Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Design Ethics: Shepard Fairey

I was meandering on the web, when I found myself in the art section of the Obama store. If you scroll down to the sold out, iconic red, white and blue image of Obama and CHANGE poster at the bottom, you'll see Shepard Fairey was the artist. What made me think twice about him was in his quote he wrote, "I know I have an audience of young art fans," which I think is an interesting statement and I wanted to know more about him.

Well, it turns out he's the designer behind my favorite fashion line (OBEY)! And let me clarify by "my favorite fashion line," I mean, my favorite shirt is an OBEY shirt, and it's the only one in the line own, but I do heart it a lot and as a result OBEY is probably one of the only fashion lines I can name. But to continue on...

I was super excited to find out more about Mr. Fairey's company, past, art skills etc. (a la Wikipedia), but then I came upon this page: Obey Plaigerist Shepard Fairey. Essentially, the article claims that Fairey has pilfered the majority of his works from dead and living artists. He reappropriates art and imagery into a new context, but usually changes very little or none of the art itself, and he mass markets it under the presumption that it is his own work--never giving credit to the original artist or piece. [The side by side comparisons in the article are quite incriminating. Some look like exact replicas.] And, as the article points out, not only does he do this--he profits from it. Essentially, the article claims, he is stealing both art integrity and money from the original artists.

I'm just curious where people stand on this. Is Fairey a hack who has crossed the ethical design line? Has he cut ethical corners like any other business man does? Can he claim it as his own because he has created it in a new context? If it's not copyrighted and in the public domain--either because it's too old or was never registered--is it fair game? Is Fairey taking advantage of the fact that is hard to patrol and penalize art/idea theft? Does the belief, that an artist has a moral obligation to other artists to respect their work, exist in other career fields or is special to the art field because our creations are personal?

I'd like to know what you all think on any of this. Also, if you read my previous post on Foundation for a Better Life, you'll see that a similar thing happened to me--I love something, google it, then find obscure article blasting it. And like in real life, I'm having trouble finding the final Truth on the subjects on the Web. Ahh, elusive Truth, where have you gone?

1 comment:

Sam said...

I'm gonna have to do some more research on this guy, but it seems kinda hackish to me. I guess if he can get away with it without getting sued out of his mind, then more power to him. I'll let you know what I think once I'm actually more educated on it (which may take a long time considering how much stuff I have to do for W & I :).