Some quick thoughts on Shepard Fairey


Art, General Photography

Concerning the discussion about Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster (did he or did he not plagiarize earlier work and/or did he violate somebody else’s copyright): The chickens are clearly coming home to roost. After all, we are still missing meaningful discussions about how new art can relate to earlier art (and by that I do not mean rants about somebody “ripping off” somebody else or rants about how artists can do anything they want), we are still missing meaningful discussions about art and money (if an “underground” artist suddenly can make some money is that so bad - is s/he “selling out”?), and we have allowed people to pretty much reduce the issue of copyright to purely commercial aspects (with corporations, most famously Disney, at the forefront of how copyright should be defined).

In a sense, I’m glad that Shepard Fairey’s image is at the center of all of this. This is not because of any problems I have with either the image or the artist. It’s simply because the image is extremely well known, and large numbers of people love the image (something that cannot be said for Richard Prince’s work, for example - it’s always easier to bash somebody whose work doesn’t reach nearly as many people, even - or maybe because? - if s/he makes a ton of money).

Hopefully, more than just a small number of insiders will start talking about how we, as a society, need to approach the whole complex and how we have maneuvered ourselves into a pretty bad corner with the way copyright is now defined.