The debate over Shepard Fairey’s work continues, with Print Magazine today featuring the thoughts of legendary poster artist Milton Glaser, he of the Dylan print featured below. While Glaser seems to believe in Fairey’s artistic abilities – and also espouses a belief that artists should build on the work of others – he questions whether Fairey goes far enough in making pieces his own, or simply appropriates the work of a fellow artist.
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. …
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.
But Glaser’s main point isn’t the defense of inalienable property rights. Rather, it’s the lesson he believes Fairey is imparting onto a younger generation of artists:
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.
Glaser’s point is well-taken, but at the same time, isn’t there another message emerging artists can take from Fairey’s work – that simple, straightforward images can carry a powerful message and spread like wildfire?