Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shepard Fairey a Plagiarist?

Most of you are very aware how Obama's marketing is changing marketing and the use of art.  The well known "Obey Giant" street poster artist Shepard Fairey has carefully nurtured a reputation a reputation as a heroic guerilla street artist.  Fairey's art is problematic for another, more troubling reason - that of plagiarist.  They said Warhol was a plagiarist as well?  Your thoughts?


  1. This is an interesting can of worms. I want to hear opinions though too!

    I keep seeing conflicting info on this story and have had trouble sorting it out...

  2. Your link is fascinating - and provides far more of the story of Fairey than I had ever heard.

    This topic is complicated enough to need a whole conversation - and beer. I can't condense my opinions sufficiently to keep this comment from being an obscenely long essay.

    Are we looking to discuss our personal attitude towards and definitions of plagiarism, swipes, and reference materials? Are we interested in the legal issues? Or do we want to discuss our gut reactions to Shepard Fairey?

  3. Over the years I've follow Shepard Fairey and his career knowing his "borrowing" of images. With the law suite, AP vs. Shepard Fairey this could bring up some interesting conversation about designers using photos and art and calling it their own.

    Maybe a gathering is in order to discuss our gut reactions in relationship to leal issues? Look what's happening with the music industry with Apple. There goes private copyrights.

  4. I frankly don't see much difference between this and the issue of sampling in the music industry. Digital techniques made the latter a lot easier than when tape splicing was the only option, but it's always been easy to 'appropriate' visual content; it just comes down to whether one chooses to do it, AND what the acceptance level is on the part of the artist's audience.

    Using older or classic images in some context as part of a newer image sometimes walks a fine line - I've certainly done it but with what I hope was a respect for the original; with a couple of embarrassing and non-repeated exceptions in my early career I would never grab an image or even a style and call it my own. I've consciously tried other artist's techniques and discontinued using them for exactly that reason - I didn't want to be labeled a copycat, for lack of a better term - at one time that would have been the kiss of death in this business.

    It seems to me the stigma of plagiarism has largely gone out the window in direct proportion to how easy it's become to it or hear it often enough and it must be OK, right? I do hate to see it rewarded when there is soooo much good original stuff out there...just my $.02.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with both the "gathering" and "beer" concepts...both swiped from this thread but I combined them into something new and wonderful :-)

  6. The latest issue of the New Yorker published a review of a new Boston exhibit of Fairey (

    The author would like a perfect world in which artists given "blanket liberty" to incorporate older works. This stance voids all copyright, and I disagree.

    He also finds Fairey a witless satirist with good design chops and very little to say. From what I've seen of Fairey's work -- I agree.

  7. Shepard made a difference in the underground art movement with his tagging. Now corporate embraces his work as unique since Blair Witch 2, Walk the Line now Obama. Is this wrong. Is it just PR or truly talent? Is Shepard the best in his class?

  8. Shepard is not the best of his class, but he may be the most universally appealing. His Walk the Line poster, like the Obama "Hope" poster, mixes an attractive design with a recognizable personality.

    What Fairey leaves out of his most popular work are clear, recognizable emotions. Perhaps this absence is the key to his popularity, allowing viewers to fill the images with their own feelings.

    And Fairey gives great PR, no doubt.

    I wonder if his popularity will last as his style becomes ubiquitous.

  9. Hi, I just found your blog great idea!

    Shepard Fairey is a good designer, and a mediocre artist in a world who can't tell the difference

    here is a link to this debate on the cobert report

  10. lol that's classic! "intention trumps everything" and "who do you think is right? - Who's paying me?"

  11. OK, here's another thought. Social Commentary?

    Exchange the word "plagiarize" with "visually sampled" or with "audio sampling" (a la hip hop music)& new view emerges.

    Let's face it, If Shepard visually sampled my portfolio I wouldn't view it as a NEW VIEW, it's infringement. Dead artist have no recourse however.

  12. And yet defining where plagiarism begins can absolutely maddeningly elusive.

    I've got my gut reaction, but it falls apart when I try to logically defend it.

    Social commentary? I'd like to hear what anyone here thinks that Fairey's saying.

    And I'm including a link I found called "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein." The creator has painstakingly tracked down the original comics and artists that Lichtenstein "sampled." (Artists include Jack Kirby, John Romita...)

  13. Now hear an attorney's point of view. This was on NPR February 26th.