Not all Great images are popular;                                   those society deems great are.


Not All Great Images are Popular Curatorial

                      The art in Not All Great Images are Popular encompasses and expresses the relatively new concept of art being used as a means to protest or to address a particular issue relevant to the context of the period in which the artwork was created. For the sake of this gallery, this concept was condensed into a theme titled, “Criticisms Against Government and the Status Quo”.


With the radical shift in many aspects of western society in the early years of the twentieth century, along with the advent of new political ideologies and subsequent years that were marred by violence or the threat of it, many artists felt obliged to make works addressing issues they believed needed to be exposed and this new world gave increasingly new material with which these artists were able to work with. This inevitably led to many of the twentieth century’s most recognizable works, such as Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, and paved the way for future artists and activists to deliver their message through a variety of mediums.


The first image in this gallery is Shepard Fairey’s Obey- Obama Portrait. Fairey’s portrait is unique in the fact that the subject being criticized is not in the work itself, but must be taken from the context of the situation the United States was in during the 2008 presidential election. The image, a stylized portrait of senator Barack Obama in solid red, beige and blue with the word “hope” emblazoned at the bottom, suggested a time that was racked with uncertainties. The Great Recession was in full swing and the United States was still mired in two military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outgoing US president, George W. Bush, had become increasingly unpopular and the American public was ready for change. Many people felt that Obama would bring this necessary change and hope back to the nation and Fairey was one of the many impressed by the senator, claiming that Obama’s “…power and sincerity as a speaker would create a positive association with his likeness.”[1]


In contrast to Shepard Fairey’s deliverance of his message, Paul Nash is a lot more straightforward in his 1918 oil painting We Are Making a New World, the second image in our gallery. Nash’s painting portrays a landscaped marred by craters caused by constant bombardments during the First World War, which he participated in as both a soldier and official war artist. While Nash was deployed to Ypres Salient in Belgium, he witnessed the land recovering from the battles previously fought in the area. Soon afterward, he was injured and had to return to England to recover. Upon his return to Ypres Salient six months later, Nash saw that the land he had witnessed recovering was now a desolate wasteland. This effectively disillusioned him with the war and he drew the sketch that was later to be used to create his painting. The title he chose, We Are Making a New World, served as a mockery of the ambitions of the First World War and a sobering reminder of the effect humans have on the environment. Nash was so passionate about delivering this message that he wrote the following in a letter to his wife;


“I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men who are fighting to those who want the war to go on for ever. Feeble, inarticulate, will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth, and may it burn their lousy souls.”[2]


The final image in our gallery is a mural painted by English graffiti artist, Banksy. Although the painting has no title, that does nothing to diminish its efficacy. The graffiti, painted in bright red, exclaims, “If graffiti changed anything –it would be illegal.” Toward the bottom, stenciled in black and white, is Banksy’s signature rat, its paws drenched in red paint as if it was responsible for the message.

This particular mural from Banksy not only provokes thought, but it also serves as homage to anarchist Emma Goldman’s original quote, “If voting changed anything –it would be illegal.” While Banksy’s message remains unclear, with suggested interpretations ranging from frustration with a political system that ignores the voice of an individual vote to acknowledgment that graffiti does indeed make change through provocation of thought, it has been the subject of much discussion, which may just have been Banksy’s intention all along. [3]

[1] Fisher III, William W.; Frank Cost, Shepard Fairey, Meir Feder, Edwin Fountain, Geoffrey Stewart & Marita Sturken. Reflections on the Hope Poster Case. Harvard Journal of Law and Technology. 2013.


[2] Nash, Paul. Outline: An Autobiography and Other Writings. Faber and Faber, London. 1949.


[3] Stencil Revolution. If Graffiti Changed Anything.

Fairey steeps his ideology and iconography in self-empowerment. With biting sarcasm verging on reverse psychology, he goads viewers, using the imperative “obey,” to take heed of the propagandists out to bend the world to their agendas.
Credits: All media
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