The image accompanying this post was made by Sam Flores and Munk One for Obama and can be found here on NotCot.
Visual artists mobilizing for Barack Obama are producing images of the candidate and dispersing them through Web sites and blogs, attaining mass reach into a key voting demographic: their peers. Comfortable with social media and networks like MySpace, blogging, and Twitter, this group prefers content they create or discover on their own over what the media packages for them. These particular artists' involvement grabs this group's attention, reinforces Obama's strong connection to voters in their 20s and 30s, and further propels his already successful online movement forward.
Many art and design Web sites now regularly feature Obama art and images. Far from media chatter about the presidential horse race, these sites are highly visited by graphic designers, trendspotters and creative types. Jean Aw, 25, is the founder and creative director of NOTCOT Inc., an established network of design and trend sites. Just two years old, its four sites already receive more than 4 million page views each month. Its content is largely created by its audience. "NOTCOT.org (and sister sites TasteSpotting.com and NotCouture.com) are our custom-built Curated User Submissions sites," Aw explains. Thousands of self-selected users submit notable examples of creativity, inspiration and design that are added daily to NOTCOT.org. A team of editors looks over the submissions to weed out misspellings, poorly cropped images, incorrect links and repeat content in order to maintain quality. Run a search for "Obama" on NOTCOT, and posters, buttons, and design commentary appear, their amounts far eclipsing those of the other candidates. "Obama posts have been particularly popular on both NOTCOT.org and NOTCOT.com, receiving thousands of views, as well as many links throughout the Internet," Aw says. This type of attention hints at a new demographic subset of younger voters: creative digital activists; they make their own images and use technology effectively to mass-market them.
Something unique about the Obama campaign's aesthetic message inspires confidence and trust in this art- and design-minded group. "By placing such an emphasis on building a visually appealing brand, Obama is validating the importance of design in communication. This in turn builds support from the design community, who might feel that a design-conscious candidate best represents their personal beliefs," Aw says. Shepard Fairey, 38, is an illustrator and graphic designer renowned for his "Obey Giant" images on walls, posters and stickers. He is also the first well-known contemporary artist to create an Obama poster. Fairey received a thank you note from Barack Obama for his artwork; the Obama camp will feature an additional limited-edition print by Fairey to sell on their online store as a fundraiser. Jean Aw sees how the ripples of this recognition could capture the creative community's imagination. "Can you imagine how thrilled many street artists must be, if this really did mean Obama would support the arts in every form so openly?"
Other artists have rallied to insert their vision and skills into the election process. Armando Lerma, 33, and Carlos Ramirez, 37, are the Date Farmers, a dynamic artistic duo from California and creators of an Obama poster used to promote him in the Texas primary. Matt Revelli, 34, the founder and creative director of Upper Playground and editor of Juxtapoz magazine, asked the Date Farmers if they would also make one. "Right away it sounded like an exciting project," Lerma said. "Obama has been the person we've been for since the beginning." Inspired by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican artist who illustrated political posters in the late 1800s, the Date Farmers designed theirs with a rougher, more historic look.
This image can be found on UpperPlayground.com
Paper posters plastered on walls throughout towns used to be the primary means of sharing political slogans; technology has amplified the town square, and the walls are now digital. Lerma recognizes that traditional artists who broadcast their vision of a candidate using technology could influence voting. As for a campaign that actively reaches out to artists, "it was a smart move on Obama's part," he explains. "All of these kids are on the Internet, these images are being spread. I think it says something about the Obama campaign that they were able to reach out to a new group of people. I haven't seen any of the other candidates reach out into this world." For people who live and breathe art and design, having a presidential candidate to connect to on this level is unprecedented. "People really feel something for this man," Lerma says. "He brings something new to the table."
"The Mac," 28, is another artist who was approached to make an Obama print. Yosi Sergant, 31, who works for the Obama campaign in Los Angeles, asked him if he would create a poster to distribute in upcoming primaries. Like the Date Farmers, Mac already supported Obama, and had recently seen him speak at a Phoenix, Arizona rally. The experience inspired him. "I'm usually pretty pessimistic about politics in general, so it was refreshing to actually feel so optimistic about a candidate," he says. Mac first realized that Barack Obama's candidacy was prompting action and involvement among visual artists when his friend Kofie in Los Angeles created some art for the Obama campaign in 2007. Mac took this as "an underground mini-celebrity endorsement" by a respected fellow artist. Mac says, "I think younger people, or creative people, see Obama as something different from the status quo, and someone who speaks for them. I mean, I don't exactly see Hillary or McCain supporting anything like this." Inspired by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha's socially conscious art, Mac designed his Obama poster to look "dignified, serious, presidential."
Online connections and communities have created new venues and wider audiences for both artists and politicians. "I'm able to support myself as an artist partly because anyone from around the country or around the world can see my art and get a hold of me," says Mac. "Unless I was extremely lucky, rich, or maybe lived in New York City, I can't imagine that happening without the Web. It's helped level the playing field. It only makes sense that this new degree of information exchange should impact the political process."
Upper Playground is galvanizing additional artists to make more Obama posters. Matt Revelli established this creative organization "to be a platform for artists from all disciplines to come together and to create something that embodies the idea behind a creative lifestyle culture." After Shepard Fairey's poster succeeded so well, he approached Revelli to keep a posters series going "with other artists of relevance." While artists often strive to express a more intimate vision in their work, some are eagerly reaching out to depict a public figure. Revelli explains. "I think artists are drawn to the idea of connecting with people in a cause that is as important as Obama's potential presidency. Also, he has a connection to younger people that I have never seen before. He feels more like a statesman than a politician." Inspired by positive feedback and increasing momentum, Revelli has big plans. Upper Playground will continue to offer Obama posters and prints through the general election; this will culminate in an exhibit featuring all works. With the money that UP makes from selling the prints, they will make more posters and stickers to be given out in future primary states and at rallies. "We just bought a grip of bus shelter advertisements in Philly with the Shepard and Munk One images," Revelli says. These pictures, seen largely online and at key rallies, will soon be making the crossover to the brick-and-mortar world and the general public.
The Web has become a rich canvas for artists and candidates who know how to connect digitally. The Obama campaign continues to successfully reach online users through their association with contemporary artists. With these Obama-supporting images being linked to and shared across the Web, thousands of potential voters are seeing them every day--and are taking note of the artists behind them. Like the artists who created these images, these voters' eyes are wide open.