Lawrence Lessig & Shepard Fairey on Art, Commerce and Corruption
Thursday night, we were treated to an insightful and inspiring production at the New York Public Library as part of their Live from the NYPL series and sponsored by Wired. Titled “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy”, the event featured Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons among other things, and Shepard Fairey, whom you may have heard of recently. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson, it intended to focus on the future of art and ideas in an age when practically anything can be copied, pasted, downloaded, sampled, and re-imagined. Less about commerce and more about moral and congressional corruption crippling artistic expression, the panel was self-admittedly pretty one-sided about the whole debate.
Johnson, the 35th most popular man on Twitter, according to Live from the NYPL Director Paul Holdengräber, opened the evening with the famously reclipped Charlie Rose video by Andrew Fillipone, Jr, in which Rose appears to be interviewing himself with little success about the future of the internet. Johnson laid the groundwork for the evening in his assessment that, though these issues were timely due to the widespread and accessible nature of technology and information, they were also timeless – old values that we have been wrestling with for centuries. He invoked the original ‘remix’ by Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin’s insistence that ideas get better as they flow and circulate, attracting “the attentions of the ingenious.” To his panelists, he posed the question: “Where do we think innovation and creativity come from? From building walls and protecting them, or from sharing and expressing them?”
Though his now iconic image and style have been riffed upon countless times themselves, Fairey said he believed the spoofs only give more value to the original – to which he added that the photograph he controversially worked from was out of date, out of the news cycle, and out of mind, and yet here suddenly everyone’s talking about it. He concluded that he personally will only ‘go after’ real bootleg operations reselling his work. For the most part, the work he sees being done with his art reminds him of his earlier days photocopying album covers on his mom’s copy machine to create stencils to make teeshirts, and he doesn’t exactly want the FBI busting down his, or anyone else’s, door over that.