The art of Shephard Fairey was part of my design curriculum for many years. First and most importantly, the images are art, and as such can educate, inform, persuade, record and entertain.
Art can be viewed for its formal qualities alone or within its contextual circumstances. The posters as art stand alone (regardless of their use or misuse or the artist's intention). When hanging in the context of the school they are simply uplifting graphic designs from which the viewer takes away a message. Here, the message is anti-nothing, mentions no political persona and assigns no particular political viewpoint. As with all artworks, the viewer may assign any interpretation desired in a given context (informed or not informed) but that opinion may not speak for the whole audience. If that were the standard for observing and displaying art, museums would be empty.
Any claim made about " the style" being "similar to the Obama Hope poster" is a false equivalent. Style is a result of both process and preference of the artist and is about the medium used (charcoal, photography, paint) and its application. It is a "formal" quality (meaning size, shape, color, balance, etc.), of a work but does not in itself create a meaning nor a context. Again, the art stands as pure design free from imposed biases. A style can be applied to anything and by anyone.
Censorship based on the subliminal association of one or some is, essentially, moot and should not determine the validity of the work as neutral, presentable and artistically valid for the rest. So the teaching message can be and is separated from any outside political intention that's being assumed by the censor(s). At this point, the posters are part of the popular culture and current landscape of efforts to embrace one another in a humane and thoughtful way. Art does that. These images are powerful tools for positive change outside of any political dogma. Carroll County is in desperate need of that.
Carroll County Public Schools officials mentioned the need to "show both sides." If indeed there is a "side" observed, then what may I ask, would be its antithesis? We The People Defend Dignity, (We Encourage Inelegance?); Are Greater Than Fear, (…are Terrified?); Protect Each Other, (…Don't Give a Damn?).
I submit that this error of inductive reasoning might actually hold a grain of truth.
Teach the children well.
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The writer is the retired director of art and curator of exhibits and collections at Carroll Community College.