Tuesday, June 1, 2010

right or wrong?

recently i was approached about one of my pop art designs—batphone. the person whose image this belonged to was upset by my use of his photograph for my design/artwork. imagine my surprise when receiving this email. i didn't take the image and use it as my own, i distorted the image to create my pop art design.

(due to copyright issues, i am unable to post the image of the design in question). and for that, i apologize.

this particular phone was really cool. it reminded me of the phone during the 1960s batman series that was frequently shown throughout the show. at the time of creating my pop art design, i had no intentions of using a 'batphone' per se, but an old, retro-styled phone.

when i came across this particular image during my google search of a retro-styled phone, i was thrilled. i thought this is just perfect, i can easily create something retro and stylistic and have it look groovy at the same time. it would go perfectly with my retro-filled theme at the time i created this design.

since my first day of art school, i was told by art professors that when you take an original photograph and obstruct its purpose or originality, it's completely legit. one of my first projects during my freshman year at parsons school of design was just that—take an original work of art, and thwart its logic. in this particular case involving the "batphone," i took said image into photoshop, wiped away the background completely, and added my own color and flair to what i thought at the time—a somewhat simple image. this is my process. i do it with most of my pop art pieces and i change them completely to suit my own artistic needs.

let's put a few things into perspective, shall we.

for starters, this process has been going on for decades. how did andy warhol capture that infamous campbell's tomato soup image? from memory? i think not. what about his infamous brillo pad boxes? same thing. this is how the term pop art originated. an expression of commercialism.

i recently came across this website deconstructing roy lichtenstein's famous comic book pop art and how he took the exact images from comic books, in addition to the speech bubbles, and incorporated them into his now famous works of art.

was this approved and accepted? most likely not. but with the advent of internet, things are much more complicated and easily accessible.

andy warhol's silkscreened brillo soap pad boxes

andy warhol's campbell's tomato soup, 1964, silkscreen on canvas

pop art noun

art based on modern popular culture and the mass media especially as a critical or ironic comment on traditional fine art values.

The term is applied specifically to the works, largely from the mid 1950s and 1960s, of a group of artists including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns, who used images from comic books, advertisements, consumer products, television, and the movies.

during the 2008 presidential election of barack obama, graphic designer/illustrator/artist shephard fairey has been under criticism and is currently undergoing a lawsuit for his representation of his artwork provided for obama's 2008 "HOPE" presidential campaign. in 2009, it was revealed that reuters photographer, mannie garcia, made claims that fairey took his 2006 photograph of then senator barack obama and used it as his own to create this now famous illustration.

shephard fairey's illustration for barack obama's 2008 HOPE campaign

late 19th century bohemian moulin rouge artist, henri de toulouse-lautrec, apparently used this process as well. he would use original images and create his illustrations representing these images. isn't that how art works? you use a photograph as a still representation to create a painting, illustration, etc. as a way to capture that image without doing so from memory?

regardless of what is right or wrong, as an artist, i am very apprehensive to agree with such claims that this is wrong or considered copyright infringement. and just because you find an image on the internet, it doesn't necessarily make it copyright protected—there are still legal channels to pursue to copyright protect your images/art. yes, if someone took my original artwork and signed their name to it, would i be upset? of course, that's a different story entirely. but to take a photograph that you get from the internet and change its original intent to your own, is this wrong as well? it's a dilemma we all face as artists.

i also found this particular pop art creation by artist, billi kid. the original photograph is a famous mugshot of the late, frank sinatra. clearly, the artist's intent was not to 'steal' the photograph/mugshot, but to distort its content, thus turning it into his own unique composition. 

same thing, right?

billi kid sinatra stencil by artist, billi kid
spray paint and stencil on wood panel

i'm sure there are many gray areas on this subject, but for now, i will leave it at this. i would love to hear your thoughts on this problem. do you think it's wrong to take an image that was found on the internet and create a painting from this image? or my process of turning it into a pop art creation?

tell me your thoughts. i'm listening.

regardless, my process is my process, and will most likely not change. i assure you, i am not the first artist to implement this process, nor will i be the last, however, that being said, out of respect for the original "photographer" of this batphone image, i chose to politely remove any and all representations of my design out of respect for his request. i am no longer selling this particular piece, nor do i have it displayed anywhere on my website, blog, facebook, et al.

heck, it never sold anyway.


Cat said...

I'm glad you asked! Excellent topic.

I've had my photos stolen a couple times and was shocked at how entitled the artists felt to my material when I called them on it.

Once I insisted it come down because I thought the publisher treated its writers poorly, and I didn't want to contribute to its mission.

Another time because the photo was given to me to use by permission by one of my readers. And this Fort Collins "artist" not only took it, but scolded me when I told him to get permission.

Legal or not, it's unethical. I wouldn't take your stuff without either asking or paying you. If artists are all undercutting each other, how is anybody else supposed to value our work?

That said, if Shepard Fairey or Banksy or even you asked for one of my photos, I'd probably say yes and be flattered. That's all I'm asking of other artists or writers who want to use my stuff...just ask first. That's respectful.

As for Warhol, he kind of sucked anyway. Look at Wayne Thiebaud. He was a much greater pop artist. And he never lifted another artist's things.

One Girl Creative said...

Excellent perspective, and I appreciate your candor. Very refreshing.

Thanks for contributing.

Cat said...

I appreciate your opening up a forum to talk about this. I'm really not an angry all the time person and I'm torn about street and pop artists because they reclaim our environment from the blandness of "the man." I love that they do that.

I'd like to hear what other artists think about the ethics of this too. I'm actually torn about sharing any more of my work online because of it.

One Girl Creative said...

I agree with you completely. There's definitely a fine line between graffiti artists and "tagging." I love graffiti, when done in a proper, beautiful way, but tagging? Not so much.

I guess it's like any art form, it's just subjective. Thanks again for your input.

Kelly said...

I have a few photographs on different sites...you know, flickr and stuff, and if someone wanted to use my picture I would much rather them send me a message and ask, than to just take it...

I guess I think its just common courtesy?

One Girl Creative said...

Makes sense to me.

Thanks for your input.