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Shepard Fairey, Plagiarist?
March 18, 2008 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Most well known for his "Obey Giant" street posters, Shepard Fairey has carefully nurtured a reputation as a heroic guerilla street artist waging a one man campaign against the corporate powers-that-be. Infantile posturing aside, Fairey’s art is problematic for another, more troubling reason - that of plagiarism.
posted by dhammond (91 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't really see this as counting as plagiarism. He still creates new images (even if the original images aren't his) and gives them meaning. Does every artist have to cite every influence?

What about DJs who mix songs? They aren't adding any new content, only the form...isn't that plagiarism?
posted by hulahulagirl at 3:07 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fairey plagiarizes Nazis, Wal-Mart plagiarizes Fairey, it's all part of nature's cycle.
posted by box at 3:08 PM on March 18, 2008


I don't know, some if might cross the line, but to me much of it isn't any different than Quentin Tarantino using Bruce Lee's jumpsuit in Kill Bill. PS, you might want to indicate that you are quoting from that website.
posted by starman at 3:08 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I'm dense, but doesn't most of the political oomph in Fairey's work come from the fact that you recognize where it came from - particularly in that Iraq poster?

I always thought of him as graphic designer as artist, not an illustrator. Art Chantry didn't draw the drill catalogs that he restructured to make punk posters and album covers, either.

Is it just the term "art" that annoys that guy? I'm having a hard time seeing what the big deal is. (On preview, what everyone else said.)
posted by Gucky at 3:10 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


PS, you might want to indicate that you are quoting from that website.

Yes, the text of my post is from the last link. I chose not to include quotation marks as a stylistic choice and because it's quite visible at the top of the page, but fair point.

posted by dhammond at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2008


I don't think Mark Vallen gets it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:15 PM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


This FPP reminds me of the one where various riffs from Stereolab songs were compared with similar riffs by musicians that they were referencing. Yes, of course they do. Soon you'll tell me that Disney (and co.) didn't create the characters of Pinocchio or The Little Mermaid. Or that Weird Al didn't write the lyrics for "Like a Surgeon." Or that Frank Sinatra didn't record the first My Way.

In short: of course his work references prior work. The name OBEY is based on the subliminal propaganda posters that are featured in They Live, for chrissakes. I'm not so sure the article is criticism rather than just stating the obvious. Yes, Shepherd Fairey's schtick is recontextualizing art previously found in propaganda to make it current/commentary/ironic/clever, and he doesn't hide that fact.
posted by eschatfische at 3:17 PM on March 18, 2008


Er, that example was supposed to be Weird Al writing the music for "Like a Surgeon." I'm quite confident that Al wrote the lyrics for that one.
posted by eschatfische at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2008


I'm generally OK with artistic/intellectual appropriation (especially, it should go without saying, for satirical/parodic purposes), but this dude crosses all kinds of lines in service of his fame.

One that disturbs me particularly is copying an IWW artist for a T-shirt and adding the caption "obey propaganda." Although I realize IWW propaganda is "propaganda" according to the dictionary definition, "propaganda" is more generally thought to be government/corporate mindfucking. To appropriate a progressive labor movement image and suggest, through irony, that positive interpretation of this image is stupid...well, that's just infantile and ignorant.

If you're going to steal stuff and make coin and street cred out of the process, reflect on the ethical implications of your art before you do so. All of us artists steal from others, but HOW we do it is important.
posted by kozad at 3:19 PM on March 18, 2008 [6 favorites]


The writer really and truly screws himself by hanging his argument from the wobbly nail of "plagiarism," because this slightly more subtle accounting of Fairey's thefts is dead-on:

"Perhaps the most important falsehood concerning Fairey’s behavior is that it is motivated by some grand theory of aesthetics or weighty political philosophy - but I’m afraid the only scheme at work is the one intended to make Fairey wealthy and famous. Some have, for whatever reason, imagined Fairey to be a progressive political figure, a perception certainly cultivated by the artist; but it’s also not impossible to view Fairey’s work as right-wing in essence, since it largely ransacks leftist history and imagery while the artist laughs all the way to the bank."

His entire oeuvre has the political impact of a rack of discounted t-shirts at Urban Outfitters.

Or on preview: what kozad said.
posted by dyoneo at 3:25 PM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Doesn't spending a whole essay dissecting an idiot and his manifesto kind of lend some credence to the idiot with the manifesto?
posted by doctor_negative at 3:25 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


You mean Fairey isn't famous for creating Andre the Giant's face?
posted by aftermarketradio at 3:27 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seems like sour grapes to me. It isn't plagiarism, it's repurposing of iconic images. The main argument seems to be less that he's ripping anyone off and more that he isn't repurposing the images for any "meaningful" message and instead is just "advancing his career". I think it's more that this guy is jealous of Fairey's success than anything. I mean, yeah, his stuff is pretty banal and is more like a T-shirt logo than a work of art, but the accusation of plagiarism just seems dickish and jealous.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:32 PM on March 18, 2008


Andre the Giant, Greatest Drunkard of all Time
posted by ColdChef at 3:33 PM on March 18, 2008


what is this crap?
posted by ambulance blues at 3:37 PM on March 18, 2008


to be more specific, why confuse easily recognizable appropriation with on-the-sly plagiarism?
posted by ambulance blues at 3:40 PM on March 18, 2008


Shephard Fairey is indeed a shmuck out to promote his own brand and make a buck. However, this article seems to totally miss the point of how his work works.
posted by serazin at 3:40 PM on March 18, 2008


I thought it was pretty obvious all of this stuff is ripped of old propaganda posters etc.
Pretty sure Shepard Fairey didn't invent Andre the Giant either unless I missed something somewhere...
posted by sam and rufus at 3:43 PM on March 18, 2008


Whoops, I wrote that then didn't post it. Sorry for the Andre repetition...
posted by sam and rufus at 3:44 PM on March 18, 2008


"Referencing" is a euphemism for "Copying" here. Fairey copies other people's work and slaps his own brand on it. The Mederos poster is a pretty damning example, as is the Moser print.

Fairey should get credit only for what he puts into these artworks. To reference Hulahulagirl's analogy, it's like crediting the DJ for writing the songs of the Beatles. Or crediting the anthologist for work anthologized.
posted by factory123 at 3:55 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I get the sense there's some mantle of 'artist' that people are claiming Fairey is assuming. I don't think that's accurate. There's a reason he focuses on concepts of propaganda, and I think it's because he found a cultural resonance he was able to impact in doing so. There's a lot to explore in the question of what's art and what is ego -- the fact that his work apparently brings these questions front-and-center is testament to his success.
posted by Embryo at 4:00 PM on March 18, 2008


I'm no fan of Fairey, but there's no meat in this piece...it just reads like a bitter harangue.
posted by anazgnos at 4:04 PM on March 18, 2008


Repurposing old propaganda posters is one thing, but copying an old MC5 poster is really lame. That's not taking something and putting it in a new context, that's just copying something and hoping nobody notices.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:14 PM on March 18, 2008


OMG THE BIZ PLAGIARIZED GILBERT O'SULLIVAN!

I'm sorry, man, that's the point of hip-hop graffito expropriation: he expands the world that your art lives in. Think of it as fan-fic for Wobbly agit-prop.

And srsly, anointing Lichtenstein while blasting Fairey shows dodgy knowledge of both crit-lit and the reception that the big L got at the time.
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]




Shepard Fairey, as much as I don't really like his work, isn't plagiarizing anything. Referencing, copying, but plagiarizing...no. Copying and recontextualizing other people's work to give the images a different meaning, or even to examine the concept of originality itself, is nothing new, and Fairey doesn't do it any better or worse than any of the others. I also don't think Fairey holds himself up to the heroic artistic standards that Vallen seems to think he does. I could be wrong but I know folks that deal with his work on a regular basis - the scene he inhabits is pretty naked about its commercial ambitions and origins - think rock posters, t-shirts, graphic design, and vinyl toys rather than museums. It annoys me less in that context than it does when I see the hacks that attach a higher minded "statement" and sell their work for millions at Sotheby's.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:20 PM on March 18, 2008


"Repurposing old propaganda posters is one thing, but copying an old MC5 poster is really lame. That's not taking something and putting it in a new context, that's just copying something and hoping nobody notices."

NO.

It's copying and HOPING EVERYONE NOTICES.
posted by klangklangston at 4:22 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


This was an interesting article, but I wish he hadn't used the loaded word "plagiarism," which inevitably gives rise to the banal (sorry) discussion about what artists can and can't appropriate.

Instead, I wish the author had focused on what Fairey's actually trying to say with his art, and whether his appropriations are being put to good use. The article has an interesting thesis at its center: the author believes that Fairey's art is symptomatic of a creative bankruptcy combined with a raging egocentricity. Frankly, I was hoping for something more along the lines of Charlie Brooker's takedown of Banksy:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1878555,00.html

Unfortunately, the Fairey article is overshadowed by the author's clear anger about the plagiarism issue, dooming discussion to tired Doctrovian arguments about copyright, remix culture, and mash-ups.
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:28 PM on March 18, 2008


Ok, I don't like shepard fairy. It's a personal reason, as an artist. Graffiti is Graffiti. You wanna make pretty pictures on wall? Fine go get your own wall, don't force it on me. I live and breathe in the same place you do.

His 'art' is right up there with bus banners and billboards. Freakin' annoying.

An as artist and photographer, I can see that, something like what he makes would get sued on so hard you are gonna be pissing IP law suits for decades. The art he copies... the owners are mostly dead, lucky him.

Basically it goes like this, if you 'Referencing' something, I should be able to see the inspiration, spirit or maybe even some likeness to it. However, if I can recognize the piece, even cut out your work and then see that it's the copied art, you are plagiarizing.

Apply the same for photos, paintings, and written words.

It's the same, exactly the same way the law would apply if someone were to take someone else's face and paste it onto a porn body and sell it.
posted by countzen at 4:30 PM on March 18, 2008


Yeah, not sure what the big deal is. Fairey's angle is "appropriate-aesthetic-for-propaganda". The only part of his work that makes his stuff into art is the fact that the images he appropriates (whether originally propaganda or art) are turned into semi-faux-propaganda for his own cause.

It's like the readymade - the appropriation is the point, and the art is secondary.
posted by suedehead at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


And this shit, from the article: "Fairey has accelerated the dehistoricization and commodification of American history, and in my opinion, has forfeited his ability to speak as a dissident."

No, wrong. This is why people don't take old, pissy leftists seriously.

As for discussions on what Fairey's art is saying, well, that's like asking what the OpArt folks were "saying." Fairey's most interesting stuff, at least to me, explores how form has been used in propaganda. That his work has ambiguous meaning is kind of the point; it's intentionally glib and reductive to silkscreen these iconic images while tacking up an Obey over them. And yeah, it falls into the classic morass of irony, that it wants to both endorse something and distance itself from that earnest endorsement.

But when the article complains about how Fairey reacted to getting "busted," he's engaging in the reactionary thinking of the co-opted (to turn his own rhetoric against him). Fairey is approaching this as a street artist, throwing up work on the fly. For him, getting busted is the same whether it's cops catching him with wet spray tips or with "infringing" art. Whether that's compelling or not to anyone's aesthetic sense is between them and their medium, but this is what art looks like in the age of perfect copies.
posted by klangklangston at 4:39 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


"infantile posturing"?

How is this editorial not already deleted?
posted by DU at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2008


I interviewed Shepard about a similar issue, his basic point was that he doesn't steal, he uses things in a way that's consciously being repurposed. He said expects people to get the reference, that is the point of his work.
posted by cell divide at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2008


However, if I can recognize the piece, even cut out your work and then see that it's the copied art, you are plagiarizing.

So you'd say Marcel Duchamp was a plagiarist too?

It's the same, exactly the same way the law would apply if someone were to take someone else's face and paste it onto a porn body and sell it.

That might be defamation, but it wouldn't be plagiarism. (What exactly is being plagiarized? The person's face? So all portraits are plagiarism?)

I get that you don't like Fairey, but your reasoning isn't very well-reasoned. Except for the "get your own wall" part, which has some merit.
posted by ook at 4:54 PM on March 18, 2008


Where exactly is the line between reiterating a piece of art vs. interpreting it in a new context? Photographer Bert Stern recently recreated his famous "last photo shoot" of Marilyn Monroe using Lindsay Lohan. If a second (hypothetical) photographer did the same thing, would s/he be guilty of plagerism of the Marilyn Monroe photo shoot? What about Michael Musto photographing himself as Lindsay Lohan as Marilyn Monroe in the same poses?
posted by Peter Petridish at 4:55 PM on March 18, 2008


Argh. Last links in my post are probably NSFW.
posted by Peter Petridish at 4:55 PM on March 18, 2008


His imagery appears as though it’s xeroxed or run through some computer graphics program

Wow, did it take an artist critique eto figure that out?
posted by Nelson at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2008


Apparently this "Obey Giant" grew out of the "Andre the Giant has a Posse" thing from years back... I recognized that the image was similar to the one from the posse stickers, but I didn't know it was the same guy.

At least that's what Wikipedia tells me...
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2008


How is this editorial not already deleted?

As I mentioned above, it's a quote from the article. It's actually not how I (personally) feel about Shepard's work but I do think the article raises a handful of good points about appropriation (hysterics on the part of the author aside). So while I certainly don't mean for that to come across as editorializing, it's my bad if it's not explicitly clear. In other words, pretend there are quotation marks around it :-)

posted by dhammond at 4:58 PM on March 18, 2008


It's the same, exactly the same way the law would apply if someone were to take someone else's face and paste it onto a porn body and sell it.

Plagiarism isn't defined by legality. I could find a drawing done in 1920 in an attic somewhere, put it on a T-shirt, and claim it's all mine, and that would be perfectly legal, copyright-wise. But it would still be plagiarism.

Plagiarism also isn't defined by commerce. If I just hung the picture in my office and told all my visitors I made it, that would still be plagiarism.

Finally, if I take a face and put it on a porn body and say "Hey, look! I took two photos other people made and combined them!" and sold a million T-shirts, it wouldn't be plagiarism, because I'd be owning up.

I'm not sure what the term you're looking for is. Maybe "copyright infringement"?
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 5:09 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the article brings up important questions, but the conclusion and thesis is wrong from the get-go, so any value obtainable from the critique must be cherrypicked.


I was around Orange County, California when this stuff started. Shepard Fairey is just this guy who made some stickers.

As far as I recall, the "OBEY" sticker project started when he was an art student - at Orange Coast College, I think?

The goal of that project wasn't art-as-art at all - it was a study in memetic transfer. Or, even as much as I hate to say it, guerrilla marketing. I can't understate this, and if you don't at least acknowledge this component of his efforts, you're totally missing the point.

The art on the stickers itself is totally unimportant other than the fact it needed to be clever or catchy enough to make people want to propagate the stickers themselves.

In that, it was a success, and I think he's trying to see how far it actually goes, even nearly 15-20 years later.

I don't know how many of the original "Andre the Giant has a Posse" stickers he actually made himself or had made, and even excluding the bootleg copies it must have been a rather large number of them. I still see them in lots of places in public or in private at friends houses, or on road cases or gear of bands. They were given away in the hundreds and thousands, mailed all over the globe - and then, only later, sold at cheap prices before coming the brand-identity it is today.

Consider also that the culture of Orange County, surf capital of the world, questionable style-makers of surf and the so-called "activewear industry, was drowning in stickers. In that era you couldn't pull up to a streetlight or stop sign and not see the backs (or often sometimes fronts) of road signage covered in various stickers for skatewear, surf shops, bands or whatever. It would have been very hard or complicated to "make some noise" as it were, in that environment.

To choose stickers as an art medium, at the time, for Shepard Fairey, for that time and place - was certainly intentional for both obvious and subtle reasons. Cheap, portable, utilitarian - but also perhaps another instance of detournement as well?

Which is why his treatments of known previous works isn't even the point at all. He does that on purpose. It's just pretty noise. A pretty wrapper containing the actual payload - memetic transfer.
posted by loquacious at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2008 [8 favorites]


Amateurs borrow, professionals steal.

Oh, and eschatfische, I think you entirely missed the point of the Stereolab post.
posted by sleepy pete at 5:14 PM on March 18, 2008


By the way, this is what the original Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker looks like, but I don't remember that text in the bottom left being on the "original" sticker. My friend has one of the original ones, so I'll double check when I see it again.
posted by loquacious at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2008


Or, for more stickers.
posted by loquacious at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2008


By the way, Fairey is now working for Obama. I can see it now... "Obama supports vandalism and graffiti!"
posted by afx114 at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2008


What a whiner.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2008


It's sampling, not plagiarizing. Please, in this postmodern age when Tarantino can make hundreds of millions making elaborate pieces of fan-art where every image and line is stolen from somewhere else, the notion that Shepard Fairey is a plagiarist is laughable. He's no more a plagarist than most of the hip-hop artists out there.
posted by MythMaker at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2008


From the last link:

In fact, I’ve never seen any evidence indicating Fairey can draw at all. Even the art of Andy Warhol, reliant as it was upon photography and mass commercial imagery, displayed passages of gestural drawing and flamboyant brushstrokes.

Holy wtf? Have these people been living in a cave or something since the war between modernism and abstract expressionism's heroic "hand of the artist"? Or have they never seen a print before in their lives? Here, let me answer this burning question for them:

Hell Yes! Shepard Fairy can draw. Nobody, in my experience (and I was there when he was there) made it through freshman foundation year and its required minimum of 8 hours a week of drawing class (plus additional homework assignments) without becoming reasonably adept at the discipline.

I was around for the whole Buddy Cianci/ Andre The Giant imbroglio, I saw a lot of back story first-hand, I knew/know the some of his earlier collaborators as well as the film maker who created the documentary about him. I do like his poster and painting work, I think it's successful graphically and when viewed in person it is texturally interesting as well. I love street art, although I am troubled by the notion of vandalism of personal property. However, he gets points for once scaling a wall to let me into my printmaking studio years ago when I'd lost my keys. Whether you love him or hate him (or feel indifferently), Shepard Fairey had earned his street cred before he started marketing his wares.

Plagiarism? Post-modernism is more like it. Whether you think the post-modernist movement and its unilateral mash-ups of cultural iconography (trust me, Shepard knows his audience recognizes an old MC5 poster, it's the hipsters that dig him, after all) has validity or not, it's not that he's trying to pull a forgery off. Geez.

As for the rest, what klangklangston said.
posted by stagewhisper at 5:28 PM on March 18, 2008 [3 favorites]


The main point I took away from the article is that Fairey's art is largely uninteresting, at least from a technical perspective. I find it very impressive how someone can come up with this off the top of their head, but very unimpressive that someone can trace it.
posted by Dr. Send at 5:28 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Err, wikipedia just spanked me and my addled memory badly. Please ignore.
posted by loquacious at 5:29 PM on March 18, 2008


And here all this time I thought he was a local. Fuck'im. Out of the water, you!
posted by loquacious at 5:31 PM on March 18, 2008


Tracing and photocopying is the new art.
posted by Sukiari at 5:32 PM on March 18, 2008


Editorialist Doesn't Get It.

Film at 11.
posted by mullingitover at 5:44 PM on March 18, 2008


At first I thought it was a bitter harangue too, but the similarity of these two bugs me. There's reappropriation, and there's theft. The rest I'd let him get away with, but that copy seems a little much like plagarism.

Ok, I don't like shepard fairy. It's a personal reason, as an artist. Graffiti is Graffiti. You wanna make pretty pictures on wall? Fine go get your own wall, don't force it on me. I live and breathe in the same place you do.

Do you feel the same about these?
posted by waraw at 5:52 PM on March 18, 2008


Grrrrr! Worked at first preview, durnit. These.
posted by waraw at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2008


Aw, where's the Splasher when you need him...
posted by iamck at 5:55 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe the stickers were memetic transfer, but when it comes to larger-scale art, like posters and t-shirts, then people are buying the art based on the appeal of the underlying graphic elements. And in several cases, Fairey copies that wholesale from another source. The Mederos poster is a particularly egregious example, because he did very little than fiddle with the palette and plop his stamp on it. He's passing off others' work as his own.

I find the difference between what Fairey's doing and what Tarantino does to be pretty clear. Tarantino assembles a unique work out of multiple elements. Sure, parts are taken, but not wholesale and not all from the same source. If Tarantino had recolored Game of Death and edited out ten minutes or so, then we'd be talking about similar levels of appropriation.
posted by factory123 at 5:56 PM on March 18, 2008


My god, that Mark Vallen piece is so lacking in clue I practically suspect a put-on. Is it possible that the piece is in and of itself a reworked essay by another author?
posted by mwhybark at 6:13 PM on March 18, 2008


I have never cared much for Shepard Fairey. Whether you call it plagiarism or graphic design, he still makes some of his bucks by glamorizing images and ideas that are a) not his and b) often originally represented something very bad for many people (the gestapo skull design for example). He's not worth getting upset over - he's just irrelevant. He's a Che shirt.
posted by katillathehun at 6:20 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I listen to a band at a concert, and they play a cover version of a song, do they have to credit the original artist before or after they play it? No. If they're covering Let It Be, do they have to inform the audience "This is Let It Be, originally performed by The Beatles and written by Paul McCartney"? No. And no one is going to accuse them of plagiarizing if they don't. Instead, they will recognize the song and appreciate the differences between the two performances.

Which, I think, is similar to the point of Shepard Fairey's work when he references pop icons or previous art/desgins.
posted by falconred at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2008


He's not worth getting upset over - he's just irrelevant. He's a Che shirt.

Reminded me of this New Yorker cartoon.
posted by ALongDecember at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2008


I can see it now... "Obama supports vandalism and graffiti!"

Laugh if you will, but I was this close to sending that to a friend of mine who works with Michelle Malkin to see if they'd float it. I could actually see someone making a stink about it given that folks are grasping for things with which to nail him.
posted by dhammond at 6:33 PM on March 18, 2008


Shep Fairey vandalized a billboard outside my bedroom window one fine evening. It was a campaign billboard for Vincent "Buddy" Cianci in Providence, when Buddy was trying to regain office after his prison stint for that little kidnapping/torture misunderstanding.

He basically replaced Buddy's head with Andre's. It was hilarious, but we were afraid that Buddy might have Fairey's fingers busted or something. IIRC, he got caught (duh), and had to pay restitution or something.
posted by popechunk at 7:05 PM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]


Shep Fairey vandalized a billboard outside my bedroom window one fine evening. It was a campaign billboard for Vincent "Buddy" Cianci in Providence, when Buddy was trying to regain office after his prison stint for that little kidnapping/torture misunderstanding.

That was near your window? Wow, I was at Brown when that happened. I did meet Shep Fairey once, but it was for two seconds at Newspeak, while I was listening to some local bands. Providence, you were such an underrated city then!
posted by jonp72 at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2008


Until I looked at all the images and the history behind them I was thinking this was a bit over the top. Then I noted that he's using some art by artists still alive and not really bothering to contact them to ok that. And he's really just using it to make a quick buck. He's not just doing wall art - he's trying to sell his stuff, create a brand. He's not quiet about that part of it. He wants to make a lot of money, and he's not really bothering to make sure he's only using works that are public domain or by unknown artists.
He's not particularly worthy of any defending in my book.
posted by batgrlHG at 8:08 PM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yo! Derail!
I might know both of you IRL, popechunk and jonp72. I loved Newspeak. I was in Providence 1985-2001. Mefite xod was around until 1989 as well. That Cianci episode is what makes me feel like he earned his cred. I expected him to be "disappeared".
posted by stagewhisper at 8:22 PM on March 18, 2008


I chose not to include quotation marks as a stylistic choice
That is so hilarious in the context of this post.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:31 PM on March 18, 2008



I'm guessing the apologists here are all big Led Zeppelin fans.
posted by Herodios at 8:35 PM on March 18, 2008


yeah...shepard fairey is pretty freaking boring all right...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:38 PM on March 18, 2008


posted by Sukiari Tracing and photocopying is the new art.

Todd Goldman, is that you?
posted by optovox at 8:59 PM on March 18, 2008


Corrections, elaborations, clarifications:

but I don't remember that text in the bottom left being on the "original" sticker
Yes it is on the original hand-screened stickers, it says, "with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan".

Hell Yes! Shepard Fairy can draw.
Yes, but only lines. He is nearly incapable of painting, or of properly doing painted or drawn fills. Strictly lines.

I do like his...painting work. Also: when viewed in person it is texturally interesting as well.
There is no painting work other than a handful (less than 10) individually commissioned pieces. They were painted using a light projector. Also, these are where you can see the inability to do fills. Other than the texture of silk-screened on paper [which admittedly I personally find lovely], texture is absent from any of the work.


The name OBEY is based on the subliminal propaganda posters that are featured in They Live, for chrissakes.

True.

Fairey had earned his street cred before he started marketing his wares
Since day one at Alternative Graphics/AG, Providence 1990, post-RISD/the Cianci episode, everything Frank (Fairey) produced was marketed from the beginning.

Assimilation started in '90 (KISS logo, AC/DC logo, Sherwin-Williams logo), and that's when the marketing started. The OG sticker became the company's marketing tool, and has been at each incarnation of the parent company ever since.

GIANT officially became OBEY in '94 after a cease-and-desist letter was sent from the parent company of WWF. Good thing, too, since OBEY (as the umbrella company for the publishing, retail stores, clothing brand, and licensing group) passed the $100 million gross worth mark around '05.

From my perspective, now as then, the art of GIANT is the motion of the movement. The product is collateral to that movement and the corporate expression of GIANT (ie "OBEY™ is for suckers").

Loquacious got the history of GIANT wrong, but in my opinion he nailed the philosophy.
posted by humannaire at 10:35 PM on March 18, 2008


I think someone's mistaking artistic derivation for plagiarism.

I think it's fair to argue that the use of previously seen images as the key elements in a derivative and arguably political work is actually a really good idea from the point of view of fomenting revolutionary thought.

I say no harm no foul.
posted by kalessin at 4:41 AM on March 19, 2008


Malcolm Gladwell on plagiarism in The New Yorker

Favorite quote:
"And ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’?”—here he was referring to perhaps the best-known Nirvana song. “That’s Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling.’ ” He began to hum the riff of the Boston hit, and said, “The first time I heard ‘Teen Spirit,’ I said, ‘That guitar lick is from “More Than a Feeling.” ’ But it was different—it was urgent and brilliant and new.”"
posted by humannaire at 5:47 AM on March 19, 2008


That was near your window?

Yep. I lived here at the time (my bedroom was above the word SAFE), and I seem to recall that the billboard was in 3 Steeple Street's parking lot. I could be wrong.

Yo! Derail!

Could be, I left in '92. I worked on Thayer St at a restaurant called Peaberry's around that (billboard) time. Also at Brown Bookstore.
posted by popechunk at 5:52 AM on March 19, 2008


popechunk,
yes! I'm sure we'd seen each other around. I was in grad school by that time but I'd still hit the Brown arena to skate on my days off. Peaberrys was my stop on the way to the rink. I worked at Extra Sensory on Wickendon for a few years until they closed, and before that sporadically at Fellinis when they first opened.

Little known fact: Fairey had the first art show at the latter. It was taken down half-way through the exhibition because some customers were complaining that the work glorified drug use. Lots of collaged glass shards and a hypodermic needle or two if I remember correctly. The owner capitulated and told Fairey the work needed to be removed because it might fall off the wall and injure a patron.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2008


As far as history and original intent goes, humannaire is the expert on this one. (Seriously!)
posted by stagewhisper at 8:26 AM on March 19, 2008


I agree with klangklangston: Doesn't Lichtenstein being crowned an icon of the (pop) art world supersede any other example of this type of "plagiarism"?

The article's defense that everyone was "in on the joke" with regards to source material for Lichtenstein but not Fairey and that the two are not comparable is not true. Judging someone's work as being plagarism based on the audience's knowledge of the artist, work, process, source material, etc. is a weak argument at best.
posted by jca at 9:29 AM on March 19, 2008


All this does is further dilute the meaning of "plagiarism" in a day when rampant literary plagiarism is all over the place. Not to mention the Web.

It's just mindless, derivative art, ferchrissakes. I'm not sure Warhol would have disapproved.

I did kind of like his "Welcome to Iraq" based on one of my favorite Yellowstone prints, though.
posted by mmoncur at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2008


Ah, I'm late to the party as always but the wiki at TheGiant.org is full of info. Here are the pages on references and a list of prints if you are interested in seeing more.
posted by drstupid at 11:37 AM on March 19, 2008


Er, that example was supposed to be Weird Al writing the music for "Like a Surgeon." I'm quite confident that Al wrote the lyrics for that one.

Nerd alert: Madonna came up with "Like A Surgeon."
posted by designbot at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2008


That his work has ambiguous meaning is kind of the point; it's intentionally glib and reductive to silkscreen these iconic images while tacking up an Obey over them. And yeah, it falls into the classic morass of irony, that it wants to both endorse something and distance itself from that earnest endorsement.

Honestly? I wonder where you see that in his art. I can see why a person would assume that, giving Fairey the benefit of the doubt, but I don't see that irony in the art itself. I just see t shirt sales to ignorant kids who don't know better. I mean, has he ever said anywhere publicly that he has appropriated his work except for that time that he got busted by the mc5? That's not rhetorical. I'm honestly asking.
posted by shmegegge at 12:05 PM on March 19, 2008


"Shepard Fairey has carefully nurtured a reputation as a heroic guerilla street artist waging a one man campaign against the corporate powers-that-be."

This is meant to be sarcastic, right? After the underground success of his "OBEY" stuff, Fairey has been shilling out his faux-guerilla-style art for any corporate client who thinks high-contrast Soviet-style poster-art is the quickest route to the hearts of the 16-25 suburban white kid set. How many "culture-jamming" artistic revolutionaries go to work for Pepsi, really?

I'm happy for his success and am not saying this to take a shot at the man, I just have a hard time stomaching the proclamation that Fairey is "a heroic guerilla street artist."

You know who is?
posted by inoculatedcities at 1:04 PM on March 19, 2008


You know who is?

ha!
posted by shmegegge at 1:37 PM on March 19, 2008


Suggested best practices for using the artwork of others, from the links section of the criticism.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2008


"I can see why a person would assume that, giving Fairey the benefit of the doubt, but I don't see that irony in the art itself."

Really? For a fair amount of his stuff, I recognized the source material right off the bat. I mean, maybe that's because I've had an interest in propaganda posters for a while, but a lot of 'em seem pretty well-known to me. And I think that coupling "legitimate" revolutionary art with a flattening and a message to OBEY (which, yeah, I've seen They Live too) was pretty clearly exploring that tension between wanting to support something I find aesthetically and politically appealing, and that I'm being exhorted to do so in a flat and forceful manner.

But hey, I don't buy his t-shirts, so maybe I'm the wrong one to talk. I did get to meet him once when he came into the Kinko's where I worked and ran off a bunch of stickers, but I didn't know who he was (aside from that guy with the Andre the Giant stickers).
posted by klangklangston at 4:36 PM on March 19, 2008


I'm a bit late to weigh in on this debate, but I'm very interested in it. A lot of the things said so far I agree with, but some things said both for and against Fairey's work kind of set me on edge.

I vandalize public spaces and throw up petulant and heavy-handed messages and images regularly. In the course of doing this, I appropriate ("trace", "steal", "rip-off" I'm not particular about what you call it or how you feel about it) images all the time. I don't have any problem with doing this... but I hate how Fairey's done it. I guess I see one glaring point of distinction. It's been brought up before, but I guess I'm just reiterating.

I have NO problem with recombinative art (visual, music, whatevs) and don't care if a guy can draw or read music or... anything. Fairey's not a poseur because (if?) he can't draw. He's a poseur because he's appropriating drawings that advance a leftist and "underground"/"subversive" critique about, oh... the fucking "system" that he's currently using to get real, real paid.

The Fairey-apologists and supporters seem to all trot-out in lock-step some "you don't get it" contrit at people who call him on being full of shit. By way of (preemptively) justifying my own personal indignation at being accused of "not getting it"... Well... just catch me two nights from now while I'm scared as shit and hiding out in an alley furtively and quickly throwing up an "appropriated" early Soviet-era constructivist piece, balancing on 18 inches of awning. If you can shout at me your accusations that I A)don't understand the culture or importance of graffiti/street art/vandalism, or B)am not sympathetic to "artists" appropriating and reusing art... before I 1)run away in fear for my own safety (most likely) or 2)preemptively attack you physically (again, "in fear for my own safety"), then... good on you.

Is this just jjjjjjjijjjjjj being "crabs in a bucket"? Am I jealous of his success? Well... sure. Jealous of his bank account. Jealous of his lifestyle. Jealous of his influence and "reach". Jealous of the women he gets to make love to... jealous of the quality of his drugs. ALL of this I'll cop to. I'm NOT jealous of his body of work or his standing as a designer/artist/whatever. I'd be so fucking TERMINALLY EMBARASSED to be such an abject tool responsible for such toy shit.

(Also: His fans and supporters are dorks and, to a man, insufferable clueless pricks. [yes yes... even you. You've been living a lie... but even this won't change your mind you smug, tasteless bastard.])
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


well, I'll give you credit for speaking of yourself in the third person simply because that involves typing out your username and that takes some determination to do accurately.

oh, and yeah, I think you're making a good point, too.
posted by shmegegge at 6:54 PM on March 19, 2008


Woah... hahaha, I left out a pronoun in my last post that might lead to a pretty unflattering... interpretation.

Please mentally insert "Jealous of him for the women he gets to make love to" where you now see "Jealous of the women he gets to make love to".

(Wouldn't bother me a bit if y'all thought I was a homo, and to me that misunderstanding alone wouldn't rate the time it'd take to write this correction... but if anyone thought I was homo-for-Shepard-Fairey it'd make me want to crawl into a hole and die...)

(dear God... what if some dark, masochistic, hack-worshiping, subconscious part of me is homo-for-Shepard-Fairey!!? I'm going to go get very drunk now... let's never mention this again.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 7:50 PM on March 19, 2008


Oh hell, I totally just bought some of those Obama shirts the other day without having the faintest fucking idea that people would be reading some sort of statement about my views on Art and Truth and Right and Wrong and Being Subversive vs. Selling Out and shit into it. I just thought it was a cute shirt. Jeez.
posted by naoko at 7:59 PM on March 19, 2008


Oh... don't worry about it.

The fact that you bought (multiple!) shirts supporting a political candidate indicates that you're pretty safely removed from the line-of-direct-fire or the more intensive areas of the perpetual war of "art v. truth/subversive v. selling out". You're safely in the DMZ... or maybe observing it--like a photographer, or an aid worker.

Don't worry about it... it's pretty boring anyway. You're not missing much.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:09 PM on March 19, 2008


I'm so glad that I love my Shepard Fairey print mostly because it was a set piece on Veronica Mars, as well as the reference to THEY LIVE.
If I were a serious collector this wish-the-Art-World-with-a-capital-letter-was-relevant-to-anyone-outside-of-the-Art-World neurotic wankery might upset me.

However I suspect that the giant dollar bill on it might not have been hand drawn line by line by Fairey himself.
posted by Gucky at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2008


F doesn't draw. Ever. Ever ever.

He uses exacto knives on ruby-lith to achieve those lines.
posted by humannaire at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2008


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