Shepard Fairey is riding the biggest wave of his career. He's instantly become a major league slugger, with his famous "Hope" poster of our newly crowned prince, Barack Obama. The only problem is that the commissioners of "fair use" (AP) are coming after him for copy right infringement and Mister Fairey is paddling furiously to stay one step ahead of that curveball.
At the most base level, the argument is about who owns the admittedly goofy image of our President, and should some sort of compensation be rendered to the owner for any further publication of that image. The lawyers may be arguing the balls and strikes of this case for some time, and the courts will eventually make some sort of call. Shepard Fairey will be either out or safe, but his home run may be forever tainted.
From the nosebleed seats, the argument is about something else entirely different
What is really at stake here is not the almighty dollar, its really about the integrity of art making, culture, American and Western Culture.
Appropriation of images has been in the art making dugout for a very long time. This is nothing new to the game. We learned, in the culture wars of the 80's that ones man's sacred chalice is another man's urinal. What happens ,for better or for worse, is that when an image is appropriated or co opted, meaning can change abruptly.
Should we be worried about the integrity of art making? Is that even a valid past post-modern construct? Given the plethora of images available at a keystroke today, does creative image making need to be concerned with the "original" , the immaculate concept, or the archetype?
If the answer is "yes", to all of the above, then what does that say about our current "State of the Art". Its not to say that the appropriated image , could not be at the service of ART, it can. The problem arises when the vast majority of image making is from recycled tidbits. The reshuffling, recycling and replaying, begins to de-volve into a centralized , mediocre media morass.
If the answer is "No" to all the above, then we can gleefully keep making work that will probably
allow us to aquire our fair share of the economic stimulus package, and we can do away with Mac Arthur Grants.
My friend, the ceramicist Jeff Irwin and I shared a studio for several years. We often made reference to the "Aesthetics of Laziness" when we were studio partners. We would goad each other into making the hard decisions, not settling for the easy button, working out difficult visual problems. I understand now years later, how as artists we struggle to leave the magnetic pull of the magma of medicocrity.
Connected to the hip of the Aesthetic of Laziness is his twin brother the Aesthetics of Convenience. These twins suckle at the breast of consumerism, and cannot taste the milk, becasue it is now so bland as to be unrecognizable.
So back to our friend Mister Fairey. If he indeed has committed a crime, is it against AP?
Or is he just the hapless leading man in a much larger narrative, that we can only begin to see unfold. At the end of the day, or the Century, will the famous "Hope" portrait be hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, with an asterik, to a footnote, apologizing for being the beginning of the end?
Sunday Feb. 15th Post script,
I woke up this morning and Bob Pincus of the San Diego Union weighs in on this, albeit more optimistically