to trash President Obama is a good excuse, even when the inherent self-contradiction and plain falsehood of the claim make them look as dumb as a box of rocks. Shamelessness is apparently its own reward.

The latest example is Charlotte Allen, a contributing editor for a website of the far-right Manhattan Institute. Writing on the Op-Ed page of today's Times, Allen scolds Obama for having said as a candidate that he was "privileged" and "proud" to have been the subject of graphic artist Shepard Fairey's now-famous "Hope" poster. Fairey, embroiled in a fair-use lawsuit with the Associated Press over the Obama photograph he employed for the work, confessed last week to having lied to the court about the image he used and destroying evidence.

Allen claims that he got away with the deception "because Fairey was 'one of us' in the eyes of the fiercely liberal cultural and intellectual elite." Her examples? She cites exactly one: "The New Yorker's art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, wrote reverently of the works, calling them 'epic poetry in an everyday tongue'...."

Reverently? The quoted review of Fairey's big retrospective at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art in fact laments that Schjeldahl wished Fairey "were a better artist." The New Yorker's critic goes on to bemoan Fairey's acts of vandalism in his street art and his "energetic but unoriginal enterprise involving a repertoire of well-worn provocations."

And what's up with Allen fabricating a plural? The reverence Schjeldahl does not actually display in the review is extended by her to some or all of Fairey's "works, calling them" epic poetry. No. As you can read for yourself here, the Obama poster is the single work to receive that "epic" praise -- rightly, to my mind. “A 'Hope' poster hangs alongside about two hundred and fifty slick and, for the most part, far more resistible works" in the show, Schjeldahl wrote in February.

So who does Allen cite as a sterling example of someone who appropriately took Fairey to task for his shenanigans way back when? Again, there's just one: Los Angeles artist Mark Vallen -- described without irony as one of "Fairey's fellow leftists in the arts community."

Huh? Didn't Allen just claim that the fiercely liberal and intellectual elite was responsible for being Fairey's evil enabler? And didn't any right-wingers take him to task back then?

It doesn't stop there. The incoherent screed goes on to insist, without any additional stabs at evidence, that artists and intellectuals "seem to agree that there should be one moral standard for artists and another for everyone else." Perhaps that's what the shrinks call projection.

Like I say, you've got to hand it to her: Allen gives the concept of "fair use" a whole new, deeply pathetic meaning.

-- Christopher Knight

Illustration credit: Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times; referenced from a photograph by Peter Foley / EPA


Obey AP accuses Shepard Fairey of more lying

Shepard Fairey's lawyers say they have not yet withdrawn from AP case

Shepard Fairey admits to wrongdoing in AP lawsuit

Art review: Shepard Fairey at ICA Boston

Comments () | Archives (25)

VERY well reported article, Christopher.

It's about time I read an article on Culture Monster with some balls.

I think just the opposite - be a real journalist and look at the facts objectively without the liberal slant. The artist lied and destroyed evidence which means he broke the law! Remember those things that govern all of us?! As for the poster, and the comments from art reviewers, for a critic to call the poster "epic poetry" just because it is of the President, is a bit much. Look what is going on with fox news and how they tried to exclude them from a new conference and oops it was just a mistake, by the adm. Or will you wait until all of your liberties and freedoms are taken away before you realize what is happening. Most newspaper are so left leaning it is absurd and don't cover the stories for fear it will hurt the anointed one. So get your head out the sand or wherever else it might be and start thinking for yourself and not one of the herd!

The ultra-liberal arts community leaping to the defense of admitted liar and convicted vandal Shepard Fairey because he's "one of us"?

I rest my case.

To Charlotte Allen:

I don't understand your comment. Why are you resting your case? What point are you making and how is it proven by the quote "one of us"?

The author was quoting your article, and your use of the phrase "one of us." To read his use as any sort of concession or admission is as absurd as assuming from your use that you identify yourself as a member of the "fiercely liberal cultural and intellectual elite."

There are plenty of good arguments to make on all sides of this story. You haven't succeeded in proving and defending yours. This isn't personal, but going forward, whatever point of view you are representing should elect a new spokesperson. One who can read.

This is Christopher Knight responding to Charlotte Allen: Only she would see my post as a defense of Shepard Fairey rather than what it is -- an indictment of her deceitful, diversionary tactics.

Horton Hears A Boo

As I inch toward earning my masters degree in English, the most instructive portion has not been the critical readings, the research papers or the lectures. It’s been teaching freshman composition.
The classwork has prompted both myself and my students to craft steadier theses, create logical arguments and occasionally concede the other side has a point. That hallmark, known as concession, makes you more credible as I writer, I tell my students. Occasionally, they even listen to me.
But when I glance at the riches of embarrassment that comprised the L.A. Times op-ed page last Sunday, I begin to wonder if I’m misleading all those impressionable 18-year-olds.
How else do you explain the success in landing the anchor article position by Charlotte Allen, a right-wing screedatrix best known for claiming in the Washington Post last year that she doesn’t understand “why more women don't relax, enjoy the innate abilities most of us possess (as well as the ones fewer of us possess) and revel in the things most important to life at which nearly all of us excel: tenderness toward children and men and the weak and the ability to make a house a home.”
Instead of bashing women, Allen instead focused on Shepard Fairey, the L.A. artist best known for the multi-hued “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama that became the symbolic centerpiece of his campaign.
Allen makes all the usual points against Fairey: his artwork was based on a photo taken by an Associated Press photographer of Obama in 2006, and he’s been arrested 15 times for creating graffiti, including last year in Boston, where he pled guilty to several charges. True on both counts.
But then Allen goes on a tangent that would have earned demands for a major revision in my class: a claim he’s been protected by leftists. “You have to remember that armchair Marxist intellectuals and others of Fairey's ilk still look back with longing to the grimy 1970s and 1980s in New York, when graffiti blanketed every car in the subway system. They were appalled by the successful efforts of mayors Ed Koch and Rudolph Giuliani to crack down on the taggers in order to make the city livable for the philistines who had to take the trains to work.”
Indeed, there were a handful of kooks who argued against graffiti abatement, but they lost that argument resoundedly and then promptly vanished. And given I haven’t heard anyone stepping up to vigorously defend Fairey in his vandalism cases, it’s not at all relevant.
Moreover, whatever you think of Fairey, you cannot drive a block in L.A. without seeing his work on someone’s car bumper. His reworking of that photo will still be featured in U.S. political histories a century from now, much as the work of cartoonist Thomas Nast is prominent in any book about 19th century politics. This is not the typical fate of taggers who deface apartment buildings and overpasses.
Nowhere did Allen note that it’s troubling a non-profit cooperative like the AP would become copyright money-grubbers. Without Fairey, the photo of Obama is another obscure image among hundreds of thousands typically taken of a U.S. president.
Yet photojournalism of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima and a South Vietnamese soldier shooting a suspected Viet Cong in the head have been appropriated for artistic purposes countless times without similar repercussions. And since Allen is an out-of-towner, she is no doubt unaware that the L.A. County Museum of Art permanentely displays Andy Warhol’s depictions of Cornflakes boxes and Campbell’s soup’s cans, and yet the graphic artists who designed those products never insisted there was a copyright infringement of their work.
Allen’s article was also particularly offensive to read in my local newspaper given the flagrant behavior of Southern California advertising companies, who have erected hundreds of billboards and supergraphics on buildings in ways that have flouted local zoning laws far more grievously than Fairey, then bought their way out of trouble with huge campaign contributions to local politicians. No doubt a reliable right-winger like Allen would defend their right to do so, given as big businesses they have no ideology beyond making money.
In sum, the appearance of Allen in this instance – indeed, yesterday’s entire opinion section – is a blot on whatever remains of the news judgment of Sunday op-ed editor Sue Horton. This is a woman who made her rep editing the L.A. Weekly, the most progressive and locally-focused news publication in town. And now, she’s publishing the retrograde dreck of someone condemning a prominent local artist, and she isn’t even a local? Perhaps an MRI is in order here.
But local issues – or writers – were not something to be seen on last weekend’s Times’ op-ed pages, even though the paper’s management has been vowing to cover more local issues – the consolation prize for relentlessly shrinking the staff. Just below Allen’s piece was a completely unfunny satire mocking a Denver alternative weekly’s decision to hire a writer to critique the local marijuana dispensaries. Pot dispensaries are another big issue in L.A., one that’s been poorly covered by virtually all the local media. When a print publication is actually hiring a writer to cover a burgeoning new sector a few days after the Times laid off another bunch of scribes, it makes me wonder what Horton and her staff smoked to take this particularly clueless angle.
Both Allen and John Kenney, the writer of the pot piece, are based in New York. Ditto for Paul Lieberman, who wrote about cancer. Doyle McManus, who penned a remembrance of his former colleague Jack Nelson, is based in Washington. Only Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who discussed the travails of getting the G.I. bill to pay her grad school tuition, lives in California. Perhaps the fact that she served in the military was enough to mollify Horton et al. about her residing in Berkeley – a seven-hour drive and light-years away from L.A.
Five op-ed articles, two written by current and former Times staffers, only one who lives within 500 miles of town. Among the reasons I vent here is that every op-ed piece I’ve ever submitted to the Spayed Lady has been rejected. Meanwhile they continue to publish diatribes like Allen’s that might get a C+ in my class. Even more troubling, the op-ed page regularly published monologues from Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time” before they’re aired later in the week – making it appear they’re shilling for the show. The ethical questions raised by this practice alone should be enough to shake up the entire op-ed staff.
I know the rational reason why I’ve never been published: I’m one of hundreds of people who submit op-eds to the L.A. Times editors daily. But I can write with far more logic and sensitivity than a conservative darling like Allen (perhaps she’s more tender to her male editors than myself). I can also write with helluva lot more humor than Kenney. Yet it makes no difference. They are set in their ways, even as their readership continues to melt away around them.
The one thing that I found amusing and illuminating on Sunday’s op-ed page was a correction: “A cartoon that ran…on Oct. 23 referred to Carmen Trutanich as the Los Angeles District Attorney. Trutanich is the city attorney.”
I don’t have to spend decades going through the motions on the Times op-ed desk to misidentify Trutanich, the city’s newest – and biggest – headline-grabbing gasbag. And I can guarantee by each semester’s end there isn’t a single one of my fresh-faced students who would make an error like that, either.

@ Ron Shinkman -- As to the rational reason why you have not been published, I would hazard the educated guess that most people's eyes glaze over when faced with these seemingly interminable slabs of text.

Perhaps break up your opinion with paragraphs for easier reading?

To Ron Shinkman - Your obvious lack of knowledge of basic punctuation (e.g., "masters degree") and grammar (e.g., "The classwork has prompted both myself and my students ... ") may pose an obstacle to your quest for a Master's degree in English!

Christopher Knight: Great post.

Ron Shinkman: Does it really only take 7 hours to drive to Berkeley?

When will the Wing-Nuttery end ? Thanks for calling them out on it.The Wing-Nuts have one goal in their live, to slander, lie, and drag down Barack Obama at any cost. Gee...I wonder why ?

I can't say that I'm a big fan of Shep's art, but I do think his work is well within the domain of fair use. Enormous chunks of art history would disappear if images and concepts could not legally be appropriated and reworked.

Allen's views were poorly argued and poorly substantiated. If she doesn't like Fairey's work, she has the choice to ignore it.

Here are a few of her points that really bothered me:

- Making a big deal out of the fact that Fairey traced a photograph: Yes, he traced it. And he also made many many design decisions, the result of which completely transformed a bland press photo into an intensely powerful image. It's called "fair use," and without it, Andy Warhol would never have existed, nor Lichtenstein, nor Jeff Koons, nor Duchamp, nor Tom Sachs, nor Ed Ruscha, nor Richard Prince, etc... Had you given that same photo to 100 artists, I'd venture not one of them would have come up with the same result as Fairey (given they had never seen his work). All you have to do is look at the "oops" illustration printed with Allen's piece to see how uninspiring Fairey's trademark "look" can be when poorly executed.

- Making a big deal out of his graffiti-related arrests: Did you see that one of the charges was for putting a sticker on a traffic sign? A sticker? Please. Besides, how does the fact that he has been brought up on vandalism charges have anything to do with the quality or validity of his art? I'm not defending graffiti, but I think a little well thought-out, well placed street art can make living in a crowded, often dirty and over commercialized city, a bit more pleasant (and there is a big difference between gang tags and illegal street art). Also, please see the previous comments about "legal" billboards - good point Shinkman.

- Making a big deal out of Obama being "proud" to be associated with Fairey's work: Guess what? The "Hope" poster was a highly successful piece of political art, as evidenced by its ubiquitous popularity around the world. It will be included in design, art and political histories for many, many decades. What's wrong with being proud to be associated with that?

- Allen's flinging around of stereotypes and unsubstantiated claims: "Liberal cultural and intellectual elite" and "Armchair Marxist intellectuals?" What is this, Fox News? Since when does name calling and stereotyping constitute journalism?

- Referencing Mark Vallen's diatribe against Fairey: If you look at the work referenced in Vallen's article, I think it's pretty clear that Fairey's transparent appropriation of these "public domain" images was by design; to attach his Obey brand with the referenced war propaganda and politically subversive organizations. That's kind of the whole idea behind "Obey."

- And where did that comment about Roman Polanski come from? Charlotte, if "analogizing Fairy to Roman Polanski is probably unfair," then don't. That would be like me saying, "I'm not calling Charlotte Allen a whore, but..." and then following with some incoherent argument about why whores are bad.

Charlotte Allen's op-ed really should not have been included in a paper like the LA Times.

i find this very strange. shepard fairey has designed a t-shirt for creative commons fundraising...thus solidifying more credits towards redemption?


It bothers a me when people distort the facts to make a point. Not only is it unamerican, it is not truly "conservative". The ends do not justify the means when it comes to free speech and political thought.

If individuals are unable to police themselves, then government is necessary, but should be limited to keeping people off my property, polluting my well water, or otherwise behaving in a selfish manner.

So when I read about self proclaimed conservatives telling me that I can't use pictures to say what I otherwise could not say with all the nuanced complexity of human thought, then I wonder, are you a real conservative or just an unamerican anti-intellectual?

The third option is that you think it is funny to bait "liberals" or anyone who does not think like you in the misguided notion that it will get people (sheep!) to think. This is not only condescending, but stops real conversation. Something "conservatives" accuse liberals of doing.

Far from provoking thought or creating new avenues for AMERICAN values to thrive, such tactics are self aggrandizing and suffer from the beleagered bunker mentality so many "conservative" pundits use to curry favor with their fans.

Such grandstanding is distasteful to one such as I, who fears the mob as well as the unchecked government; for who can reason with the entitled demagogue or group of unreasoning dogs?

On the internet they call people like Charlotte Allen a troll and ignore her. What recourse have we here?

"artists and intellectuals 'seem to agree that there should be one moral standard for artists and another for everyone else.'"

See Roman Polansky.

So if the Manhattan Institute is "far right," I guess that makes the Los Angeles Times and Christopher Knight, in particular, far left? Yes, uh-huh, it does. Or perhaps that should be far-progressive or ultra-progressive?

So in honor of all you ultra-liberals:

Monday-Friday circulation for the six months ending September 2009 from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The percent change compares the same six-month period ending September 2008.

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 657,467 -- (-11.05%)

Sorry, they're not excuses, they're actual reasons. Obama deserves everthing criticism he earns. SNL was spot on, the liberals are still living the HOPE dream. The rest of us see the REALITY of a president that's doing more harm than good.

Wow, one editorial about art by someone other than him on a point he does not support and Christopher Knight gets rabidly territorial.

You would think the Times was his fire hydrant alone. Down boy, more people care about the sports page than this art conversation you so desperately seek to monopolize.

Love it Wingnuts, say things like, Obama's doing more harm than good. I remember when they were saying, GWBush, the greatest president ever, and he was in offics less than a year. Seems they can never see past the end of there noses. Life is always a case for a continuation of the past, and that would be the Bush legacy diasters. Duh! Are these windnuts, memories biggger than 24hrs.?

Hey --- give some credit to Charlotte Allen --- a mediocre blogger on cluture, in a narrow-sectarian website got some notice by a real writer, Christopher Knight.

Maybe Charlotte will get a real book deal now and become the next Anne Coulter!

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