What initially disturbed me about the art of Shepard Fairey is that it displays none of the line, modeling and other idiosyncrasies that reveal an artist’s unique personal style. His imagery appears as though it’s xeroxed or run through some computer graphics program; that is to say, it is machine art that any second-rate art student could produce. . . .
Fairey’s Greetings from Iraq is not a direct scan or tracing of the FAP print, but it does indicate an over reliance on borrowing the design work of others. There was no political point or ironic statement to be made by expropriating the FAP print – it was simply the act of an artist too lazy to come up with an original artwork. . . .
Some supporters of Shepard Fairey like to toss around a long misunderstand quote by Pablo Picasso, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Aside from the ridiculous comparison of Fairey to Picasso, there’s little doubt that Picasso was referring to the “stealing” of aesthetic flourishes and stylings practiced by master artists, and not simply carting off their works and putting his signature to them.
A last ditch defense used by Fairey groupies is to acknowledge that their champion does indeed “borrow” the works of other artists both living and deceased, but it is argued that the plundered works are all in the “public domain”, and therefore the rights of artists have not been violated. There are those who say that artists should have the right to alter and otherwise modify already existing works in order to produce new ones or to make pertinent statements. Despite some reservations I generally agree with that viewpoint – provided that such a process is completely transparent. . . .
I’m reminded of George Orwell’s classic slam on lazy and dishonest writing:
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence . . .
Laziness and dishonesty go together, and that fits the stories of Shepard Fairey and Ed Wegman as well. You copy from someone else, and you have nothing of your own to add, so you hide your sources, and this sends you into a sort of spiral of lies. In which case, why do any work at all? In Fairey’s case, the work is all about promotion, not about the art itself. In Wegman’s case, the work all goes into lawsuits and backroom maneuvering, not into the statistics.
Once you’re hiding your sources, you might as well cut corners on the product, eh?