N is for New and Improved

Plagiarism and Influence: A Virtual Exhibit


Shepard Fairey

A street artist and contemporary graphic designer, Shepard Fairley is also a DJ. Similar to using various songs to create complex compilations, his visual art appropriates various found material for distinct projects.

Joy Garnett

Based in New York, Joy Garnett is a painter who often develops her ideas for paintings from found photography. She looks for the blurred lines between photojournalism and art.

Dwayne Booth aka Mr. Fish

Primarily a cartoonist, Mr. Fish contributes work to the LA Weekly and Harpers.org. His work often depicts a bitting commentary on current affairs with a style ranging from simple blocky figures to detailed pencil renderings.

Manabu Ikeda

Living and working in Tokyo, Manabu Ikeda is a Japanese mixed media 2-D artist. His work often contains highly detailed images combined to create complex narratives.



Anyone who has watched a videotape or digital video disc is well aware of a menacing FBI warning against copied distribution. Yet we now live in a world where almost any perceptible medium can be digitized, moved, changed, and copied and copied and copied. As much can be made clear in the actions of our own blogs where someone else’s hard work and possible intellectual property are now available on countless internet webpages. Ignoring the legal quagmire countless artists face in this Brave New World, we can see in the last couple thousand years that artists found inspiration from their predecessors. Imagine if the ancients rose from the grave to demand renaissance artists of the sixteenth century cease and desist. But life was perhaps not as complicated nor as well documented.

So here we are in an era where music, film, and visual art are the stomping ground for creativity. With a constant stream of input all around, artists have embraced the possible notion that there may in fact be no such thing as an original idea. It may also be that nothing is anything without being the by-product of its environment. This virtual exhibit seeks to explore some of the themes surrounding plagiarism, influence, and appropriation.

We start with Mr. Fish. Like many political cartoons, the following examples by Mr. Fish combine straightforward imagery and no shortage of opinion. The unique and diverse style of Mr. Fish incorporates many iconic symbols or current new photographs into new more complicated messages.

maverick_600Mr. Fish – Maverick (2008)

In Maverick, we see possibly one of the most recognizable scenes from the Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz. This cartoon came out a few weeks before the Presidential Election in 2008 and a closer inspection portrays a less than stable McCain and Palin. Politics aside, Mr. Fish has not only appropriated a style so recognizable it could only be seen as Schulz’s, but has also emphasized a particular well established and documented relationship crafted between characters in the Peanuts cartoon. The point here isn’t that Mr. Fish is relying on the success of Peanuts to sell his work, but rather he’s taking a well-known narrative to illustrate a phenomenon in current events. It would be similar to the literary reference to something as a Trojan horse or Catch 22.

40_years_600Mr. Fish – 40 Years (2009)

In 40 Years, the message is not so clear. Printed during the recent 40th anniversary of the Woodstock concert in 1969, Mr Fish has taken the original concert poster and made a simple statement about the futility of war-protest. The comment here is complex in the somewhat anti-climatic role Woodstock was for the love movement combined with the countless civil demonstrations during the same decade in America. Mr. Fish has again taken an iconic image from the concert and used it to illustrate a short history of war protest in America.

obama_sunsetMr. Fish – Obama Sunset (2009)

Co-opting another now well-known symbol, Mr. Fish has taken the ‘O’ from Barack Obama’s campaign and reinvented the image as a sunset. This sunset shows a figure riding out in the classic fashion signifying the reality of broken campaign promises. I like this image for it’s simplicity and nature to be contradictory.

obamaShepard Fairley – Hope (2008)

Keeping with Mr. Obama, The Hope poster was not explicitly a part of the Obama presidential campaign. It was created by Mr. Fairley using a photo from the Associated Press. There are ongoing legal battles between the two and proves well the controversial nature of this style in art. Whether or not Shepard Fairley is found guilty, the image remains one of the most memorial from the long battle for the presidency. I appreciate the image for it’s strong political message and effective simplicity. The money made from this image brings up all kinds of complications to this controversy. It may be art should be free to make and free to see. Here is where the free-idea-internet is in conflict with for-profit artists. Pieces like Hope blur these lines and beg the question again: What is art?

molotove man joy garnettJoy Garnett – Molotov (2004)

In a similar circumstance to that of Shepard Fairly, Molotov by Joy Garnett was created from a found photo on the internet. The original photo in question was taken in 1979 by Susan Meiselas. During an initial showdown, Garnett complied to take down the painting but not before dozens of web-peer artists used the painting image as their own in art with the famous fighting man. The stories are complex behind the original photo and the painting. In a simple view, here we find art created from life which itself is art created from life. Is one so different from the other? Is there such a thing as intellectual property? If anyone can own anything, it will be images like these in the collective culture.

foretoken bigManabu Ikeda – Foretoken (2008)

Foretoken, a dense sharp work, is at first a wave but presides over a more familiar wave in the lower left corner.   Mt. Fuji Off Kanagawa or “The Wave” by Hokusai is a famous woodblock print from Japan and similar in shape and theme to dwarfed image in Foretoken. Comparing the two, there is almost a sense of similar impending natural doom separated by 200 years in creation. The latter work by Manabu Ikeda is so highly-detailed it seems impossible to realistically see everything in any short amount of time. In one close-up, there is another co-opted style from M.C. Escher.

foretokenzoom Manabu Ikeda – Foretoken (detail)

Spotting this and what could be an eternal stare to see everything, it may be possible to find other taken styles. Yet, here I feel an homage to the predecessor like a cover to a celebrated song. Still, there is clear outside influence and use of style. Overall it is ambitious and immense and somehow draws another vague line between what is art without what has come before it. Behind all this progress are the actual artists who create it step by step together.



  1. Oh I just enjoy reading your blogs, what insight you create just by looking at the page! Your biographies were interesting to read because they didn’t state specific dates and uninteresting tidbits, but a short paragraph that contained facts that you wouldn’t normally hear. It’s simple for fun-sake. I thought that you chose very familiar pieces that isn’t something that no one has seen before, but things that people can relate to because they have seen them so much. You’re commentary on each piece (especially the Obama works) was good to read because you actually stated why you liked them and why they fit together so well. But for the most part, even though many of the pieces you chose were very ambiguous towards each other, you really tied them together.

    Joy Garnett – Molotov (2004)- I really enjoyed this piece, you are right, it is so simple, but there is so much complexity going on that we don’t see.

    “If anyone can own anything, it will be images like these in the collective culture.” ~Awesome quote!

  2. I was particularly taken with Ikeda’s “Foretoken” I would love to have a print (assuming that the original is outside of my pay grade). The environmental message paired with the iconic image of the wave, in a version of hell worthy of Bosch, make it a very intriguing piece.

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