Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Response to Shepard Fairey concerning his ‘AP, Obama, and Referencing’ message on Part 2

Part 1

Fairey states, “As far as the idea of the image being “stolen”, I would love to have the clout to command portrait sittings from world leaders, but for me and most artists out there, that is not an option. For lots of artists, even licensing an image is out of the question financially. Should artistic commentary featuring world leaders be stifled because of copyright of the reference images even when the final artistic product has new intent and meaning? Reference is critical to communication, and in my opinion, reference as a part of social commentary should not be stifled.”.

Unfortunately, Shepard Fairey failed to mention that some media sources and individuals make images of this nature available for use at no cost. There were many photographs of Obama that Shepard Fairey could have used legitimately without dodging aspects of licensing that any first year illustration student understands. Keep in mind that he could have simply asked Yosi Sergant of Evolutionary Media Group to obtain a photograph of Obama during the campaign. After all, Yosi Sergant worked as a media consultant for the Obama campaign. Thus, one could suggest that Shepard Fairey did have access if he had wanted it. Instead, he chose to willfully infringe on the copyright of the AP.

Fairey stated, “Another suggestion someone made was “why not splice two or three photos together and illustrate from that?” Well, though a direct match would have been harder to find, with an image as popular as the HOPE poster, internet sleuths would probably have found the references and maybe I’d be facing two or three lawsuits.” Followed by, “This leads to the next question: is illustrating from a photograph “cheating”? I studied art, illustration specifically, at one of the most prestigious art schools, The Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD I was taught to draw from life, to draw from photo references, and to appropriate and re-contextualize imagery. All of these techniques had historical precedents which I learned about. Here are some great examples of famous painters working from photo references, and not always their own photos -

I’m glad that Shepard Fairey learned the basics at RISD. However, I don’t think this brief reflection of his academic years has served him well. I don’t think many people suggest that drawing or painting from a photograph is “cheating”-- that is not really the issue here in the first place. Fairey’s distraction aside, there is a difference between drawing or painting from a reference photograph compared to stenciling over a copy of a photograph.

No, that is not to suggest that stenciling is ‘wrong’ or is of no value-- its just that it is a different process than drawing or painting as far as I’m concerned. As mentioned earlier, the real issue is that most first year illustration students know that if they use a copyrighted photograph as a reference or as a base image they had better ask permission or finding out about licensing from the copyright holder.

In his defense Fairey mentioned how artists from the past used photographs as a reference, some of which were “not always their own photos”-- the link he provided mentioned, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and Edgar Degas. Unfortunately, Shepard Fairey failed to mention that the situation today is very different compared to the past-- especially with respect to art law and the art market.

None of the greats he mentioned earned over $700,000 from copies of a single image in their respected currency during their lifetime. None of them had sold out exhibits involving thousands in profit during their lifetime-- at least not when compared to the profit that some artists earn from exhibits today. None of them sold their art as a corporation as far as I know-- dear Vincent did not run Starry Night Art Inc., true?

Furthermore, the famous painters that Shepard Fairey mentioned were not aware of copyright law as we know it today-- as any first year illustration student knows it today-- these artists were long dead before current copyright law. Times change-- the business of art has changed. Keep in mind that the majority of visual artists have fought for decades to have the rights they enjoy due to copyright-- the right to have more control in the market of their art.

Now, more than ever, visual artists need to be able to protect the market for their art. It seems that if we lived in Shepard Fairey’s world-- a world where current law is useless-- it would be acceptable to take a leap back in time in order to neglect the rights that creative individuals enjoy today. If the art community accepts Shepard Fairey’s extreme interpretation of “fair use” it will no doubt cause even more artists to endure the same financial woes that Vincent van Gogh endured in his time.

Fairey then states, “I have respect for, and have frequently collaborated with, photographers, but I do not think permission, or a collaboration is warranted in every case where an artist works from a photo reference. I collaborate with photographers because I WANT to, not because I believe I HAVE to.”

If Shepard Fairey feels this way he has failed to acknowledge over 60 art organizations that stood up against the 2008 Orphan Works legislation. With this statement he has slapped every photographer, including fine art photographers, in the face. With this statement he slaps Brad Holland and the Illustrators Partnership of America in the face as well. With this statement Shepard Fairey slaps the face of every creative person who understands the need to be able to protect their works!

Shepard Fairey is doing this while waving the banner of ‘artistic freedom” and “free expression” when in reality he is concerned with the freedom to profit off of the hard work of others without consequence. Keep in mind that this is the same artist who ‘ referenced ’ a poster by Rene Mederos without contacting the Mederos Estate for permission. After being exposed he stated that he did not know how to contact Rene Mederos since Mederos lived in Cuba. Apparently he was unaware that Rene Mederos had died in 1996-- so much for Shepard Fairey’s art history lessons.

This is a 4 part rant:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 Part 4

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thought everyone should know that Yosi Sergant has been appointed to the Office of Public Engagement at the White House. I guess it pays off to create a mock grassroots movement. This corporate PR firm pig has stolen history!