Shepard Fairey

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.

Check out an exclusive clip from the event, which will air as part of MTVu, below:

Fairey also took time to discuss his latest project, which moves beyond his silkscreening and printing work to act as an executive producer for the new MTV series, Rebel Music. The show reports on artists and musicians in developing and war-torn countries, including India, Israel and Palestine, Mexico, Mali, Egypt, and Afghanistan. He shared the trailer for the show, below, and answered student questions about the connection between art and revolution and the importance that music has had in his life and his art.

“More or less from the time I was in high school and I started listening to the Clash and the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, I thought about how a lot of what they were doing was provocative and antagonistic and I liked that. I liked that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso musically or artistically to make flyers for punk rock album art or to play the music itself. That three chords and courage model to share ideas was something that always appealed to me.”

Rebel Music premieres Nov. 18 on MTVu.