Milton Glaser weighs in on Shepard Fairey's Obama Hope poster


The great designer Milton Glaser (he created the iconic I ♥ NY logo and the famous Bob Dylan poster) is "disomforted" by Shepard Fairey's use of an AP photo of Barack Obama as the reference for his now famous Hope poster.

From an interview in PRINT online:

Print: Fairey has referred to what he does as “referencing.” There’s certainly plenty of precedent for making reference to older artwork in new ones. How does one distinguish between plagiarism and reference?

Glaser: The process of looking back at the past is very accepted in our business—the difference is when you take something without adding anything to the conversation. We celebrate influence in the arts, we think it’s important and essential. But imitation we have some ambivalence about, especially because it involves property rights. It probably has something to do with the nature of capitalism. We know that in other cultures, Chinese culture for instance, imitation is seen as a tribute, because you wouldn’t bother imitating trivial works. But in those cases the influence is acknowledged and the skill required is obvious.

For myself—this is subjective—I find the relationship between Fairey’s work and his sources discomforting. Nothing substantial has been added. In my own case, when I did the Dylan poster, I acknowledged using Duchamp’s profile as an influence. I think unless you’re modifying it and making it your own, you’re on very tenuous ground. It’s a dangerous example for students, if they see that appropriating people’s work is the path to success. Simply reproducing the work of others robs you of your imagination and form-making abilities. You’re not developing the muscularity you need to invent your own ideas.

My opinion: In this case I don't agree with Glaser. Fairey added enough of his own creativity to the work to make it stand on its own.

Milton Glaser on Shepard Fairey and Plagiarism


  1. I think Glaser totally misses the mark herre… I think he’s only looking at the portrait itself. It’s the addition of the simple word “HOPE” that makes Fairey poster such a powerful, inspiring work. I bet any of a hundred photos of Obama could be used there and steal convey the power of the message.

  2. I also disagree with Glaser on this one. The difference between the uncropped original and Fairey’s poster is at least as significant as, say, the difference between the original photo of Marilyn Monroe and the prints that Andy Warhol made from it.

    But Glaser is right that eventually it all comes down to a subjective judgment call. I hope the judgment of the court sides with Shep.

  3. “I think unless you’re modifying it and making it your own, you’re on very tenuous ground.”

    I agree with that, but had SF simply run a few commercially available PS filters on the original image he’d be on some tenuous ground.

    I see this work as a painting OF a photograph, at minimum.

  4. Yikes! Post #1 filled with typos! Must learn to hit “PREVIEW” before “PRINT”. Corrected version…

    I think Glaser totally misses the mark here… I think he’s only looking at the portrait itself. It’s the addition of the simple word “HOPE” that makes Fairey’s poster such a powerful, inspiring work. I bet any of a hundred photos of Obama could be used there, and still convey the power of the message.

    Sorry all.

  5. The photo showing Obama in a pretty characteristic pose is most certainly *not* the creative work the Fairey poster is — and I agree wholeheartedly with Mark that Mr. Glaser is not on target here.

  6. I’m not intending to be ageist, but I think it is not surprising that a 79 year old dude, brilliant as he may be, is not down with all this borrowing/sharing/sampling/mashup thing that the yoots are up to.

  7. Glasser: “Nothing substantial has been added”

    Is that a joke? There’s a reason the poster became an icon but the photo (by itself) didn’t. The photo is journalism. The poster is art (propaganda?).

  8. glaser comes off a tad stodgy here.

    we live in the age of the remix, and while there are a great number of copyright disputes in that area, still the artistic merit, in shepard’s case as in others, cannot go unrecognized. it is about, as brainspore aptly points out, the meaning the artist infuses into the original by introducing it into a new context, in this case plastering obama’s bust above “hope”, capturing what many of us agree is the spirit he has brought to the country.

  9. If you look at Glaser’s poster of Camus, and then google “Camus” images, the fifth result of a Camus photograph looks…well…

  10. I completely agree, Mark, and disagree with Glaser’s assessment that “Nothing substantial has been added.” I see a lot more was done than what Warhol got away with in painting a little splash of solid color directly on top of iconic photo portraits. And let’s not forget that Fairey didn’t make a cent off of this work. Who exactly is being damaged here to cause the outrage? The only opportunists I see here are those filing the suit. That’s my $.02, adjusted for inflation.

  11. I thought that the Fairey poster was very Soviet the first time I saw it…

    “be stoic and hope” isn’t far off of what Communism asks of it’s people.

    No question in my mind that this is not plagiarism as I think it compares the faith Americans have in Obama to many other charismatic leaders of the past.

    It has a nice feel that it was run off on a secret hand-cranked press as well.

  12. I agree with Glaser on Fairey’s use of material which is I believe is uninspired and trite to say the least. That is not to say that appropriating other people’s images is not without artistic merit. It’s a means to an end, but in the end you have to have something to say. I think that fact that this is even an issue with Fairey’s work is that the work itself is derivative. Fairey’s message is a glib in-joke one-liner: Obey. His (re)use of images is boring and amateurish, as demonstrated by his brushing off his use of a SS skull icon on one of his designer shirts.

    An interesting article on Fairey’s source material by Mark Vallen:

    “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.

    For me, the question is not what Fairey’s political allegiances may or may not be, but rather, how his work sets a standard that is ultimately damaging to art and leads to its further dissolution. When a will to plagiarize and a love for self-promotion are the only requirements necessary for becoming an artist, then clearly the arts are in deep trouble.”

  13. Agree that something substantial has been added.

    My question is: why didn’t Fairey track down the photographer and give him credit/link to his work/etc.

    It would have been easy to do. In the recent ‘Fresh Air’ interview he says that he couldn’t find out who took the photo – but, to me at least, he comes across as bulls******g.

  14. I see now that Brainspore@2 beat me to the post with basically the same point. Chalk it up to great minds thinking alike, I suppose. ;D

  15. It sounds like Glasser is referring to Faireys entire body of work as opposed to simply the Obama poster, in which case he would absolutely correct.

  16. @Matt – All art beyond the sort of background “wallpaper” art is propaganda in a sense…

    But you’ve hit exactly on the distinction between the original work and the poster.

    Never mind the interesting work with adding symbols in the texturing, the work with colorizing, and indeed the original work of reducing the the photo to the posterized 4 color version in the first place which was then repainted in patriotic themes.

    Photo + Photoshop posterized filter does not equal original artwork. It’s an interesting question whether re-creating the same kinds of effects as the posterize filter through traditional methods (human design skills + printing or silk-screening) would count…

  17. i used to think fairey was creative but when compared to his appropriations i see he’s no more than a talented thief.

  18. I’m tired of folks saying that adding the word “HOPE” substantially changes the original work. Had he added “NIKE” to the bottom would that be substantial change to the original image?

    I’d love for Fairley to win, because then as a designer I wouldn’t have to purchase photos anymore, I’d just download the previews and rework them… But I don’t think that’s fair to the photographers trying to make a living by creating original art.

    I’m all for sampling, but you need to license the original work. Yes it’s cumbersome and often prohibitive, but just sneaking it by and hoping noone notices the original art is slimey. SF work is less Diddy (who licenses his rip-offs) and more Vanilla Ice in this case.

  19. i don’t have an art education to speak from, but it seems to me that being the creator of “i heart ny”
    is not a point of reference, icon or not….
    i hate those “i heart ……..” whatever. they are a real dumb down.

  20. @ Roboton #15:

    OK, that’s a judgment call. But out of curiosity how do you feel about the work of Andy Warhol that Phikus and I mentioned? Warhol did not design the labels on those soup cans nor did he take that photograph of Marylin Monroe, so should he be considered a legitimate “artist?”

  21. Re Marilyn Monroe:

    Fairey used the AP photo as a basis for his painting. It is a derivative work. End of story as far as I am concerned.

    Now, let’s talk Warhol: Warhol was not selling the Monroe “brand”. He was making a comment as a artist, and the meaning of the Monroe print is something totally seperate, yet intertwined within the medium. In Warhol’s case, the message truly is the medium, yet ANY imagery could have been appropriated to make the point Warhol was making: That modern society has created an industrialized machine capable of create reproducible “personalities” as much as we can use industry to create millions of identical soup cans. In Warhol’s case, the picture is not as important as the message contained within the act.

    In Fairey’s case, the message is that Obama’s visage is hope, and the message is directly tied to the subject. Without the photo, the message is meaningless. You couldn’t have taken Cheney’s image and made the same point. See, the meaning of the work has not been sufficiently altered enough from the original to escape derivative works status. It’s not “did I change the color of his tie” but “Is my message abstracted enough from the original”

    I say no, it isn’t.

  22. This is completely absurd. There is no way to paint a portrait of someone which isn’t a derivative work of a different image, be it a photograph or the image falling on the artist’s retina during a portrait sitting. The law recognizes the varying extent of creativity inherent in any derivative work.

    In this case, the only similarity to the photograph is Obama’s own face and its pose and expression. None of that is the creative content of the AP photograph unless he was directed by the AP photography staff to pose in a certain manner. No creative elements are retained in a painting of a candid (unposed) photograph.

    AP needs to stop paying their lawyers, or better yet, start doing some real investigative journalism which might give those lawyers something productive to do.

  23. Questions of whether the AP should “own” the photograph aside, I agree that Fairey’s work is pretty derivative of the source material (sure he didn’t just run it through a photoshop filter; it looks like it was traced in illustrator instead).

  24. I, like so many BB comments, agree that Mr.Fairey has created something entirely unique with his Obama poster.

    The photo was the basis by which he created a hand-wrought and original work of fine illustrative design. This is in the very best traditions of illustration as art.

  25. @ Robotron #25:

    You say Warhol is legitimate because he could have used a different photo than the one he did and still communicated the same message.

    So what’s to say Fairey couldn’t have used a different photo of Obama as the basis of his poster?

  26. antinous – I did, but I live very near. I saw him speak at a local uni circa 1999 about the ‘andre the giant has a posse’ tags, and how that was really just an exercise in phenomenology. He is one smart dude.

    Did you know he’s underwriting shows on the local NPR here? He has a museum show on in Boston, outside of which he was arrested. I just heard his name on the radio as a wrote this – but in the context of an underwriter, and and not a suspect.

    Remember, Boston is where the ATHF guys and Star Simpson were also hassled. Where after local sports event the PD STILL manages to occasionally kill ‘some dumb college kid’ using “non-lethal” weaponry. Where a wonder-story city councilor was recently caught on tape actually stuffing a sizable cash bribe into her bra. We have a lot to work on, but also a lot to work with.

    He came up here, he knows the ropes.

  27. The article by Vallen has much better examples of Fairy work that is copied. This poster actually has much more merit on the “added something original” scale than a lot of examples in that article. Of course pop art has a long history of just copying designs and the “original” material being taken to simply be the change in venue the images receive (see the direct copies by Lichenstein of comic panels, or the images of products by Warhol for example). Now maybe then it was novel because no one was thinking of comics or product packaging as art, but how is Fairy’s work even remotely close to the ripoff that stuff was?

  28. I have submitted my latest patent application for “images and likenesses of people from the neck up”. If you have an image of someone from the neck up, I expect my patent rights to be respected. Busts of famous people as well. This is a 2D and 3D patent on all likenesses. If you show a likeness of someone from the neck up, you are infringing on my patent, and will require a license from me to continue your art. Please email me for licensing information.

  29. Taken in isolation I don’t have a problem with his use of a photoreference for a specific drawing of an individual (if he had instead taken a frame from a video of Obama would that be any different?), but after looking at the article linked in #12, I do get the impression Fairey is kind of a hack. I wonder if he has the basic artistic skill to do a wholly original drawing of anything.

  30. Captain Rotundo said it.

    I respect the opinion of people who find Fairey’s work derivative. I just can’t understand how someone could think Fairey’s work is derivative but Warhol’s and Lichtenstein’s isn’t.

  31. I agree with Glaser 100% – to the above saying that he’s old and out of touch: If being old is being original then I don’t want to be new.

    This is especially true

    “It’s a dangerous example for students, if they see that appropriating people’s work is the path to success. Simply reproducing the work of others robs you of your imagination and form-making abilities. You’re not developing the muscularity you need to invent your own ideas”

    I’m just curious – How did Fairey add creativity here? It’s a direct trace. Would a paint-by-numbers be considered creative? If I copy a post from this blog, change they typeface and color and then make it a poster – would I not be berated for not crediting my source? I’m sorry, but I see a lot of blind idolization here.

    I think the main issue here is that Fairey didn’t seek to credit the original source and just did whatever he wanted with the photo without regard for any sort of ethical procedure. It’s just a lack of respect – the issue isn’t over if the photographer is okay with it anyway, or that the piece was a cornerstone of a successful campaign: it boils down to the single fact that it was a completely disrespectful act, which Fairey repeatedly insists on doing.

    I can cut Fairey some slack, when you’re young and unknown it’s easy to get away with. Though, once you’ve gotten to the point that Fairey is at today – I think there’s a step you need to take that says “hey, I’m a professional artist, and I behave as such”.

    I’m not saying Fairey needs to straighten out cut his hair and wear a suit – I’m saying he should at least have respect for fellow artists, and those who have come before him.

    Now, I suppose I can also turn this around and say the art that Fairey may be the best at can’t be printed – it’s the art of being controversial. I’m willing to give him credit there. As a member of the ICA I can say I was interested in seeing what he had to say at his opening, but low and behold – another controversy from Mr. Fairey. (For those who don’t know – the ICA made a huge stir about the opening for his exhibit, and he was arrested immediately beforehand, rendering him unable to appear)

    So take that as you may, and maybe the old ways of respect have come and gone. As a commercial artist myself, I just can’t respect Fairey.

  32. I’m not here to debate appropriation as an artistic stratgey, but to say that Fairey is a bit of a hypocrite. He has made his name in the world using images and space that wasn’t his to use, but if you use his work, expect a call from his lawyers. There was an ad campaign a few years ago for the game “Super Monkey Ball” that appropriated the whole “Obey” look and feel. The client was told not to use it, but did anyway. The ad ran in three pubs before Fairey’s lawyers called for just compensation. So I guess I’m a little tickled to see AP stick it to him.

  33. Taste infringement.

    What seals this for me is that the foundational colors of Fairey’s image are strikingly present in the background of the original painting. If it was a photo of mine that was used I probably wouldn’t mind, but I don’t take pictures as my livelihood.

    Just because people all over the world see something special in the painting doesn’t make it any less derivative.

  34. “borrowing” “referencing” whatever is irrelevant.

    Does ANYONE ACTUALLY BELIEVE that because AP took a picture of Obama looking up and to his left that no one can paint a picture of Obama looking up and to his left? That is madness not artistic property rights. It’s crazy talk. They are in different positions even, it’s clearly NOT just posterized and tilted a little.

  35. @29: What I am saying is that Warhol could have used any person of moderate fame that ever existed and could have still made the same comment.

    It is the subjectivity of the message and how it is has been copped from the original that I believe matters here. Warhol takes the subject and turns it into an objective statement. The final messsage has nothing to do with Marilyn as the subject. Her image has been abstracted to a point of meaninglessness.

    Fairey takes a subjective photo, and keeps it in the same subjective tense, save a few color shifts. That is not substantiative change to me.

  36. Roboton: What do you think the relationship is between a derivative work and creative elements that it may or may not retain? Can you think of any examples where a court has held that a painting of a candid photograph retains any of the photograph’s original creative elements?

  37. And for those of you saying it’s a tracing, have you tried overlaying the two in an image editor? The painting is not traced from the photo, not just in the angle of the neck, but in the proportions of many facial features as well. What the hell?

  38. as a designer, as much as i love and respect mr. glaser’s entire body of work, and his opinion, i have to fall on the side of those who say that he’s not getting it this time. i really don’t think he understands street art’s motivations or its messages. as far as the whole SF backlash, come one — it was a successful piece. it obviously touched many people (which is what art is all about!), so trying to tear it down now, over a year after it came out is really just sour grapes.

  39. @40: No, I cannot, but I know from personal experience having submitted works on many occasions to juried art shows, that if you are caught doing what Fairey did, your ass will be disqualified.

    Furthermore, if you won said juried show, and were found out later, you would be required to pay any winnings back.

    There are very clear “norms” in the art world about this kind of thing. Namely, don’t make art using someone else’s photograph (painting, sculpture, whatever) and claim it as your own. You always pay respect to the person you are copping off of.

    Think of all the variations of Brancusi’s “The Kiss” to get an idea what properly referenced prior art looks and feels like.

  40. @DARUE – I beg of you to search for a more valid argument. The photo is indeed the exact photo used for reference and that is abundantly clear.

    If you are seriously trying to suggest otherwise I’d highly recommend you to find an alternate photo that bears such a striking resemblance to support your case; because I think you’d be very hard-pressed to do so. I can also assure you that Fairey was not at the event taking the photo himself, nor can he provide a source other than the AP photograph.

    I can give you this: No, the image is not simply posterized – though I can almost guarantee that the process consisted of posterization, which was used as a stepping stone in the beginning process of tracing the image in adobe illustrator (which is a very common technique often used to teach bezier curves and pen tool usage in illustrator)

    I’m not going to push that too much further, but for one to be claiming crazy talk – you seemed well versed in it yourself.

    1. The photo is indeed the exact photo used for reference and that is abundantly clear.

      I don’t find that clear at all. If you’ve ever seen a president or a candidate at a photo op, then you know that what you’re really seeing is an idealized image carefully applied to the front of the head by a make-up artist. Obama’s face in that photo is a brand logo and not much more individually identifiable than a photo of a Nike swoosh.

  41. @roboton

    Namely, don’t make art using someone else’s photograph (painting, sculpture, whatever) and claim it as your own.

    Which puts collage art…where?

  42. @franko

    Shepard Fairey is NOT a street artist. He’s a commercial artist who may have been a street artist in the past, and is heavily influenced by street art – but would not qualify as a street artist because the bulk of his work is created for sheer profit. He’s not running around like Banksy, who often doesn’t even sign his work.

    He even profited from this Obama poster. This is not an arguable point. A political party is not a charitable organization, so he did not “donate to charity” as some will argue – the Democratic Party does not meet 501(c)(3) status standards.

    “The organization must refrain from undertaking a number of other activities such as participating in the political campaigns of candidates for local, state or federal office, and must ensure that its earnings do not benefit any individual.”

    So as a counter-point – I’ll have to argue that I don’t think Shepard Fairey understands street art’s motivation whatsoever.

    1. I’ll have to argue that I don’t think Shepard Fairey understands street art’s motivation whatsoever.

      He’s in jail. Now. For graffiti. Hello?

  43. @ #48

    It’s obviously time to arrest the nation’s 5 year olds, as well as elementary school teachers for promoting such professional dishonesty.

  44. I think there is an inherent difference between Shepard Fairey, and other artists who “appropriate”. In most cases. the artist will reference a piece of pop culture that is widely recognized. No one thought that Duchamps was trying to pass off his Mona Lisa modification as his original work. He was referencing a piece of art that everyone should recognize. Fairey on the other hand often just plain steals obscure works of art in hopes that no one will catch him, and just slaps “obey” on it. (Which is taken from “They Live”). He never credits his source work unless he gets caught.

    A think the Hope poster is a less egregious offense than many of the others that Fairey has commited.

  45. I have to point out that Mark hasn’t even been consistent with his views on these issues (see the postal service video/apple ad critique.) And that was by the same director, and the bands only complaint seemed to be that if their image was being sold they wanted to be the ones doing it.

    Either way in this “new” world of derivatives and youth that love to copy no one is really on the same page yet.

  46. @56: “He’s in jail. Now. For graffiti. Hello?”

    We heard you the first time, Antonious. I think no one responded on your first post because we’ll just wait for all the press releases that he and the ICA in Boston are writing right now. What better move for a master marketer like Fairey than to play the martyr?

    1. theawesomerobot,

      Did you just stamp your foot and stick out your bottom lip? What universe do you live in where you pontificate on the absolute truth of your opinions and people don’t just laugh at you?

      I do not admit that the photo is the source of the artwork. It might be, but I see enough differences to make it questionable.

  47. It’s a poster, not the Mona Lisa — and a very good poster. It does an excellent job of doing what it’s supposed to do — namely, being a poster. It shouldn’t be critiqued by the standards of great art. It’s very good commercial art.

  48. @Antinous / Moderator

    He’s basically in jail for illegally advertising. Street art typically has a message – a majority of Fairey’s art consists of promoting his own “Obey” brand.

  49. Honestly, I’m surprised that this is up for debate. This might be due to the fact that I was raised as an artist looking up to Liechtenstein and Warhol as my heros, but I don’t really see the issue that comes with basing work of off other works so long as there is a point to the final piece. For example, just the other day I took a mugshot of a popular figure, traced it onto an overhead, changed some angles and lines to tailor the expression on his face to suit my purposes, and projected and it onto a canvas to play around with. The look on his face, in my opinion, says a lot about his past as well as the past, present and future of our government. Is this not art because I didn’t draw him myself? I would say that if you borrow themes and even parts of images from old works, such as Shepard Fairey does on the website that was linked to earlier, so that you can make a point, that is fine by me. As far as the courts go, I couldn’t care less. That whole system is a mess of jargon and dated, misguided philosophy as far as I’m concerned.

    Art, to me, is about being able to convey emotion through visual images. As Bukowski said, “An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.” Taking the infamous face from the Big Brother poster and tailoring it to fit the identity of the “Obey” brand is meaningful. To see this meaning, one should not have to look much further than the dictionary definition of “Obey” and any copy of 1984. Taking the poster of the guns pointed toward the air and painting roses in the barrels is meaningful. That image says something difficult in a simple way. That is art. Using an image of Obama and tailoring it as Shepard has is art. He is saying something difficult through a simple image and I not only approve of his work and ideology, but I embrace as well as praise it.

  50. ok, I’ve just played with it a bit in PS and I’ve gotta eat my words, it _is_ just tilted and scaled a bit, then re-shaded. So, he should have hired an illustrator and described the portrait he was looking to have drawn. but since the subject would be the same, would the end result of a completely fresh drawing of Obama looking up and to his left, really have come out very differently?

  51. If history teaches us anything, it is that whenever anyone decides to put normative definitions on art, along comes an artist who will defiantly cross those lines.

    Art becomes art when people perceive it as art. The buck stops there.

  52. I think Glaser is wrong in his assessment too. First, I think Fairey has more than made the image is own – put his stamp on it. I believe that most people who have seen Fairey’s Obey posters would immediately recognize the Obama poster as his work. Secondly, as to whether or not he’s changed the AP photo sufficiently, I believe that one has to merely look at the two images side by side and ask if they are of equal power – if they elicit the same feelings or emotions. For me, they don’t. When I look at the AP photo, it’s very neutral, in the sense that it I don’t respond to it strongly. It’s a good photo, but nothing memorable. However, the opposite is true of Fairey’s image. I believe if Fairey’s image didn’t resonate any more strongly than the AP photo, then Glaser would have an argument. But that’s not the case.

  53. Roboton: I too have been in many a juried art show, it what passes is always highly subjective. I have seen many works from photographs of famous persons which no one disqualifies.

    What you said @45 completely disagrees with your earlier assessment as well, because Warhol himself would have been tossed out of such shows, if this were true. Also, Warhol selected his subjects specifically because of the iconic power of their portraits. His point, just like Lichtenstein’s, was to elevate the mundane into art, by changing the context. Their power lies just as much in the subject matter as Fairey’s does, and Fairey is essentially doing the same thing, albeit to fit our time and context. You completely miss the point of his work to assert that Cheney’s image would have worked just as well with “HOPE” under it, although I’ll give you that it would have worked interchangeably with “OBEY”, or better yet “FUCK YOU”.

    The assertion that the same color scheme is used: Duh! Did you miss the point about it being a political propaganda poster?

    Ultimately, all art is derivative to a certain extent, and the amount that is passable is subjective to the viewer. All commentary to the effect that any work is “uninspired” and / or “trite” or just not your cup of tea is completely beside the point in this context. All that Brainspore and others who agree with me are trying to say (if I may take the liberty to restate) is that there has been sufficient precedent for this out in the world for over 40 years, so why the controversy now? And why over art that did not make any money for anyone? Who exactly was infringed here? (Or are you saying the Obama campaign should cut the AP greedmonger lawyers a check for what was essentially taken as a news photo?) I have a feeling it has more to do with political affiliations than artistic content.

    Btw, anybody seen the OBEY Diner?

  54. It sounds to me like Glaser is referring to Fairey’s work in general. On that I would agree, but I think the Obama poster is one of the exceptions. It is significantly different from the original photo and it did add something. I think part of the problem is Fairey isn’t a good enough artist (on the technical side) to pull it off. He couldn’t actually draw Obama using the AP photo as reference so he traced. That fact doesn’t say much about Fairey but it also doesn’t mean this specific work is infringing or worthless.

  55. Copyright protection extends to the original artistic and intellectual contributions of the creator. The aspects of the work that are not original are not protected. Here, the original AP photo has very little originality — it’s just a run of the mill head shot in front of a flag. AP would have a claim if Fairey had simply scanned it and started selling prints with almost no alteration, but the material from the photo that he used for his illustration was not contributed by the photographer, so AP has no claim. AP cannot claim a copyright in Obama’s likeness.

    Moreover, I find the claim that Fairey hasn’t contributed much to be way, way offbase. What gives his image its power is really his use of red and blue as shading. He’s stripped the image down to its bare essentials and used the two toned shading to give it an entirely new dimension and power. The colors and shading (and, of course, the use of the word “hope”) are the reasons the graphic is an icon but AP’s photo is not.

  56. I totally disagree with Glaser. Especially in this case, where Fairey may have used an image that was not intended as art or personal expression but rather for journalistic purposes. The “art” in Fairey’s work is his use of it, in choosing that particular image to convey a message (a message far different from that of the photographer, at least so it seams). From a taste perspective I think the photo is rather dull, but it is Fairey’s use and stylization of it that brings it to life. And the millions of people who identified with this poster are evidence of the power of Fairey’s work. Accusations of misappropriation are simply about money, not about art or expression and should have no impact on Fairey’s poster’s value or validity as a piece of art or effective political propaganda. It is these ridiculous arguments about intellectual property that work so forcibly against creative progress and the development of culture in our society.

  57. The question of value can be argued thusly:

    Would the original photograph have experienced anywhere near as much popularity as the artwork, if not for the art? Would anyone pay for the photograph the way they might pay for the art? If you put each picture on a different t-shirt, which would be the more likely to be worn by the masses? Clearly, the art has added value to the original concept.

  58. @63 The Bukowski quote is just lovely. Irrelevant, but lovely.

    Keep praising, brother! Fairey’s School of Empty Ideas and Expensive Sneakers needs people just like you to validate and intellectualize his nonsense.

  59. So what was Fairey supposed to use as a model. Straight from his imagination?

    This is stupid, and it seems to me the AP is being ridiculously vindictive.

  60. Ryuthrowsstuff@86: In what universe is the ability to draw a qualification for being an artist? Could Warhol draw? Rothco?

    RP0806@69: “What gives his image its power is really his use of red and blue as shading. He’s stripped the image down to its bare essentials and used the two toned shading to give it an entirely new dimension and power. The colors and shading (and, of course, the use of the word “hope”) are the reasons the graphic is an icon but AP’s photo is not.”

    Well said, and I quote you here at the extreme risk of being called derivative. Please don’t sue! ;D

  61. This is a classic case of What have you done for me lately? Glaser is out of touch, and I cannot respect the opinion of anyone who thinks Fairey hasn’t added to the conversation here; seriously, what planet is he from? Does he seriously think the original photograph would have become something people put on their walls and showed to their friends? Does he not even remember the impact his own designs had? We might as well say “I <3 NY" doesn't add anything to the conversation because the original fonts and heart shape already existed.

    This is someone who has achieved some measure of success trying to push down on others trying to climb up, because he forgot how hard it was to climb up. Screw him.

  62. Ytzhaak@72: Very well put!

    Justoneguy@74: …And your comments about Fairey’s work being uninspired and trite aren’t irrelevant?

  63. @ Phikus #76:
    …In what universe is the ability to draw a qualification for being an artist? Could Warhol draw?

    Phikus: I agree with all your main points on this thread but I do feel compelled to point out that Warhol actually could draw very well, it’s just not what he became famous for.

  64. glaser sounds a bit jealous. the work is not a painting, it is a serigraph. done with a silkscreen. looking at the two together, how can anyone say they are the same image? there are similarities, but, one is a photographic portrait, and the other is a graphic propaganda poster done with a VERY limited color pallette! warhol would actually take the halftone print of the photo from the newspaper, and make a screen of it and print it on canvas. and he was lauded for it! art is what the artist says it is. if the people agree: $. don’t be hatin. FREE SHEPARD FAIREY!

  65. also, one thing that hasn’t been addressed here is the fact that shepard made NO money on this project. any monies made were spent on the obama campain. so he definitely didn’t get rich on this project!

  66. Brainspore@80: Ok, I stand corrected. Please substitute the example of any other artist who did not use drawing as their primary or even secondary medium. There are many. He was just handy (albeit incorrect.) =D And I am not agreeing that Shephard Fairey cannot draw. I have not seen evidence this is the case.

  67. Well said, and I quote you here at the extreme risk of being called derivative. Please don’t sue! ;D

    I’ll think about it. No promises.

  68. While we’re on a witchhunt for derivatives we don’t like, Lucas should be hauled up on copyright violations for using “The Searchers” starring John Wayne as the entire basis for Star Wars episode 4,5, and 6.

    Seriously, it’s a one-for-one mapping between the two. ANd explains why Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are such horrible flops: He didn’t have anything to copy from.

    “derivative” obviously has two meanings: one is the legal, copyright meaning. THe other is simply used to insult stuff we don’t like. I don’t know anything about Shepard Fairey’s work. It doesn’t matter. Whether Fairey is a “hack” is irrelevant to the law. The law doesn’t give Lucas permission to create derivatives because we like his derivatives but allow the court of public opinion to convict Fairey on copyright violations simply because someone doesn’t like his work.

    If Andy Warhol can copy/paste/colorize three duplicates of a soup can and call it art, then Fairy’s work isn’t a copyright derivative.

  69. I feel that all of Fairey’s work is about doing the minimum amount of work needed to call his images “his”. Mostly by stamping the stylized eyes of Andrë the Giant all over them and filtering them through Communist propaganda posters.

    Appropriation and assemblage can create beautiful, personal work by combining bits from all over. But if you trace over a photo in the same mode you traced over the last twenty photos, it starts to look more like a human running a posterize filter than anything else.

    The fact that people argue over whether or not his stuff is *his* means that different people have a different idea of where the minimum amount of work is. I agree with Glaser that Fairey consistently falls beneath my bar for “minimum effort”, especially in this day and age of auto-trace. And the fact that Fairey’s success inspires young artists to imitate him is saddening; they’re robbing themselves of the chance to learn to speak in their own voice, choosing instead to speak in the voice of the brands they “borrow”.

  70. Didn’t we already cover this issue with Andy Warhol and soup cans? The law found that Warhol had created new works. This is the same thing, only even more clear cut because Fairey isn’t handing out little autographed Obamas.

  71. Egypt Urnash@88: “I feel that all of Fairey’s work is about doing the minimum amount of work needed to call his images “his”.

    -And Warhol / Lichtenstein didn’t? Minimum of work is now a consideration for artistic merit? Since when? What about Rothco? Pollack? Mondrian? Picasso used to sign napkins and call them original masterpieces.

    Minty: My comment@87 referred to yours @82. @83: I have raised this issue several times above, though it’s nice to be echoed. =D

  72. This is closer to the Koons case than Warhol. Read up on Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992), where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a judgment against Koons for his use of a photograph of puppies as the basis for a sculpture, String of Puppies.

    Reproducing an image in a different medium (e.g. photo to poster) is not sufficiently transformative.

  73. (Artistic and fair-use issues aside…)

    @11 Since I first saw that poster, I’ve thought that it has a real Kim-Jong-Il cult-of-personality flavor. Unfortunately, it fits in very well with many other cult-like aspects of the entire Obama marketing phenomenon (related to what David Sirota has called presidentialism). I write this as someone who supports many of Obama’s domestic initiatives, though I wish he would move further to the left.

  74. @ #76 Phikus
    as Brainspore already pointed out yes Warhol could and I’m willing to bet Rothco could as well.

    My point was that Fairey lacks a strong technical base. If look at some of his other works, especially ones that have been held up as plagiarism, you can see how amateurish his figuring and line work are. so essentially what he did here was manually rotoscope a single frame. Thats fine by me as I said. But its exactly whats getting him in trouble.

  75. #86: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes just sits I do” – Yoda. Wow, you’re right! :)

    As for the rest of it – I read Glaser as referring to the body of work, and while some of them seem original, some of them don’t.

    I can’t really see much of a difference between this case and the Emily Strange/Nate is Great controversy, or more appositely, Todd Goldman:
    while many of Goldman’s ripoffs were traced, some were completely redrawn versions of the original art (eg the squirrels in that article) – further from the original than Fairey’s.

    In both cases, what makes me least comfortable is the lack of attribution of a major portion of the work. I don’t think its clear cut though, and thats where the courts get involved.

  76. thalia, the image is NOT reproduced! fairey has condensed the image to it’s most basic graphic-ness. it is no longer the same image! if he had reproduced the image EXACTLY, then your argument might hold a modicum of water, but i doubt it, as it would still be a halftoned image that would go thru a whole ‘nother process. as far as koons goes, i believe that case is still under appeal. i also feel that he will eventually win. phikus: gr8t to see ya back here! gotta keep schooling the philistines!

  77. So it’s okay as long as you acknowledge it? I wonder what he thinks of my Beard poster…

    Honestly, the relevance of Glaser’s work and opinion on design have dwindled in recent years. It’s a shame; he’s more a relic than a representative of the current design community.

  78. #49 Did anyone notice that one is a picture, the other has only three colors?

    Actually it has four colors.
    Red, white, blue, and darker blue.

    Personally speaking, I have a hard time telling if I think this is a rip-off because of this specific image, or because of what I know about Fairey’s history of rip-offs.

    While Fairey should have gotten permission or given compensation to the original photographer, this is a much less blatant copying than a lot of Fairey’s previous work.

  79. I have never understood why Glaser gets credit for the I heart NY logo. Mary Wells Lawrence of Wells, Rich, and Greene pitched the id and the company hired him to execute it, and some people argue that it was pilfered from t-shirts already being sold in NY. If the man thinks that altering a typeface to an existing heart logo design is creating then he should have no problem with the addition of the word hope.

  80. i guess warhol and lichtenstein are crap too.

    well, i actually do think lichtenstein is crap, but the art world doesnt.

  81. “Gee whiz, I mean, I added swirly hair to a Bob Dylan silhouette; I’m original. Shepherd Fairy did a dichromatic rendering of an Obama photo and added the word hope. He’s a plagiarist.” There’s a reason why artists are not generally brought in to give their opinions on plagiarism, and this is it. What a bunch of garbage.

  82. There seems to be a lot of tension on this posting between people who are thinking in artistic terms and people who are thinking in legal terms. What the people thinking in artistic terms are not getting is that it doesn’t matter, from a legal perspective, whether Fairey’s appropriation is “original” in the sense of being unique and creative. What matters is whether he changed the original image enough for it to constitute fair use. This is still subjective, but it is not a judgment on the “originality” of the piece in an absolute sense. In my opinion, it is clear that he added enough to the image – not just the word HOPE, but the colorization, as well – to constitute fair use. We’ll see what the courts have to say about the matter.

  83. There’s a lot of Fairey hate going on here. Yeesh, so the guy looked at a photo, and painted something from it? What’s the big deal? It’s inspiring, it references Soviet design, and it has a message. Yes, it also references his “Obey” design. So what? Rene Magritte referenced apples in plenty of his other paintings. Picasso used cubism for a long time. Lichtenstein put up giant direct copies of comic strips

    What, you want high art that’s unique, unreproducability, or it’s crap? Nonsense. It’s a good enough work of art for enough people to find inspiring. “Hope” deserves the same status as “Drowning Girl”

    Fairey’s critics are being elitist. Oh no, art students might try something similar This could mean the END of the WORLD!

    Except it didn’t, when Lichtenstein did the same thing. How’d that happen?

    Look, people, the world around us *is* branded as far as they eye can see. We’re saturated in corporate logos, ad images, hyped pop songs that music companies literally create out of whole cloth to match market demographics (Spice Girls, anyone?)

    Artists reflect what they see. If young artists are hip to what Fairey is doing, and going along with his groove, it’s because that’s what they see as worth talking about. The paternalistic “father knows best” of Glaser & those that agree with him are exactly what Glaser had to deal with in his art when it was new.

    You can say “oh, but that was different”, but it’s not really proving anything to define your own terms for what counts as different.

  84. The question at the heart of the matter is this:

    Did Fairey produce a legitimate transformative use?

    “Transformative uses may include criticizing the quoted work, exposing the character of the original author, proving a fact, or summarizing an idea argued in the original in order to defend or rebut it.”

    The solarisation and choice of colours, removal of background details, and smoothing / hatching of regions transforms the detailed photo to an iconic image, from one of a continuous shading to a series of discrete (and non-continuous) regions.

    Not all the details are the same. His hairline is filled out, his brow smoothed, his shoulders and posture changed from someone who is leaning on a table, head-cocked to the right and turned to the left, looking up — to someone who is sitting or standing upright, looking ahead and up; Even the focus of his eyes is subtly changed from the photo original. Rather than Obama looking at a speaker in the same room as himself as in the original reference, Obama is transformed to someone of vision.

    All of these together produce an iconic image (in the same way political divisions and clades produce “the melting pot” that is America, and the diverse and not-always-‘compatible’ political backgrounds of his supporters). This graphic commentary, in and of itself, adds new information and expresses Fairey’s thoughts – it overlays his views on politics and the political process onto the face of Obama.

    Even without the caption – “HOPE” – I feel it is a fair-use transformative work.

    The caption is, in itself, transformative and part of Fairey’s commentary and original work.

    The AP’s original work was that of accurate reporting. Fairey’s transformative work was that of revealing the underlying emotions and conceptualisations, to parody (not all parody is derisive) Obama and turn him into OBAMA, to portray not the man but the ideal.

    Fairey has parodied the original work and the subject of the original work, including graphical allusions to the perceived nature of the political process, not to deride or satirise but to acclaim or illustrate the subject. It could also be argued that his work throws into subtle contrast the banality of the original photograph.

  85. Here’s the crux, from wikipedia:

    A crucial factor in current legal analysis of derivative works is transformativeness, largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1994 decision in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. The Court’s opinion emphasized the importance of transformativeness in its fair use analysis of the parody of “Oh, Pretty Woman” involved in the Campbell case. In parody, as the Court explained, the transformativeness is the new insight that readers, listeners, or viewers gain from the parodic treatment of the original work. As the Court pointed out, the words of the parody “derisively demonstrat[e] how bland and banal the Orbison [Pretty Woman] song” is.

    The modern emphasis of transformativeness in fair use analysis stems from a 1990 article by Judge Pierre N. Leval in the Harvard Law Review, Toward a Fair Use Standard,[13] which the Court quoted and cited extensively in its Campbell opinion. In his article, Judge Leval explained the social importance of transformative use of another’s work and what justifies such a taking:

    I believe the answer to the question of justification turns primarily on whether, and to what extent, the challenged use is transformative. The use must be productive and must employ the quoted matter in a different manner or for a different purpose from the original. …[If] the secondary use adds value to the original–if the quoted matter is used as raw material, transformed in the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings–this is the very type of activity that the fair use doctrine intends to protect for the enrichment of society.

    Transformative uses may include criticizing the quoted work, exposing the character of the original author, proving a fact, or summarizing an idea argued in the original in order to defend or rebut it. They also may include parody, symbolism, aesthetic declarations, and innumerable other uses.

    The concept, as Judge Level and the Campbell Court described it, developed in relation to fair use of traditional works: literary works, musical works, and pictorial works. But recently courts have extended this rationale to Internet and computer-related works. In such cases, as illustrated by Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation[14] and Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc.,[15] the courts find a use (such as that of thumbnails in an image search engine, for indexing purposes) transformative because it provides an added benefit to the public, which was not previously available and might remain unavailable without the derivative or secondary use. The Ninth Circuit explained this in the Perfect 10 case:

    Google’s use of thumbnails is highly transformative. In Kelly we concluded that Arriba’s use of thumbnails was transformative because “Arriba’s use of the images served a different function than Kelly’s use — improving access to information on the Internet versus artistic expression.” Although an image may have been created originally to serve an entertainment, aesthetic, or informative function, a search engine transforms the image into a pointer directing a user to a source of information. Just as a “parody has an obvious claim to transformative value” because “it can provide social benefit, by shedding light on an earlier work, and, in the process, creating a new one,” a search engine provides social benefit by incorporating an original work into a new work, namely, an electronic reference tool. Indeed, a search engine may be more transformative than a parody because a search engine provides an entirely new use for the original work, while a parody typically has the same entertainment purpose as the original work.

    …In conducting our case-specific analysis of fair use in light of the purposes of copyright, we must weigh Google’s superseding and commercial uses of thumbnail images against Google’s significant transformative use, as well as the extent to which Google’s search engine promotes the purposes of copyright and serves the interests of the public. Although the district court acknowledged the “truism that search engines such as Google Image Search provide great value to the public,” the district court did not expressly consider whether this value outweighed the significance of Google’s superseding use or the commercial nature of Google’s use. The Supreme Court, however, has directed us to be mindful of the extent to which a use promotes the purposes of copyright and serves the interests of the public.

    …We conclude that the significantly transformative nature of Google’s search engine, particularly in light of its public benefit, outweighs Google’s superseding and commercial uses of the thumbnails in this case. … We are also mindful of the Supreme Court’s direction that “the more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use.”

    The Ninth Circuit’s treatment of transformativeness and fair use in the Arriba Soft and Perfect 10 cases illustrates different data points on the copyright infringement spectrum, at least with respect to transformativeness and fair use. Arriba Soft was a relatively polar case. The harm to Kelly, the copyright owner, was negligible; it was hardly more than hurt feelings.[citation needed] Thus, the Ninth Circuit said in its opinion that “Arriba’s creation and use of the thumbnails [the derivative work] does not harm the market for or value of Kelly’ s images.” On the other hand, the court found that Arriba’s use benefited the public: “Arriba’s use of the images serves a different function than Kelly’ s use — improving access to information on the internet versus artistic expression.” The balance thus tilted strongly in Arriba’s favor. This led the Ninth Circuit to be the first court to make the equation highly beneficial to public = transformative, and as the Supreme Court explained in Campbell, the more transformative a derivative use the more likely the use is to be a fair use.

    The Campbell Court recognized that the balance may not always be one-sided, as it was in Campbell itself and in Arriba Soft. In the Perfect 10 case the interests were more evenly balanced, for the first time in a derivative work case involving new information technology. Both Google and Perfect 10 had legitimate interests at stake and support for their respective positions. Thus, there was a finding that “Google’s wide-ranging use of thumbnails is highly transformative: their creation and display is designed to, and does, display visual search results quickly and efficiently to users of Google Image Search.” But Google’s use had some commercial aspects and was claimed to impair P10’s commercial interests. Yet, on balance the Ninth Circuit found that the transformativeness outweighed the other fair use factors because “Google has provided a significant benefit to the public” in facilitating image searches by means of thumbnail images.

  86. Am I the only one who is sick of SF and this “iconic” image?

    Move along, not much to see here…and I voted for BHO, but let’s be realistic- he’s just another POLITICIAN.

    He’s not Jesus or FDR or JFK. He’s just an elected official with a LOT to prove.

    “Picasso used to sign napkins and call them original masterpieces.”

    So what?

  87. Ryuthrowsstuff@94: Yes, and I conceded the point that Warhol could draw, Bad example, as I said above. -But my point is that he still used a minimum of effort in making his distinction from those who originated many of the photographs he appropriated, even less so than Fairey does in many cases. To say one is a genius and the other a hack is a double standard.

    So you judge someone’s art on whether they have demonstrated a certain technical expertise in the past, and not on the merit of the work itself? This seems to me to be a hallmark of academic snob-ism to me. One one hand, detractors in this thread say he is not “street artist” enough, and on the other hand, you criticize his technical abilities. It seems to me there is much grasping at excuses to hang your dislike of his style upon. It would be far more honest to simply say you don’t like it. That I can accept, because it admits your subjectivity in basing your opinion, and there is nothing wrong with that (albeit slightly off-topic. To that I have to echo what has been said above: Obviously Fairey’s work has provoked controversy and inspired millions. What is a better watermark of artistic talent, even if his aesthetic is not your thing?

  88. @96 posted by minTphresh

    Re the Koons case: the case was upheld by the appeals court & the Supreme Court refused to hear it. Koons lost. Because just putting an image from a photo into a sculpture (or from a photo through the “poster shader” on Photoshop) is by definition derivative.

    Fairley should’ve just acknowledged that he copied a photo, and given credit. I think he should be permitted to copy, as long as he acknowledges the inspiration. But Fairley doesn’t do that.

  89. In this case the “sampled” work is a photograph of a person. It is not even an original pose or composition, 3 quarter profile looking up. If the poster is no significantly different then I am sure there are 1000s of photographs out there that would fail the same standard.

  90. #99 got it right. Even a casual look at the two images, side by side, should reveal a dozen “improvements” Fairey made that simply aren’t in the original photo at all.

    Anyone who calls himself an artist should be ashamed not to notice this.

    Glaser reminds me exactly of why punk was great and hippies were boring old farts, even 30 years ago.

    What’s next, art school students need to pay royalties every time they sit down and make a study of a famous piece of art?

  91. emmagold, and yet you felt the need to take the time and effort to comment about it! the on hundred and second comment at that ! when i see artists here on boing2 like coleman or ryden, artists who can fuckin PAINT! there are usually 30-50 someodd comments. if even that many. and yet an artist as controversial as SF gets over a hundred and still going strong! and wheter or not you feel his work is “real art” or “not banksy”, 20 or so years down the road, one of the names in art history books of this time will be his.

  92. Did they ever find the photographer? I mean saying it’s an AP photo, it’s like saying some random dude took the photo.

    Heard a little piece on npr’s Fresh Air with Fairey being interviewed, and claimed that a: he pulled it from the internet. And b: that the actual AP photographer has never stepped up to proclaim to be the one who took it.
    So how can one give credit if you have no clue who took it?

  93. thalia, i heard an interview he did with ‘democracy now’ ( amy goodman) a few weeks ago and he totally admits not only that he used a photo as the basis for the work, he even talked about WHICH photo he used. so i guess i don’t understand what it is you are bitching about. again, HE MADE NO MONEY FROM THIS PROJECT. NONE. there would be nothing to kick back to said photog, as: he made no money from this project. zero. nada. zilch. bupkiss. nil. jack-squat. doodly. so if SF were to send the photog a check for …hmm, let’s say 50% of his profits for the poster, it would be a check for….ahh, you do the math.

  94. i disagree with uncle milton. i tend to be ambivalent towards fairey’s work, but what he does tend to do (not necessarily with the obama poster, but one could argue…) is de- and recontextualize imagery. r. mutt comes to mind.

  95. Graphic designers are the DJs of the print. They re-mix and re-use and make things happen. Glasner used reference photos the exact same way. He must be a republican because this makes no sense on the world of graphic design. It is FAIR use and it has always been!

  96. Donating your profits does not mean you didn’t make profits. Furthermore, legally speaking, the publicity alone is worth quite a lot of money. And Fairley got and used the publicity from his poster. So claiming he got nothing out of it is disingenuous at best.

    AP identifies the photographer below the photo. See for example:

    AP licenses the images through

  97. Furthermore, legally speaking, the publicity alone is worth quite a lot of money.

    How much more should the AP sue Fairey for, for all this additional publicity?

  98. Hey,

    Fairey certainly adds to the image, in fact one of the points of this Obama design was a hope of integrating RED and BLUE in one face – an idea that Obama was not just out to slam former Bushies but usher an era of Bipartisanship. These two colors in the illustration seem to light his face as if from two different light sources.


  99. I’m disappointed how some commenters feel that a defense of Fairey’s work entails attacking Glaser and his work. Glaser tempers his negative opinion by cautioning that it is a subjective call: others may see it differently.

    Anyone aware of Milton Glaser’s writings and career before his recent comments on Fairey will probably also be aware of his writings on ethical practices in design as well as his advocacy of liberal causes (The Nation was one of the publications he redesigned in the past).

    Many of the attacks here on Glaser say more about the blind zeal to defend Fairey than Glaser’s credibility as a design authority, which may have diminished with the passage of the times: but not because of misguided and anonymous snarking.

  100. After having read through all of the posts and gone back and reviewed Fairey’s work (even, and possible especially, on an anti-Fairey website), I’m now an even bigger fan of him than ever. This debate is proof of the provocative power of his images. Some say his works are overly-simple. I say that the skill of any artist lies in how large an impact they might make with as few brush strokes as possible.

    And I’m sorry, but all art is an imitation or re-creation of something that has come before it. Clearly, Fairey has a mastery of capturing peoples attention with clear messages usually intended to make them think. I can’t say that about most graphic designers working in the commercial world. How many car commercials or serial boxes inspire that kind of introspection or thought in people. Certainly the original photograph in question couldn’t achieve that without Fairey’s help. Are we so creatively bankrupt that we can only deem “art” acceptable that is licensed and sanctioned by some corporation or court. Fuck that!

  101. So would it be ok with all you FS lovers if I copied his art, changed the colors and the word “obey” to something trite and sold it online?

    Does anyone think Shepard Fairley the art-shilling corporation wouldn’t sue the pants off me? It seems to me folks are projecting feelings about Obama onto this image and missing the inherent hypocracy of a commercial artist’s endless rip-offs of other artists’ work. Check the article linked above.

    Frankly, he’s ripped off many other artists with no repercussions, but this time it’s finally bit him in the ass now that he’s stolen from an organization that can afford an attorney…

  102. Glaser never specifically mentions the Obama poster. From the language it sounds like he is talking more about SF’s body of work that others have linked here in the comments.

    I think that the Obama poster is the best thing that SF has ever done. I also think that much of the rest of his work is mindlessly derivative at best and blatant plagiarism at worst.

    To set up Glaser as making a comment about this one poster in particular is sloppy reporting and has caused a fun little storm of comments.

  103. “Nothing substantial has been added.”

    And that must be why hundreds of thousands of posters, stickers and tee-shirts have been made of the original, un-transformed, photograph.

    Oh wait…

    — MrJM

  104. @ #52

    ok, so i’m late getting back to this discussion, but i stand by what i said. banksy is also a great street artist (one of my favorite, to be honest), but that doesn’t make shepard fairey NOT a street artist. both are within the spectrum of valid street art. it’s well known that SF sells commercial versions of his pieces — but so does banksy. i know, because i’m on one of his galleries’ mailing lists.

  105. Would it be improper to note that the email address of Milton Glaser Inc. (and doesn’t “Artist + Inc.” just about say it all?) is

    Just in case anyone wants to discuss the nature of derivative but transformational art in the 21st century with Mr. Inc…. excuse me… with Mr. Glaser.

    — MrJM

  106. MRJM, it wouldn’t be inappropriate, but it would be irrelevant. Yes, Mr. Glaser makes money of his art work, just like Fairley does, and most artists hope to. Incorporation has nothing to do with artistic integrity.

  107. What a lot of folks are missing out on comparing Fairey’s Obama image to Warhol’s Marilyn is that Fairey’s image was created intentionally as advertising, to be distributed/sold in huge quantities, and Warhol’s images were created in limited quantities as art objects. Warhol’s Marilyn’s and most of his other silkscreened works were screened by hand at the Factory, either by Warhol himself or his assistants. They enjoy certain Fair Use protections as objects of “fine art”, but it’s certainly arguable that Fairey’s Obama doesn’t necessarily enjoy the same status.

    Even to defend his appropriation of the image as political speech is questionable – could then the people who produce commercials and print ads for Obama then just go around sampling other people’s creative efforts, tweak them a little, and then expect not to recompense the original creators?

  108. This the perfect “artist” to do Obama’s campaign poster. He has made a career out of plagerizing communist and union propoganda poster art. A thief promotes an empty suit and mades a pile of money in the process. Milton Glaser is a real artist. He’s also smart enough to be careful talking about Obamaish stuff. Ask him if he’d hire the guy.

  109. @marshall

    could then the people who produce commercials and print ads for Obama then just go around sampling other people’s creative efforts, tweak them a little, and then expect not to recompense the original creators?

    Based on Mastercard v. Nader, generally speaking: Yes.

  110. I struggle with what Mr. Fairey has done.

    1. I think the AP photo is bland and uninteresting enough to have never been noticed in the first place and that given a decade or two, it may have become a statement applied to the individual. By itself, it’s not much of a statement about the art of photography or portraiture. It’s a suitable portrait of a man (who’s ambitions got it recorded in the first place).

    2. I think Mr. Fairey’s efforts were simple and bold in their execution and made a much better statement than the original photograph. As an artist, I’m competitive and as a result I freely let others use my work and ideas. If they make them better, it was because I was unable to, and they deserve the praise, not me. The idea is the key.

    3. If the subject of the photo and the action captured were more rare, I would side with AP.

    4. I offer no slight to Mr. Glaser, he’s the man and the Dylan poster is awesome, yet if the ‘Hope’ poster were as artistic as that, I don’t think it would’ve been as embraced by the mainstream and I wouldn’t be typing this.

    5. I liked the guy who commented that Fairey owed the U.S.S.R. 2000 dollars.

  111. There seems to be a lot of tension on this posting between people who are thinking in artistic terms and people who are thinking in legal terms. What the people thinking in artistic terms are not getting is that it doesn’t matter, from a legal perspective, whether Fairey’s appropriation is “original” in the sense of being unique and creative. What matters is whether he changed the original image enough for it to constitute fair use. This is still subjective, but it is not a judgment on the “originality” of the piece in an absolute sense.

    That’s incorrect. “Originality” is a threshold legal issue, so the question of whether or not Fairey’s work is unique or creative is very significant. The question is whether Fairey copied the photographer’s “original” artistic or intellectual expression. I contend that he did not. AP owns the right to the creative aspects of the photo, not the image of Obama himself, and I don’t think Fairey copied any of the photographer’s creative expression.

    Also, this isn’t about fair use. Fair use is for parody, scholarship, and commentary. Fairey’s work pretty clearly does not fall into those categories. This is really a question of the scope of AP’s rights to the photo. The photo is not very creative, so I don’t think their rights are particularly extensive.

  112. This really feels like an ideological argument cloaked in the vestments of a copyright argument.

    Consider this: suppose I watch Obama on TV in a debate. And based on what I see, I draw a picture. Someone ran the camera. Someone produced the TV show. Is my work a derivative of their work, or is it an original work? Does the fact that I saw it on TV make it a derivative? If I had been in the audience, and had drawn the original sketch there, would that have meant it was not derivative?

    This seems pretty clear-cut to me. In order for it to be original, the “artist” who created the TV show would have had to have added something significant to the production that was not present to someone who attended in person. And whatever it was that was added would have to appear in the “copy.” If you can’t pass these two tests, you don’t have a derivative work. I don’t know if the courts would agree with me, of course, but that’s my opinion as an interested bystander.

    I think it’s telling that the photographer doesn’t see what all the fuss is about – it’s AP, who own the photo, who thinks there’s a problem.

  113. I’m sorry. I don’t want to come off as an ass, but anyone that really understands art will say that the work is derivative, and will move on. You know in your heart as a creator whether you’re standing on someone’s shoulders or not. Some people are ok with that, some aren’t. Others are ok with it, and are great at the art of marketing. That’s just the way it is.

    Warhol and Lichtenstein were great because they took something that most everyone took for trash, and elevated it to art. They were among the first to do so, and as such caused an entire society to look at their sources as something a little better than throwaway culture. That is what they added to the original work. Fairey’s work, while clever and pleasing to the eye, doesn’t quite measure up to that. It’s not telling us anything different than what the original image does (albeit with just a little thought on the part of the viewer). It merely recreates an image, and throws a word under it. Clever man, and I admire him – but more for his drive and marketing ability.

    The printmaking department at RISD at the time was full of this sort of work, and it pissed me off. The crits were essentially surveys of screenprinted reproductions of images that in many cases were found in what was called the ‘clipping file’ at the library not 100 yards down the street. Some people took the initiative to look elsewhere for source images, but in the end it amounted to three color reproductions of found pictures. Was it art? I didn’t think so… but I ain’t no Shep Fairey.

    If ‘HOPE’ is art at all, it’s because of the events surrounding its creation, and not because of the work itself – in the way that the flag flown from the rubble of the World Trade Center is special, and the one sold to a guy the day before is not.

    Of course, now I’m thinking of the forced comparison between the photo of the 9-11 flag raising and the iconic image shot by Joe Rosenthal. Sure, they are essentially the same thing (though with contrasting emotions), but the latter is sort of a sad reimagining of the original with chunky fat guys in t-shirts playing the part of anonymous boys on a hill thousands of miles from home. I guess in the end both can be considered art, but to me it just reminds me of how lazy we’ve become as critical thinkers.

  114. Ok, I get that there are legal complexities here, but if I’m not allowed to make an artwork based on a straightforward news photo, then I just don’t understand anything about the world. If you’re going to engage at all with our media-drenched culture, you’re going to be sampling. If not, can I interest you in a Thomas Kinkade painting?

  115. Shepard Fairey is a master of marketing and graphic design. I think it is a creative work, and doesn’t not have to be 100% from scratch to considered as such.

  116. Glaser is a master at casting his intellectual irrelevance. to quote wiser men: sample it, loop it, fuck it and eat it.

  117. I agree—the HOPE poster is a substantially different image from the AP photo as is. That photo alone is just another news shot of a presidential candidate, but the poster transforms Obama’s pose with a change of angle that makes the difference between tilting the head puppy-style to hear something and facing upward to see a vision; the simplified red-white-blue color palette with navy substituted for black detailing is tremendously striking and nontrivial to do well; and basically, we would not even be talking about the AP photo were it not for the artist’s liberty in turning its flat reportage into meaningful, iconic, memorable imagery.

  118. its not OK for shepard fairey to use a photo and just color it in. He’s a boring, uninventive ripoff artist. anyone who is impressed by his work hasnt really looked into art on a deeper level. Artists that break new ground are exciting, those that steal so obviously are a bore. sure, there is something likable about it, like kitchy crappy souvenirs – like those mini statue of liberties you can buy in times square but in the slate of history, this man is no artist.

    Above all, i find it completely strange, and wonder why he doesn’t hold himself to a higher standard. Wouldn’t it be more fun, rewarding, meaningful to make it completely his own? I mean if you can, why not do it? maybe he cant draw? maybe someone close to him can explain why he wouldn’t WANT to make original art.

  119. In my opinion, it’s pretty clearly a derivative work.

    And considering how easy it would have been for Fairey to seek useage rights, I don’t see much of an excuse.

    Photographers are artists, too, and deserved to be recognized and paid for their work like any other content creator.

  120. Why is it so difficult to draw the line between ripoff and referencing? Warhol was asking that question, and forty years later we still don’t have a good answer.

    My opinion, there’s nothing deriviative in Fairey’s poster.

  121. I always knew Fairey was a criminal with his so-called “graffiti art”, and yes graffiti is a criminal act, but it seems he’s a hack thief also.

  122. In my opinion, it’s pretty clearly a derivative work.

    As a matter of law? I don’t that’s at all clear.

  123. “Nothing substantial has been added”

    That’s just daft. One is a good, but fairly unremarkable press-style photo. The other is a snappy, iconic piece of graphic design.

    I smell sour grapes.

  124. This quote popped up on my igoogle gadget today:

    “Art is anything you can get away with. -Andy Warhol

    Emmagoldman@~106: You are free to quote me out of context I am free to have absolutely no respect for you or your comment.

  125. The plot thickens… Fairey is suing the AP now, though from the sound of the legal experts quoted in this article he has a weak case:

    “That said, some individuals have suggested that Shepard Fairey is only interested in “fair use” when he is the one utilizing it– or if high profit is involved. Regardless of how the AP situation turns out the damage has already been done. In other words, the artist who says that people should “question everything” is being questioned about his ethics– when will he answer?”

  126. >And let’s not forget that Fairey didn’t make a cent off of this work. Who exactly is being damaged here to cause the outrage?

    so….. if a Hollywood studio films one of Cory’s novels, and the movie is a flop and the studio doesn’t make a cent off his work, does that mean they don’t owe him any money?

    Profit-motive should be immaterial. As has been pointed out, Fairy got an enormous amount of publicity out of this — his profile is even larger than before.

    I like the poster, but I think Fairey is being disingenuous is suing back the agency he denied “referencing” in the first place. He took the image and used it — but not for a highly transformative purpose. He used it as an image of Obama. The word “HOPE” significantly transformed the poster — but not the image, which was and remained an identifiable portayel of Barack Obama.

  127. Greglondon: doesn’t star wars owe more to Kurosawa’s hidden fortress than the searchers?

    Have you seen “The Searchers”?

    a boy who doesn’t know who is parents are, living in a desert with a family of farmers. His “sister” kidnapped and held hostage by evil forces. “Uncle ben/Han Solo” retired from the war mounts a rescue mission. While they are away, the family farm is burned, the family killed. A visit to the Cantina. “Greedo” shoots first.

    Some characters use military sabers.

    A game of cat and mouse across vast spaces. Searching for the evil leader named “Scar” and his “Indian Camp” (“Darth Vader” and the “Death Star”). Both the Camp and the Death Star keep moving.

    It becomes apparent that Darth Vader/John Wayne intends to kill the “princess” after they’ve rescued her (Once you’ve gone indian, you never go back.) Luke is told he must kill his father to save the galaxy.

    “We’re too many and not enough” becomes a small rebel force infiltrating the Endor moon to shut down the shield station. The enemy camp/death star found, a massive attack is launched to destroy it.

    In the end, Scar/Darth Vader is killed. In the end, Darth Vader/John Wayne is redeemed. Wayne’s character doesn’t kill the “princess” but hugs her. Luke doesn’t kill Vader, but finds the human in him.

    When you watch the movie, the similarities boggle the mind.

    There is a scene where the people ride up on horseback to the farm and the camera angles are just like when Luke rides up in his landspeeder to the farm.

    The “cantina” actually has a sign on it that says “cantina”.

    THe one thing Lucas did was take John Wayne’s character and the character called “Scar” and split them into three characters: Ben Kenobi, Han Solo, and Darth Vader.

    But if you are really familiar with Star Wars Episode 4, 5, and 6, and then you sit down and watch “The Searchers”, you’ll be shaking your head by the time “luke” destroys the indian base, “vader” is killed, “Vader” is redeemed, and they live happily ever after.

  128. but not the image, which was and remained an identifiable portayel of Barack Obama.

    I’m pretty sure I can make out the brand of soup can that Warhol used in his art.

    Can you see it?

  129. @phikus #154
    “Emmagoldman@~106: You are free to quote me out of context I am free to have absolutely no respect for you or your comment.”

    So what?

  130. I’m pretty sure I can make out the brand of soup can that Warhol used in his art.

    I’m thinking that’s like comparing a statue in a park to a photo of a statue in a park. (to a painting of a photo of a statue, in a park)

  131. The Other Michael@156: The point is that SF donated the work to the O campaign from the onset. He did not attempt it as a moneymaking venture and fail. If you don’t believe this is an important distinction, ask the IRS. There is no legal mechanism for assessing the financial worth of publicity. If there were, Joe The Plumber would be much deeper in debt.

    GregLondon@157: And lets not forget The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, another Kurosawa rip off.

  132. Why, yes — the traced outline is all there is to an image. That’s why everyone who owns Photoshop or Illustrator is capable of taking an unremarkable news photo and turning it into a strikingly iconic two-color poster which goes viral all over the world and becomes the single most dominant image of a historically important election — it happens all the time!

    It naturally follows from this that Shepherd Fairey is nothing but a copyist, and can thus be dismissed by fearless, keen-eyed critics who see through all the hype.


    Greg @86, good comment on copyright.

    Mirrormonkey @150, George Lucas swipes from everyone and resynthesizes it. There’s a lot of genetic material from Hidden Fortress and The Searchers in Star Wars, but there’s also Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in it, and a number of WWII movies.

    To pull this back to the original subject, Lucas’s work is also full of visual swipes. The first time I saw the Millennium Falcon dive out of the sun in the first movie, I flashed on Rick Sternbach’s cover art. There’s Kelly Freas in the bar scene, Richard Powers lurking in the shots of the imperial probe droid hovering over the ice fields of Hoth, James Schoenherr in the landscapes of Tattooine, and rather too much James Gurney in The Phantom Menace — to name but a few.

    All artists do that, no matter what medium they work in. I’ve worked in an office full of professional comics artists. Two things you have to get used to are their encyclopedic visual memories, and their ability to spot visual borrowings right down to fine details like the shape of a character’s fingertips. They didn’t look down on swipes. (That’s “swipes” in the sense of “detectable visual references”.) They were clear on the difference between mechanical copying and transformational reuse.


    Emmagoldman, “So what?” works best if you don’t say it too often — at most, once a month or so. Saying it twice in the same thread is excessive.

    Stratojoe @139, Bdubbs37 @147, you’ve both made flamebait ad hominem remarks that belittle your fellow commenters, and are inaccurate besides.


    I’m sorry. I don’t want to come off as an ass, but anyone that really understands art will say that the work is derivative, and will move on.


    its not OK for shepard fairey to use a photo and just color it in. He’s a boring, uninventive ripoff artist. anyone who is impressed by his work hasnt really looked into art on a deeper level.

    Really? There are quite a few commenters in this entry and its thread who evidently have a solid grounding in art, yet disagree with you. Milton Glaser himself went no further than to say that Shepherd Fairey’s work makes him uncomfortable, and he labeled that a subjective reaction.

    I think it would be a good idea if in future you (and everyone else here) articulate your artistic opinions without help of the assertion that whomever disagrees with you is doing so because they lack your superior perception of objective artistic quality.

  133. GregLondon@157: And lets not forget The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, another Kurosawa rip off.

    the point being though that “rip off” is considered (1) legal and (2) potentially “good” in terms of art.

    Some people here don’t like Fairey and so are condemning him for his “rip offs”. But such “rip offs” are legally allowed. Which seems to be lost on people here and lost on Glaser when he says:

    But imitation we have some ambivalence about, especially because it involves property rights.

    I liked Star Wars Ep 4,5,6. When I saw “The Searchers”, it explained a lot about why Ep 1,2,3 tanked. Lucas didn’t have a story to borrow from. But does that diminish Ep 4,5,6? It’s up to you, but for me, it doesn’t.

    Legally speaking, Star Wars is not a derivative of “The Searchers”. End of story.

    Copyright law can be maddening. But it does have a concept called Fair Use. And if a use qualifies as Fair Use, then it’s legally sanctioned use.

    But the folks who are combining their Art Criticism of Fairey and rolling it together with Legal Arguments for Copyright Infringement, are rolling together two different things.

    Whether you like StarWars or The Magnificent Seven or whether you don’t like them, they’re not copyright infringement.

    If you don’t like Fairey’s work, that’s independent of whether his work infringes on someone else.

  134. Emmagoldman@159: “So what?”

    What keen insights you bring to the table to enliven the discourse for all. The fact that you go to the trouble to comment, and yet use a blanket unthinking response speaks volumes about you. I applaud your professed nonchalance; see your “So What”; and raise you with a Meh

    Can I get a Whatever?

  135. Greg: I agree with you. I was just adding another example. =D

    Emma: This is not Jeopardy. You do not have to phrase all of your snarky comments as a question.

  136. The real Emma Goldman would never be so unimaginative, nor waste so much time.

  137. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. It’s out there, Fairey’s notoriety has more or less solidified (for the time being), and Obama is the president. The lawsuit only stands to bolster the artist’s “fame” exponentially by coupling relentless exposure with Fairey’s new status as the wounded babe of a nation of saps (for that sort of thing); from every college art student to every middle-aged housewife to rediscover the left.

    The way I see it, as far as right and wrong, shame on the Associated Press for missing the boat. Kicking yourself in the ass hurts.

    (I meant no offense with the “saps” remark, but let’s be real here.)

  138. @162… ” Sarcasm, sarcasm, sarcasm… It naturally follows from this that Shepherd Fairey is nothing but a copyist, and can thus be dismissed by fearless, keen-eyed critics who see through all the hype.”


    Sarcasm, sarcasm, sarcasm…. Even though the Shepard Fariey phenomenon is more an exercise in self-promotion for its own sake than of art, critics of his processes are cultural elitists who have not embraced the dogma that “everyone is an artist” and the more important one (at least within the blogosphere) that “everyone is an art expert”.

  139. @theothermichael

    I like the poster, but I think Fairey is being disingenuous is suing back the agency he denied “referencing” in the first place.

    It’s not disingenuous, it’s just lawyers being lawyers. It’s not unusual to fight one lawsuit with another lawsuit.

    Reminds me of v. Robert Smigel. The puppet was, obviously, a bad ripoff of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Smigel was being interviewed somewhere and asked about it; He said something half-jokingly about how he should sue responded by filing a lawsuit claiming Triumph’s behavior was damaging the puppet’s image. Smigel lawyered up.

    End result? Lawsuits dropped, but the real winner was, who used the threat of their own lawsuit to get Smigel to drop his, which in all likelihood he would’ve won.

  140. “Emma: This is not Jeopardy. You do not have to phrase all of your snarky comments as a question.”


    you cut me to the quick mates

    and thx for weighing in Timewaster Theresa-
    I’m sure you really know what Emma Goldman would’ve done.

    What fun.

  141. Greg @164, I’ve long felt that way about a certain SF novel that bears some resemblance to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and the sequels to said novel.

    Chunk @170, no matter what else you say in combination with it, “I mean no offense, but let’s be real here” seldom leads to an improved conversation.

    My own personal take on AP vs. Shepherd Fairey, for the record, is that they’re suing him over a specific image, not his overall reputation, and that that specific image is sufficiently transformational to qualify as a separate work.

    JustOneGuy @171, could you sort out your schema there a little more clearly? I can’t tell the sarcasm from the misattribution.

    Emma, is there some point you’re trying to make?

  142. Takuan: Nah. There are lots of other reasons to do it, like getting them to shut up, or getting other people to shut up so that the same thing doesn’t happen to them, or making them spend months or years fretting about the case while they pay their lawyer money they don’t have to spare.

  143. Successful artists tend to grow, progress, and build a body of work that has an interesting landscape from piece to piece. Any good artist may have missteps here and there, but their work tends to have an arc that gets better the more work they put out. Line up every Fairey poster and you might be able to see how much better Adobe Illustrator features became, but it may not be clear that anything else is happening with the image-making. That’s just my opinion—his images do nothing for me. I just see adverts for SF and that’s all. To me, it’s a pretty hollow body of work.

  144. I’m sorry i made you feel belittled – you’re right – that wasn’t a very good thing to say. If I had a chance to rewrite it, I’d change that line into something more like this:

    The work is clearly derivative, but whether or not it is good art (or art at all) is up to the individual observer. The individual observer in this instance feels this way… on to rest of post.

    Then again, when making arguments, it’s best to use qualifiers like “I feel” as little as possible. Stating your opinion as a fact is better rhetorical craft.. or some crap i learned once. I can’t remember. Steampunk?


  145. the gorch, have you ever done serigraphy? the registration problems alone can drive you fukkin mad! you say:” draw something.”, i say, go where your vision takes you. if for u, that’s drawing, gorch, then draw. i remember the first time i saw an ‘obey’ sprayed on a wall in NYC in 1985! ( there on a gallery tour) it was another 15 years before i found out who did it, but when i saw the image again, i remembered it! u have anything like that out there? in his interview, shepard says he was never approached by any of obama’s people nor the DNC to do the image. he said he had seen the ap photo, and combined it with other images of BHO, along with some other graphic images, and then tried to distill the image into its most minimal detail while still being able to understand the image. he then experimented with different words and typefaces. he then ( using his own $ , time and supplies), made the separate silk screens, mixed the inks and printed the posters, then went out and put them up clandestinely around different cities. it was later, when the image BLEW THE FUCK UP, the obama team ( and allegedly BHO hissownself) started to try to buy it from him. in the interview he named the specific photographs he used as source material, so i don’t see what the hatin is all about. his imagery is ICONIC. it makes a lasting impression. that is why it is completely unimportant whether or not he could draw his way out of a wet paper sack. and that is true whether you like his images or not. artists use other artists work as source material since time immemorial. and whether or not it “made his reputation” thereby some how making him moolah, the lawsuit is frivolous, and will only serve to give shepard even more publicity so even more douches can tell us how sick and tired they are of him.

    It’s seri-O-graphy.
    And he should totally learn to draw. It would give him street cred and at least my artistic respect. I will say that many, many of the famous 60’s and 70’s concert posters were based on “borrowed” photos.
    I must be old and out of it. The interenet generation cribs and borrows anything they can get their hands on and calls it original art. Must have started with cheating on tests and writing papers in school. I guess you can talk yourself into whatever you want to believe.

  147. Stratojoe,
    Registration is when you have to line up each color in it’s place and order. Animators use holes punched into the cells and printers use the crosshair in a circle mark on acetate to get each color stacked perfectly where they want it.

    Some seriographs use 30 colors or more. One color off register can ruin the print.

    Honestly, my biggest problem with the Obama print is it helped get the man elected. For that I can never forgive the artist who made it. It may have even made the difference.

    Such is the power of art and propaganda.

  148. To add my piece to the puzzle…

    In the artistic sense Fairey created a new derivative work, and in the legal sense Fairey created a derivative work. AP will fall flat.

    Yes he is a hack and a thief, but he has mastered the mediums he has chosen to reproduce these images in, and has improved upon the message the original images were trying to send. Somebody mention Warhol and “the medium is the message”. Fairey is using the old messages to tell his ideas. To call them “empty ideas” is unfair, he had an idea, he shared it, what makes it empty?

    But the debate is over.

  149. Scott- I know what registration is. I’ve done a few serigraph series myself. I never found it to be that much of a problem when you use some trace and some registration pins. I have done up to 15 or 18 colors on a print without too much hair-pulling.. and i can imagine the dropout rate when you get up to 30 is probably murder. I understand your point. I was just goofing because registration problems are just something that you learn to deal with in practicing the craft of screenprinting. To me, craftsmanship and art are two different things. Anyway it’s only three colors and it looks like he’s got a pretty wide margin for error on this piece.

    He’s an excellent craftsman, and makes good looking images. The beauty of art is that its validity -as art- can be debated. I find Fairey to be fascinating on a craft and marketing level. Art-wise, I’m not convinced.. but hey.. good for him.

    Something bothers me about the defending comments though. One of my most memorable experiences at school was when a professor told us to bring in a picture of someone we loved, and then jab a tack through both eyes. Personally I thought the guy was an ass, but he made a great point – don’t be afraid of images. Just because I’m attacking an image of our president doesn’t mean I disagree with him. It’s only an image. I get the feeling that a lot of folks feel that any assault on ‘hope’ is an assault on Obama. That shouldn’t be the case, and we should all be old enough to know better.

    now about that stimulus package. ..

  150. And Scott -I agree with a lot of what you are saying. Times change, and attitudes with them. Maybe someday appropriation will mature into its own respected art field just as photography did.

    With any luck I’ll be dead by then and won’t have to wring my old-fashioned unhip hands worrying about it.

    hmm.. I really need to get one of those carbon monoxide detectors.

  151. Scott In Laguna @186 / The Gorch @181 / Other naysayers: Can you prove that SF cannot draw? If not, you should STFU.

    And SIL: Let it go, dude. You lost. Thanks for qualifying your bias, however.

  152. stratojoe, bigtime cangrats on your serigraphy. 13-18 colors, eh? oh-tay! the comment i was answering ( and the reason i come to SF or any maligned artist’s defence) is that most people do not understand art history. your comments about “appropriated art” are about a hundred years too fucking late! picasso began it about the turn of the 20th century, duchamp used it to illustrate the absurdity of life in his time, and andy warhol perfected it ( or began taking it to the extreme that artists like fairey , etc… are taking it). whether or not the man can ‘draw’ is about as important as how well a photographer could draw, doesn’t matter one iota.

  153. When Warhol appropriated soup-cans and brillo-boxes and other iconography one of the main points was appropriation.

    when Fairey appropriated this photo, appropriation was not one of the issues at all. and so, unlike Cindy Shermans photos of photos, the act of appropriation itself is not the transformative element.

  154. it’s funny, my screen-printing professor always scoffed at the use of “seriography,” she would go on and on about the need for screen printers to have validation within the fine-arts back in the 60’s when the practice was considered merely commercial art. I’ve done my share of screen-printing. With the right equipment, registration is a pretty easy obstacle to overcome. Heck, most commercial shops have automated presses doing the job. As an aside, I consider Gilbert and George the best screen-print artists around.

    Despite what he said on NPR, I really don’t think that the start of his process has anything to do with printing as much as with adobe tools. That’s totally fine. I use adobe tools every day and they are very powerful. I respect them. However, as a graphic designer and artist, I believe (as marshall arisman said it) that hand drawing is the lingua franca of an artist. I really don’t know if he can’t draw or not, just saying that I would be way way more impressed with his work if i saw a background in drawing, not a background in “appropriation” from other artists who I know can draw. BTW—i’m assuming that he probably can draw given that he went to RISD for illustration, though I see no evidence that he can come up with imagery purely from his own imagination. Seems like a blank visual cortex.

    I agree with stratojoe—SF is clearly a good graphic designer, plagiarized work or not. He’s a good craftsman and the end result is generally nice. I don’t find him edgy in any way like a lot of people do. Edgy to me is Dino and Jake. As far as his “absurdist propaganda” and his pedantic obsession with using Heidegger’s theories, I’m not convinced. I get it, you saw an Obey sticker and it stuck with you. The theme song for Julia Louis Dreyfuss’s 1-season flop of a TV show in the 80’s (Day By Day) stuck with me all these years, and I don’t consider that art. My point is that if that’s the metric by which you rate whether artwork is good or not, we’re in a pretty bad state. His early sticker campaign work is a somewhat interesting concept, yet it seems that the image is secondary and his brand is first. The feeling that i’m most often left with after seeing his work is “seen one, seen them all,” and I owe that to the branding that he uses. Course, I feel that way with a lot of “propaganda” artists that use words heavily in their work, like Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer.

    In the end, I feel that SF is partly responsible for the army of bad “street artists” that steal craploads of postal service stickers, draw crappy looking robots on them, and then stick them on every newspaper box in the city.

    Oh, and Mintyphresh, just because suckers like you buy into his “absurdist propaganda” bullshit and I don’t doesn’t make me a “douche.” It makes me someone who has taste beyond artists who have a line of toys for sale in every boutique juxtapoz-y store out there. Maybe you can’t recognize the sameness of artists like Kukula, Amy Sol, and Audrey Kawasaki, but I can and frankly i’m tired of it. The US painting scene has been in a lowly state for a while with (albeit with many, many unsung exceptions). Currin, Schumann, and Saul are a few big(ish) names who I really admire. I tend to go to China and Germany for inspiration with painting since that work is ten times more interesting than anything I’ve seen in the US. Again, opinions are like assholes… For what it’s worth I support Obama, and am glad as hell that this poster helped him get elected.

  155. gorch, it’s “serigraphy” , fuckin look it up. i still don’t get yer point, i guess. apparently his work inspires an assload of passion in u, in order to write me such a lengthy rant on how much he doesn’t inspire you. to be honest with you, his work leaves me cold, for the most part. doesn’t make it any less important in the eyes of an art historian. see, if fairey says,” this is art.” then, by definition, it’s art. whether or not it’s “Art”, is for the art historians of future generations to decide. one criteria they use: how much passion does this artist’s/group of artists’ work inspire? how many people do you think “liked” the impressionists when they first started showing? the abstract expressionists? whether or not we feel his work is “good” or not means doodly. also, i’ve seen pix of his studio, it’s pretty primitive. and having done my fair share of screen printing, it impressed me.

  156. THANK GOD! Finally! Someone spoke up about fairey and his derivative “art” works.

    You should really read the article at and pay attention to the example Glaser points out in his article. Way too often Fairey takes past works by other artists and simply reproduces them without imbuing any concept at all.

    I completely agree that in this Hope poster, Fairey added nothing to the original photograph. Colorizing a photo and putting a word below it does not add to it. What’s the strongest point about the poster is the gaze in Obama’s face. The gaze, the angle etc. that the photographer captured, not Fairey. I think it’s a fine poster and if Fairey actually collaborated with the photographer I would have no problems. But this mess that he’s now in is because he is so used to this practice of simply ripping off imagery verbatim without a care or thought.

    I think this line by Glaser is very poignant: “it’s important for students to understand that any idea can be exploited, but NOT simply reproduced.”

  157. Maybe someday appropriation will mature into its own respected art field just as photography did.

    Uhm, appropriation is already a respected mode of conceptual thought in art. But “copying” artwork isn’t. At least not yet anyway and hopefully not until I’m six feet under.

  158. There’s a lot of Fairey hate going on here.
    You could also say there are a lot of blind followers here. Just because someone speaks up about something that they think is wrong doesn’t mean they’re some maniacal “hater.” Ridiculous.

    Yeesh, so the guy looked at a photo, and painted something from it? What’s the big deal?
    What’s the big deal? Seriously? Lol, the copyright owner thinks it’s a big enough deal. And he didn’t just “paint from it” The image matches up exactly, it’s a direct copy.

    It’s inspiring, it references Soviet design, and it has a message.
    If you say so. But still, does that validate someone stealing an image?

    Rene Magritte referenced apples in plenty of his other paintings.
    Wow, what Magritte did with an apple was conceptual. Unlike hope. Magritte wanted to paint an apple so he went and painted an apple, he chose how he would paint it, from what angle, what position, what conceptual meaning behind it, etc. He didn’t take a photo of an apple and posterize it. (thank god) He put meaning into the apple himself.

    Lichtenstein put up giant direct copies of comic strips
    Please don’t even compare Lichtenstein to Fairey.

    What, you want high art that’s unique, unreproducability, or it’s crap? Nonsense. “Hope” deserves the same status as “Drowning Girl”
    Oh god, the conceptual thought behind drowning girl is miles apart from hope.

    Fairey’s critics are being elitist.
    Right, we’re “elitist” yeah right, why not call us racists, classists, anything else you want to add?

    Oh no, art students might try something similar This could mean the END of the WORLD!
    Sarcasm aside it’s disappointing to see such unconceptual, unoriginal and uninspired work being championed.

    when Lichtenstein did the same thing. How’d that happen?
    You really need to take a lesson in art history. Pop artists challenged the notion of “what is art.” Stealing an image of Obama isn’t challenging anything about art. He simply needed a stock image of Obama and went and took it.

    The paternalistic “father knows best” of Glaser & those that agree with him are exactly what Glaser had to deal with in his art when it was new.
    Oh my god, now here comes the personal attack, the brushing off of a very well respected figure as being out of touch and old fashioned I guess if you aren’t down with Fairey and stealing images from google then I guess you’re just …old?

    You can say “oh, but that was different”, but it’s not really proving anything to define your own terms for what counts as different.
    Take a look at what Glaser did, he was “influenced” by Duchamp’s profile he didn’t simply colorize it and pass it off as his own without giving any recognition. He used it as a point of inspiration.

  159. I dare anyone to draw an accurate portrait of Obama that doesn’t resemble a photograph of Obama.

    Maybe artists should only be able to depict famous figures if they photograph them themselves, that’s eminently practical.

  160. I dare anyone to draw an accurate portrait of Obama that doesn’t resemble a photograph of Obama.
    I could show you several portraits of Obama that look nothing like a photograph.

    Maybe artists should only depict famous figures if they photograph them themselves
    No, they should just collaborate, ask permission and give credit where credit is due.

    That’s all.

  161. lblah, you act as though all he did was “copy” the picture of obama. when in fact they are two completely separate images! one is a photograph, featuring all the tonal values and nuances of color etc… that entails. fairy’s image is a serigraph( silkscreen) print, teh image has many similarities, but IT IS NOT THE SAME IMAGE. people said the same tired crap about how picasso was ripping off the writers of the newsprint he used in his collages, or how “the fountain” by r.mutt ( marcel duchamp) was an affront to artists, or that impressionism wasn’t “art”, or how the critic’s “5 yr. old” could paint anything as good as a jackson pollock, or how lichtenstein should be sued for plagerism, or how warhol was a hack for “copying” newpaper pix and brillo boxes. and yet if you read any art history of the period, there are their names. in his interview with amy goodman, SF claimed to have three sources for the portrait, the ap pic being one of them. i guess i just don’t see what exactly it is that u r whining about.

  162. Haha, good one mint. Yes, forgive my “whining.” So sorry. But actually it is the same image, it’s just been posterized (turned into a high contrast two color photograph completely derived from the original.

    Now take a look at Fairey’s newest print, Dilla, or whatever it’s called, it’s the same exact thing, it’s a photo that’s been posterized. But Fairey had the decency to credit (and compensate) the photographer this time. Photographers are artists too and deserve credit. That’s all I ask.

    And I don’t think you’ve read a word that anyone has said on here. There is a world of difference in the conceptual artists you mention elevating non art to “high art.” The unauthorized use of a stock photo of Obama is not even in the same league as what Duchamp, Pollock and Warhol did. It should be a crime to even compare the two.

  163. To be fair, I think everybody has got wrapped up in thinking that Glaser is referring to just the Obama poster. If you actually read what he’s saying, he says that Fairey’s BODY of work makes him uncomfortable because of it’s borderline plagiarism. It’s a very valid point when you look at SF’s work in its entirity.

  164. Is everybody, writing these articles, missing the point of SF’s work? I see more and more discussions on SF, and his “plagiarism”… What he is doing, sure he uses old propaganda, as his source – but changing the message, hence the art. The Yellowstone flyer is a perfect example – he is pointing out the contrast between a U.S. national vacation resort, and the fact that american soldiers has invaded Iraq, which is a burning contrast to the flyers original message. So is his “One Big Union” hand, made into “Obey Propaganda”, sending a message to be careful not to fall into the message of propaganda without thinking for yourself, also sending the message not to take his own work too literally. Above is not the entire Milton article, and the rest of it addresses the same lack of ability to see the art being the changing of the message. I think people claiming SF’s work to be plagiarism is sadly missing the entire point of his work.

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