Students at USC are used to seeing celebrities at school: This year alone the campus has hosted Elton John, Steven Spielberg, and many other bold-faced names. But usually tickets to those events are hard to come by, even for students, and the guest speaker is announced months in advance. So it was a real treat for one small digital media class Wednesday when artist and activist Shepard Fairey, sporting a Sex Pistols t-shirt and black leather jacket, made his way into their lecture hall, surprising the students who’d studied his work with a talk that spanned the influence of the Internet and technology on art, the Occupy movement, President Obama, and a new series he’s executive producing for MTV, Rebel Music.
“The age of being an artist and only being in galleries is not particularly relevant anymore,” Fairey told students. “You need to figure out ways to engage people, taking into account there’s potentially a very short attention span.” Fairey held up some of his most famous prints, including his now nearly 25-year-old Andre the Giant “Obey” poster, the Obama “Hope” poster, and more recent prints like one created for the Occupy movement of “The Protester” (which was featured on the cover of Time), and one made to raise funds for the Japan tsunami victims.
As for that most controversial Obama poster, Fairey had a few things to say about the current administration.
“I have plenty of reservations about everything Obama’s doing now – I’m not so into domestic drones, I’m not so into spying,” Fairey said, acknowledging that his famous image was representative of a certain time in history and in his own life.