Propaganda Process In Shepard Fairey'S Work

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This essay will be discussing what it takes to create successful propaganda. Each paragraph will be delving into the creative process that is behind propaganda specifically the work of Shepard Fairey. Fairey has created multiple pieces of propaganda throughout the years ranging from his own personal beliefs and from events that happened around him. It has always been a question about why certain propaganda will catch your eye and move you enough to become involved in an event and why you pass by others without noticing them, the specific details of the work such as scale, placement, target audience, color palette and typography will be explored.

Over the year's propaganda has acquired a very negative undertone due to its association with controversial conversation stirring movements. Propaganda is used primarily to influence a further agenda, presenting facts using loaded messages to gain an emotional response rather than a rational one. It has always had a place in art history, constructivism really gave rise to propaganda pathing the way as an example and design template for many other designers/activists after it. They use it to communicate their thoughts and opinions on current events to the general public, to inform the uninformed. Propaganda is a universal language, it does not require the audience to be a certain race, culture or speak a certain language in order for them to understand what is being communicated to them, as long as there is a brief background on the subject the majority of viewers will understand. It is used to educate people and convince them to think further into a topic they have been purposely avoiding as it is information, they don’t want to know topics like child abuse and abortions. One of the reasons propagandas can be so effective is that more people are willing to read a few words on a poster rather than a leaflet with every single bit of information in it, most people once they have been moved to do their own research giving them the freedom to go deeper into the topic rather than forcing it upon them with a leaflet full of small script.

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Most propaganda is inspired by a current event in the artists life such as an election or awareness of a campaign they have gained interest in but making the art isn't as simple as an idea popping into your head a lot of thought must go into the process from research, process to creation. A designer must first research deeply into what they are trying to communicate to the public as it would be very easy to offend rather than inform. It is also important to consider where the art will be displayed, this decides who your target audience is, if it will be placed in a busy area in the center of a town for all to see or to be placed in certain streets or areas to affect the people living there, for example displaying starving children in Africa in rich built up areas. A controversial thought about propaganda is that it is manipulating, but it is also part of why it is successful, as when a persuading image is constantly repeated around a town it starts to be embedded in the public's mind, a less dramatic version of the hypodermic needle theory also known as the magic bullet theory, where the media or in this case the designer is directing implanting the information into the audience’s head. An example of the thought process and execution of controversial art pieces can be found in Shepard Faireys work. Faireys work isn’t limited to galleries or exhibitions he makes it open to the public by selling his work online ranging from $40-$100 so it is relatively cheap for most people to be able to buy and enjoy and distributes his work in certain areas where the public can view it using wheat pasted paper prints.

Fairey intended to awaken the passerby that encounters the wheat pasted paper prints in their daily routine, within this awakened state his aim was for the public to question the nature of all other visual messages being communicated to them in their public space. His designs were mostly created incorporating the socialist realist style borrowed from the soviet era propaganda posters. This was intended to steal the public’s attention and arouse suspicion, as it is famously linked to propaganda the public would already know just from seeing it that something of a similar intention is being communicated. Like most designers Fairey did not start off with the intention to create political art, his work used to be about empowerment and raising awareness whereas in the recent years and now it is more of a call to action, creating work to make a change on topics such as alternative fuels, the environment and gay rights. Although he creates this work he claims not to be an activist, it is more than just a political statement for him, he has stated that the visual articulation of the cause is more valuable than the funds as he has acted himself by donating money from selling his work towards campaigns such as gay rights marriage and immigration. Some of his most famous work comes from his rise of propaganda when George Bush was elected, he made work to express the issues going on in Iraq that were being ignored, it is obvious he has his own passions behind this as his work and method of dissemination on city walls had changed from an act of raising questions to a direct assault on the bush administration and the war in Iraq.

In 2004 Fairey created the Obama HOPE poster during the presidential elections in America, many people have commented saying this was a huge reason that Obama was elected as president. This is a perfect if not the best example of good propaganda, at the time that he started to research and crate the poster Obamas position was taking a turn for the worst with most people voting for other candidates, Fairey wanted to increase the chances for Obama, he contacted his campaign team and was working with them to distribute his work. In an interview he shared what his thought process was behind the poster, he wanted to make sure the poster was political in nature but that would de-racialize Obama as it was a huge reason for a lot of people to not listen to him as he was the first person of color to run for president in America, instead he went the patriotic route which would appeal to a lot of Americans using red white and blue. The pose the Obama was in was also very powerful using this to elevate him among his rivals, making him feel established, familiar, American and Presidential, this was inspired by a well-known JFK portrait where he is in the iconic three-quarters view pose (in which the subject is not turned directly toward the viewer’s eyes but is instead gazing upward and to the side) already linking him to a past president in the publics subconscious. Fairey used a mixture of digital work and illustration, he started with a reference photo and manipulated it digitally and separated the shadows into four individual layers, then using the process of screen printing he was able to print out each layer and illustrate them separately but finished it off digitally for final touch ups.

The portrait gained a lot of recognition and became the main symbol of Obamas campaign, Fairey managed to capture a nation with his poster and help elect the first person of color to be president by spreading the message of hope and empowerment through his poster. The main features being the colors used gives the poster the link to patriotism by using the traditional American colors but still keeping his own identity in the design by using ‘off’ colors like he is known to do in his other work, also differentiating the colors from the other candidates’ posters but still paying homage to the patriotic colors. The slogan ‘HOPE’ that is displayed in a bold, modern, san serif typeface also being a key feature as it links the hope and leadership within the three quarters poser implicating that he is Americas hope.

Fairey transformed Obama from a presidential candidate to a hopeful visionary icon using his graphic skill, visual vocabulary and personal style, his work demonstrates just how much graphic design can impact a political movement. This essay has discussed what process goes into creating successful propaganda and gave examples of a designer that has used his work to impact a whole country to change their views and open their minds to the possibility of something that has never been done before, this example of propaganda will be in history forever and continue to inspire designers after him.

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