Tuesday, May 11, 2010

fill their heads with empty phrases, master celebrator

shepard fairey has been getting a tonne of press lately and that's exactly what he wants. i'm buying into it. i admit it, and i shouldn't because i don't like giving people free press when they don't deserve it but i'm tired of people polishing a turd and calling it gold. i'm even more tired of people buying that turd.

fairey is the founder of obey giant art inc. a design company that sells clothing and posters under the guise of rebellion and public dissent. fairey started out as just another art student with a pocket full of change and access to a photocopier and made his first "andre the giant has a posse" stickers. his artistic defence for this sticker campaign was to "re-awaken peoples understanding of the environment around them." his aim was to create a movement that had no ethos, no cause, no agenda but existed purely as an "unknown". really it was a two fold project. while it served as a sounding board for just how cool you really were in the 90s it also laid the ground work for what would become a consumer driven goods manufacturing machine. i don't believe either of those things were his original intent but they came about none the less.

where his defence falls apart is his insistence that this is an experiment in consumerist culture. as if we weren't aware that western society has serious problems with it's over spending and dependence on consumerism to fuel our economy. it would be nice if he just came clean and said, "yes. i'm in this game for the money and i'm going to ride it all the way down." i would have more respect for him if that were the case. instead, he hides behind fair usage laws and blatantly thumbs his nose at the people that realize he is stealing other peoples work and calling it his own. all the while he claims it's a political art movement forcing people to re-examine their personal relationships with the world around them. how does a retouched photo of debbie harry force me to question my place in the world?

fairey has been in the news so much lately because of the obama "hope" campaign poster that has been copied by everyone with a printer and is the subject of two lawsuits (four technically) and a criminal investigation. fairey is no stranger to litigation and has taken numerous people to court over the years for making artistic works that are obviously influenced by obeys catalogue. it seems that re-appropriating a piece is ok but re-appropriating it a second time is where it becomes illegal.

the lawsuits and investigation centre around faireys use of an ap photograph taken by mannie garcia. when fairey was originally questioned about his "hope" poster he stated that he used a different photo than the one he was being charged against. after aps legal team proved beyond a shadow of a doubt which photo was used to make hope, fairey then admitted that he did actually use the photo in question. the strange thing is that both of them were taken by mannie garcia. that's like using the coca cola logo and claiming you used the new coke logo instead.

fairey filed a preemptive lawsuit against ap for fair use rights for the photo citing that his hope poster was an original work and changed the very nature and feel of the image. in response, ap filed a counter suit saying that they believe the picture hasn't been altered in any significant way as to legitimize it as a new work. where it gets really sticky is when fairey and his design team decided that altering and destroying evidence would be the best way to move forward with their defence. now fairey is not only being sued but has an impending criminal investigation in the pipe. he has wisely pleaded the fifth about his activities. to make matters even worse, fairey is also likely to be charged for erecting a structure in new yorks bowery district. the site has already been hit with a cease work order (which only means they can't repair it) but it's likely that charges will be laid.

now you might think that i'm happy to hear all the bad news surrounding fairey and obey but i'm not. i will be labeled a "hater" i'm sure because i don't think that what fairey does is art. many people today think his work is great and ground breaking but these are usually the same people that don't know anything about art but know they like obey. there's nothing wrong with that. i encourage people to have their own tastes and if you like obeys catalogue, then by all means support them. i'm just not down with them because a lot of the work is sloppy and derivative in my opinion. i don't feel the obey team adds anything to the existing images to make them more interesting. they tend to just drop existing works on top of other existing works which is the visual equivalent to "dj" mash-ups. i also feel that obeys business practices are dodgy in that fairey seems to be the only person that's allowed to use fair use as a defence.

i don't care if he's making money. my argument has never been about fairey selling out because i don't think he did. he was honest about his motives from the start. he was just trying to create a brand and he did. he'd be a fool to not exploit that brand after he put so much effort and work into it. what makes me angry is the use of other peoples work and the seeming contempt for other peoples right to protect their work.

what do you think? do you have an opinion? should we all just have unfettered access to everything and be able to make a living off of other peoples work? how do you make a living off of an original piece of work if everyone can have it for free somewhere else? doesn't plagiarism devalue the original work both in meaning and monetary value? doesn't the very idea that all creative works should be free and available to the public strip artists of their ability to make a living and in doing so, remove the value of art entirely? (i'm mean monetarily and socially)

i'm very interested to see where this legal battle goes. what will be more interesting is to see what happens with mannie garcias two lawsuits against ap and fairey.

oh, i do take offence to the fact that fairey tries to hide behind his charitable donations as some sort of justification of using specific images. he owns a corporation. that corporation has accountants that would be remiss in their duties if they didn't point out the tax benefits of charitable donations. plus fairey can say things like, and i quote, "i charge anybody to fuck with that, know what i mean." well shep, it's easy to "fuck with" that rationale. you get a substantial tax credit for donating that kind of money which is more than likely reinvested into your company thus keeping costs down and profits higher. that's great if you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart but don't pretend you're doing it at your own expense.

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