Poll: Shepard Fairey

obama-fairey

Over in the Quickies, I recently tossed up an interview with Milton Glaser regarding the work of Shepard Fairey, and it sparked some heated discussion. I thought it’d be interesting to put the issue front and center for a little Motionographer Talk Cycle action.

If you aren’t familiar with Shepard Fairey, take a minute to read up on him (yes, that’s a Wikipedia link). Well-known in design and street art circles for his Obey imagery, Fairey’s more recent Obama posters (see above) launched him into the mainstream, spawning hundreds of variations from friends and foes alike.

It turns out the Obama work (like much of Fairey’s work) was based on a copyrighted image, in this case owned by news media giant Associated Press. Fairey, sensing an eminent lawsuit, filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against AP in order to protect himself from claims of copyright infringement.

All this, combined with a retrospective show at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, has brought Fairey’s body of work under the most public scrutiny the artist/designer has yet endured. He’s long been under fire for his creative practices, but now he’s bubbling up in mainstream media’s headlines.

Most of the coverage, including the impassioned comments of readers, touches on a rich complex of issues, including authorship, originality, art vs. design, and commercial interest vs. artistic expression.

Okay, so now for the poll:

[poll id=”6″]

For further reading on this subject, check out:

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
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.

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31 Comments

twoifbysee

I was able to see the press preview of the show at the ICA, not only did Shepard explain where the OBEY image came from, but he also went into detail about the HOPE poster, making a point to mention he received approval from the campaign before making anything. Part of his voice is recycling images from popular culture…you can see the video of him explaining OBEY here if you are interested in hearing about the process from the horses mouth…
http://twoifbysee.blogspot.com/2009/02/shepard-fairey-at-boston-ica.html

burgermeister

Shepard Fairey is a creative HACK because he didn’t get permission to use the Photo from the AP. He needs to read up on Copyright law… Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons ( http://www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=31500 )

Good luck with the Lawsuit Fairey, you will lose.

“Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons” – The court found that Koons had copied not only the “idea” of the photograph, but its “charming and unique expression.” (Judges apparently consider charm a special attribute of art.) The fact that Koons had made “small changes here and there” was irrelevant, since only where “the points of dissimilarity exceed those that are similar” can there be a finding of no infringement. And the three-judge panel virtually repeated the language of the Rogers’ brief in concluding that the Koons sculpture was not a parody of or comment on the Rogers photograph, and thus could not be privileged as a fair use. “It is not really the parody flag that appellants are flying under,” the court wrote, “but rather the flag of piracy.”

Copyright designobserver.com

mrpeter

The real answer lies somewhere between LET HIM BE & UNORIGINAL.

He wasnt referencing the work, he was using the work as a base.
It seems the same, but no. He used the exact contours, and proportions.
Ofcourse it is art. And ofcourse it has original, but not fully.

But no surprise. Fairey has been doing this his whole career.

mrpeter

PS. I ran across a 20th century French play write named Andre Obey.
I always had a feeling Fairey did as well….

lisa

there are thousand of images available of barack obama, yet this is probably the most famous. regardless of the “base” photo, he still would have had the same end result.

mrpeter

you are sort of missing the point……

kurt

I don’t think she’s missing the point at all.
In this case, I think its a rare instance where both parties are in the wrong. Fairy clearly breaks copyright laws on a routine basis… but who are those laws designed by in the first place? Copyright laws are not setup to benefit society in general, they are designed to protect the interests of private companies, and are only ever about money. Yeah, Shepard Fairy may be in the wrong as well, but the tie-breaker goes to him, because he was trying to do something positive in the community, whearas the AP are just being greedy and acting in bad taste.

xpez2000

What they are arguing about, I hope, will serve the greater interests of all artists.

What if the tables were turned and the Photographer had taken a photo that largely contained a SF poster and that photo was successful and sold thousands, got a president elected, and collected by the Smithsonian and the photog gave it away to charity, and it generated thousands for that charity and SF got nothing… Would SF be generous enough to allow this fair use argument???? Or is he an art star that gets the public support no matter what?? Is this just a convenient ploy to get out of this copyright problem that could cost him $$$$$?

the verdict on this should support an idea thats supremely fair no matter if its for the AP, the photographer, or the artist.

nickricci

This is severely annoying. Is he now just making a career out of ripping people off and suing them? Is this the same dude who used to vandalize state property for his own gain, now stealing, suing and trying to justify it? Truthfully, it was a great statement when it was just street art, and he’s come a long way as a designer. I have one of his first, pre obey stickers. It was crap though, some bad illustration that said ‘Andre the Giant’ on it.

I don’t know if anyone remembers when some guys in Vietnam started a website that used the same wordpress template as motionographer and everyone had a cow. Yet we accept Fairy’s blatant theft of an AP photographer’s work, because many designers idolize this guy. It’s not a good ideological precedent, and makes hypocrites out of our group.

xpez2000

this is an example of when that illegal street credo of “borrowing is great” runs into problems. It’s fine when everyone remains anonymous.

He could have avoided this problem by simply collaborating with the photographer, by seeking a simple creative commons license. While creating such a high profile image, you might wonder why this foreseeable problem never crossed his mind.

This case has already been tried before with an illustrator who used a stock photograph, from a stock house, as the basis of an illustration that won an illustration contest for adobe illustrator or freehand like 10 years ago ( it was an image of an indian or headress, i believe). check old issues of How, or Comm Arts. When the illustration gained wide attention it launched the red flags. If I am not mistaken the illustrator lost because the image was identical, not with the color, but with the framing, composition and GESTALT of the picture. Meaning, it didn’t matter that he had reduced the photo to some contour lines and changed the color. It was judged on the overall recognizable impression produced by the photograph. Is that impression or gestalt visible in the drawing of the photo? Although I hope SF can avoid liability in this matter, that facial expression is identical and communicates an optimistic, humane, and heroic persona. Conceptually, the image revolves around this axiom. That iconic facial expression was captured by the photographer’s click of the shutter. Is it a more successful image because of SF reinterpretation? Definitely so. But, I think the reason the Obama campaign didn’t officially use the image only reinforces the slippery legality of the image. Unfortunately, that works against SF in this case.

ocelot

can people please stop using gestalt and zeitgeist ?
most of the time you are not even using it right and only makes you look even more like a douche.

nickricci

xpez2000 wrote a very thoughtful and balanced comment. It’s too bad ocelot felt the need to debase it with some meaningless insults, one would think designers would be a bit more tasteful.

One angle everyone should consider is the issue of royalties. Composers, Photographers, and Actors routinely get paid based on usage or performance. We as designers should be more conscious about this, try to create a better system for ourselves instead of causing confounding situations by stealing and copying.

If you are really designing your own stuff and watching it play, you’ll want to get paid. If your just ripping stuff off the internet and calling it your own, you probably don’t care. But this is an unrewarding philosophy.

Just a thought.

xpez2000

G E S T A L T : Merriam Webster Dictionary.

: a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.

Before criticizing someone else’s use of language, make sure you look up the definition so you actually understand your own criticism.

daftcain

The work became recognized because of the work he did to it, not because of the way it was. The only difference between him and every other artist is that he is both conscious of his influences and the sources can easily be found.

justin

I’m guessing you’d disagree with Albert Einstein then:
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
;-)

daftcain

I’ve always liked that quote, I was just saying the what’s unique about Shepard Fairey is that he’s not very good at it

clefex

So who design the american flag behind obama? who design obama’s suit and tie? Did the photographer get permission for taking the photo of the american flag, the tie, the suit? Shouldn’t the photographer be sued as well?

mrpeter

American flag: Public Commons.
Clothes: Commons.

Dumb argument.

wsel

Campbell Soup – Andy Warhol anyone?

mrpeter

I found this regarding the soup cans.

the whole article – http://www.theartfulcrafter.com/art-one.html

:

Remember Andy Warhol’s famous pop art paintings of Campbell Soup Cans? He started painting them in 1962.
At that stage, they were very realistic duplications of the Campbell’s labels.

Certainly, he “borrowed” the Campbell’s trademark for his own financial gain. [In 2006, Warhol’s small painting of a can of Campbell’s pepper pot soup went for $11.8 million at a Christie’s auction.]

I think the key trademark points are that, while Warhol used the Campbell’s trademark, he was neither competing with Campbell’s soup, nor was he harming or diluting the trademark – the painting could reasonably considered a parody and thus protected under fair use.

Wisely, in my opinion, the Campbell Soup Company did not sue Warhol for trademark infringement. They recognized the brand enhancement his paintings provided. In 1965 they even provided Warhol with actual soup can labels to be used as invitations for an exhibit. In 1985, Campbell’s commissioned Warhol to paint a series of their dry soup mixes.

:

Fairey had some intent that crosses paths with the original work.
That is where a lot of the problems begin.

nickricci

I understand the argument, but keep in mind that was his own still life painting, which became a silkscreen. He didn’t steal someone’s art, unless you are talking about the campbell soup logo, which is a Trademark.

Anyway, did Campbell’s contest Warhol’s usage? I think he captured the item in a realistic portrait, and eventually abstracted it.

Clearly a gray area, but I’d say he’s more in the middle than Fairey?

mrpeter

No they never contested it….

They viewed it as a positive….

mcbrions

Originally I had voted “He’s an artist, let him be”. But then I read Mark Vallen’s critique and I’ve changed my mind to “this is both AP and Shepard Fairey trying to make a quick buck”.

I do think that big companies abuse the public with the copyright issues, but I also think Fairey has abused many artists on his way to the bank. Actually, I think this picture is one of the less outrageous examples of all of them. I don’t care if he gets a picture from a press agency, but taking historical street art and profiting from it without referencing the artists is way too much.

Young Mr. Arvizu

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Shepard Fairey is on his way to becoming a line item under the “filters” drop down menu. But I’m not really trying to further the debate of whether what Fairey does should be considered wrong or right. Appropriation is all over the place, I’m guilty of it myself. I’ve never achieved fame by doing it–but somehow, I don’t think that’s a solid standard of ethics in this case.

When I was a student, I copied my favorite designers. In fact, I was encouraged to. There is something to be said about student’s copying a great design. It’s not unlike doing a master study of one of the great painters. You start to see why choices were made, what went where and when. You begin to get the process and it helps you wrap your head around what goes into making something of worth.

However, this is only true of execution. The danger is when students or professionals begin to “borrow” the ideas. And we see that a lot too.

I don’t know if Fairey is liable for ripping off the photographer, I don’t care–it makes for entertaining banter either way. But I’m not impressed with his one and seemingly only style. At the core of it’s function, graphic design is about communicating a message. The best messages are usually transmitted through great ideas.

Appropriation aside–how GREAT can an idea be when it’s completely possible to replicate through one click of an upload button? ( http://obamiconme.pastemagazine.… )

nbody

Anyone who was aware of his great work back in the early/mid 90s, knows that he has long since turned to the darkside and is the posterchild for hypocrisy. His pseudo-intellectual writings that try to justify his overtly commercialized operation read like absurdist (and whiny) comedy. The bottom line is, he makes money off images of famous people. These are not on the same level as Warhol’s work (which were making a statement about celebrity and iconography). People are buying the Obama posters in particular because they love Obama, not Fairey’s work. Case in point for the AP.

Ultimately his legacy will be that he helped sow within the minds of thousands of graphic designers the illusion that their trite client work somehow resembled “art” in some shape or form. Which I guess technically makes him a religion (using lies to allow people to believe in something they need to, in order to deal with their life situation).

lindovina

i don’t know about you guys, but when i look at the hope poster, i see a glint of hope in his eyes. when i look at the photograph, i see obama staring at something, which, frankly, he probably was

this glint, the gentle discrepancy in the eye shape, shading, upturn of the lip- is what shep fairey brought to the poster, and it’s what makes it so captivating. that is the role of the artist- to take the reality and create a heightened sense of meaning and purpose. the photograph did not do this, but fairey did

justin

Excellent point, Lauren. There’s definitely something inspiring happening in Obama’s mind in Fairey’s image; not so much in the AP image. Now that I look closely at it, there are several tiny tweaks that Fairey made to create the sense of confidence and optimism for which Obama was elected.

catboy1981

i dont see why people have a problem with originality of his work.
were designers, we take reference from things all the time, whether it be photos, others peoples work, trends, ideas, techniques, surroundings blah blah blah. art and design evolves, i cant think of one designer whos truly original.

burgermeister

Shepard Fairey is a creative HACK because he didn’t get permission to use the Photo from the AP. He needs to read up on Copyright law… Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons ( http://www.designobserver.com/archives/entry.html?id=31500 )

Good luck with the Lawsuit Fairey, you will lose.

“Art Rogers vs. Jeff Koons” – The court found that Koons had copied not only the “idea” of the photograph, but its “charming and unique expression.” (Judges apparently consider charm a special attribute of art.) The fact that Koons had made “small changes here and there” was irrelevant, since only where “the points of dissimilarity exceed those that are similar” can there be a finding of no infringement. And the three-judge panel virtually repeated the language of the Rogers’ brief in concluding that the Koons sculpture was not a parody of or comment on the Rogers photograph, and thus could not be privileged as a fair use. “It is not really the parody flag that appellants are flying under,” the court wrote, “but rather the flag of piracy.”

Copyright designobserver.com

xpez2000

Anyone can use any image anytime anyway they please. The problems start when an economy develops around the usage of the image.

In this case, SF was using the image as a donation to some charities etc.

What if something you had created (intellectual property) was being pilfered or manipulated to the degree that it was supporting interests that you had no interest in supporting and you weren’t even seeing a dime from your own hard work. The image was actually generating thousands of dollars. You might be a wise artist to explore your rights regarding the image in question.

Everyone deserves the right to profit from their work.

Comments are closed.