Milton Glaser on Shepard Fairey

Milton Glaser on Shepard Fairey, plagiarism and originality

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



There’s nothing wrong with using a reference image or being inspired by others work, but this is pretty pathetic. It’s like buying a coloring book, using your crayons and then saying look what I made. It looks as if the image was just scanned in and auto traced in illustrator. Zero creativity.


I wonder if anyone sued Andy Warhol? Robert Rauschenberg? Did the urinal manufacturer sue Marcel Duchamp?

Marc B.

But he ain’t no one of these.

Here’s an even more extensive article about Fairey’s plagiarism


Fairey’s whole deal from day one is the re-contextualization of iconic imagery. Anyone who strokes their chin and debates his work in terms of plagiarism misses the point entirely. Almost every single piece he has put out before this Obama deal has been in the exact same vein – why the finger pointing now?


Associated Press is suing him for “re-contextualizing” the Obama photo, and I think that’s drawn the attention of a few new voices.

I think this comes down to a question of fine art vs. commercial art. If what Fairey is doing can be classified as fine art, then it seems he’s safe. (I’m not saying I agree with that, but that seems to be the general consensus.)

If, on the other hand, it’s commercial art (i.e. design), then well, he’s screwed.


I know why the debate is taking place now in terms of the legal action, it was a rhetorical question. There are many photographers out there who could have sued him before now for re-contextualizing their photos but haven’t. Why? I would suggest either because they figure the amount won was negligible or they understand and are fine with the re-appropriation wich has been ongoing in the arts since the dawn of time. This particular case is only happening because the people suing smell major $$$ because of the huge amount of Obama merchandising sold and therefore this matter should be seen for what it is – opportunism rather than the fight for artistic recognition. That’s why the debate Glaser and many other people are engaging in is redundant in my mind.

Bender Beta

I so agree with “skeletor”!

One word MONEY. And every time it winds me up, in this ongoing debate.

The only reason this debate ever comes up, eventually traces back to hard cash. That is also why people always bring in fine arts vs. commercial work… We accept fine arts Andy Warhol, Duchamp etc. because it is a piece, just like street art is a piece – and no one makes money.

Now a days everybody has the same tools and works the same way, everybody has the same basis for creating artwork. At the same time every one wants their work to be seen so they post it on the internet – for everybody else to see. Then someone does see it, and does something similar – and boom you go crying about. Well guess what – if it is that easy to “exercise plagiarism” maybe the idea is not that original to begin with.
If this is the future, pressing charges, or just pointing fingers every time some one is “inspired” – then the future looks dark!? Everybody has references all the time, some more obvious than others but no one creates anything without inspiration from others.

I like the idea of remixing, and I like idea of communities, of collabs and I wish more websites would encourage more collaboration, rather than competition. Again money money money GREED has the upper grip.

About 75% is probably screaming at the screen right now calling me a hippie and worse. But creativity will never grow, especially in times of financial crisis by creative people waring. And I am sure some will agree.


isnt it shepard fairey thats making money money money?

Bender Beta


Yes Shepard Fairey is making money. By taking an anonymous photo, and turning it into an original artwork. Making it valuable because of his remix, his concept, his idea (not the photographers, nor APs).
And as he states in an interview, it was never his intention to make money of it in the first place, he did the poster to support the Obama campaign, and then it went viral – becoming an icon – then money was an issue, because the poster was sold, and THEN AP sued.

Besides that, there is rumors going around the web that photographer, who shot the image, is supporting Shepard Fairey. Which makes this whole debate, and Milton Glasers one-sided-journalism a bit of target.

Bender Beta

I found this press release:

Which debates “Fair Use”, and states that MONEY is what AP wants, and that Fairey is hardley making millions, in this case anyway.


Being exposed to the original artwork through the controversy is a definite plus. If it wasn’t for this I doubt I would have ever seen many of the originals. I guess that in itself has some artistic merit?


or the fact that fairey is taking preexisting propaganda art, adding some texture to it, throwing “obey” on it, and selling it in nordstroms. i think thats what stings me the most.


go to 6.50 – looks like the Obama campaign owned the rights to the photo and asked him to do it for them. AP are suing the wrong party = this will be bounced out of court with any hope.

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