A Picture of a Picture of a Magazine Ad of a Myth

November 5, 2012

By Gabrielle.

My brother, Josh, (teacher of media studies, creator of The PopCore, and founder of Function) is creating a really cool new art project. I’m kind of geeking out about it! I’ll give you a little summary in 4 bits, or you can read/watch the whole story here.

1) It starts with an artist, Richard Prince, and his 1989 Untitled (Cowboy) shown above. This piece was his attempt to shine a light on the myth of the west. He took a photo of a photo in a Marlboro ad, cropped it, enlarged it, and turned it into self referential commentary on consumer culture and the way it made a myth of the American west to sell cigarettes and pick up trucks. The irony: this piece of art became the most commercially valuable photograph ever sold (1.6 million dollars in 2006).

2) My brother was fascinated by this story, so one day, when he was standing before one of the Richard Prince originals, he took high quality digital pictures of it and re-created a high resolution image. In his words, “My image questions the value and aura of the photograph if it can be copied and re-purposed at will. We are printing a picture of a picture of a magazine ad of a myth.”

3) That itself is pretty dang cool, but he wants to push it further. Josh wants to print his re-created image on a billboard in Los Angeles. Again, in his words, “Reclaiming the image and publishing it in an advertising format without any advertising goals will bring the image full circle Ad to Art to Ad Art.”

4) Here’s the coolest part: we can all get some cowboy for ourselves! Donate $100 to his art project and you’ll receive a 24″ x 36″ cowboy print. Awesome! Donate more, and you’ll receive a limited edition, even bigger, 50″ x 70″ print — which is the same size as the Richard Prince original. Friends, this is a total bargain for over-sized art. Bargain!

I adore this print. My sister Jordan hung this very same piece (the re-creation by my brother) in her apartment in San Francisco and she received endless compliments on it. Here’s how it looks on the wall:

This would be amazing on your wall too! And it would make a great gift for anyone you know who is into art history, art commentary — or advertising. I’d grab one before they’re gone.

I’m so curious: What do think of art projects like this? Does art-as-commentary appeal to you? Or does it make you roll your eyes?

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

1 brittney November 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Is the American West a myth?


2 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I grew up in the American West, and it definitely exists. : )

But the way it’s portrayed is often mythical.


3 Kim November 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I don’t understand how that is not considered theft? Maybe I am missing something, but is it really legal to photograph art, put into a different format, and use it for profit?


4 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I’ll answer in two parts. The first part might stress you out, and the second might reassure you.

1) I’d say it’s “questionably legal”. Richard Prince, the original artist, took a photo of a photo in a magazine ad. And he defended it as legal. Here’s a video about it:

Apparently the art world, and world at large, agreed, because Richard Prince sold prints of his image for a lot of money.

But the question you raise is certainly a huge part of a larger conversation that is going on in the art world (and in the blogging world — think: Pinterest) right this minute. In a world of digital copies, who owns what?

Does the ownership question make you queasy? As a designer and creator, it totally makes my stomach hurt. And I’m so glad people are talking about it.

2) If it makes you feel any better, my brother won’t actually be “selling” any prints. There is no shop where you can buy them from him. He is gifting prints as a thank you for donations toward his art project. All donations will go directly to the cost of the art project (putting the image on a billboard in L.A.). The donations would not be considered “profit”.


5 Kim November 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I’m afraid your answer doesn’t reassure me at all. Unless the original artist has signed over the rights to the photograph, I think it’s unethical at best (illegal at worst) to basically “lift” the art and leave it completely unchanged, save for the format.


6 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm

And there are many people who would agree with you! Of course, there are also well respected museums who hang Richard Prince’s photo of a photo (like the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, where the image in question hangs). And an art collector who bought his photo-of-a-photo for 1.6 million dollars.

Just out of curiosity: Unethical of Richard Prince, my brother, or both?


7 Jackie November 6, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I’d say unethical of both but isn’t that sort of the message your brother is sending? Let me know if I’m wrong but it seems your brother is pretty much saying, “how is taking a picture of a picture of an ad anymore wrong then what Prince did in taking a picture of an ad?”

8 Sara November 8, 2012 at 10:09 am

What Jackie said!

Her brother said this: “My image questions the value and aura of the photograph if it can be copied and re-purposed at will. We are printing a picture of a picture of a magazine ad of a myth.”

So it seems like raising these questions is sort of the point. :)

9 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I’d agree, Sara. I think he’s trying to raise these questions. I think discussions like this are part of his goal.

10 B November 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Did anyone else bother to watch the video? The original photographer called the copying of his photograph a “sin.” He very clearly calls it copying, and says the art world has a lot to answer to.


11 Oliver July 20, 2014 at 7:52 am

Obviously Richard Prince was more a museum curator than an artist. He found nice works made by others and exhibited it. Should he pay for it?
Yes of course. Otherwise we could all just take a copy of a song and add say a word START in the start and END in end to claim the artistic statement, that everything has a start and an end. But however much art, that may be, we would still have stolen a song in between the START and the END. Is Richard Price any different?


12 Amy Mac November 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Jordan’s apartment is adorable, and that print is perfect on her wall! Love it!


13 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I agree. Jordan always creates beautiful apartments.


14 Kathryn h November 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I would love your mother to write an article (if she has not already) on how she raised such hard working, creative children. One might almost say prolific! I seriously think she has much to offer in the saturated world of child raising wisdom!


15 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I’ll make sure she sees your comment, Kathryn! I’m sure it will make her happy.


16 Emily November 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I’m an art critic and writer (who deals often with copyright & reproduction), so here’s two thoughts:
(1) Prince’s work would probably have been okay under Fair Use legislation, since he didn’t literally reproduce the magazine ad (but cropped & enlarged it, thereby transforming the meaning and creating a new work). However, Prince’s photograph is now under copyright, likely still owned by Prince. Your brother may be infringing on the artist’s copyright if he reproduces the work without permission (it might depend on whether the billboard would be considered ‘derivative’ — not okay — or okay under Fair Use – a grey area), so I’d suggest he consult a lawyer first to be on the safe side (maybe he has already?)
(2) No offense to your brother, but I don’t really see how his act makes much more of a statement than Prince did with his own work. How does re-purposing an artwork to make another artwork (both of which are about consumption and reproduction) constitute a ‘reclaiming’, exactly? Or consider if any museum etc. sells a postcard in its gift shop depicting Prince’s work (also re-purposing it for a commercial aim): in what way would your brother’s reproduction be distinct in meaning from the postcard? I suppose it feels to me like a one-note work/performance — I’d prefer some kind of work with more depth to it (just a personal opinion!)


17 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm

So glad you chimed in, Emily! It’s fun to hear from someone who works in this area. As for offending my brother, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. He knows not everyone will be interested in this project.

Personally, I would say he’s doing something very different than Prince. I think Prince’s point was a statement about the Myth of the West, and I think my brother’s point (by returning the image to an advertising platform) in his words, is about the “absurdity of older concepts of art and ownership in an age of digital reproduction.”

Obviously, I’m biased. : ) But I think his idea makes a bold statement.

And I think this is so timely for bloggers. Images are published on blogs with links to no named source but Pinterest or Google. Often because no original source can easily be found. And other times, even when the source can be found, the blogger didn’t ask permission to post the image anyway. (It’s even happened on Design Mom.) But I don’t see sites like Pinterest going anywhere. And digital reproduction and distribution seems impossible, or almost impossible, to stop.

I often wonder what’s going to happen. I don’t believe the current laws reflect what’s actually happening with digital images. What about you? How do you see things playing out?


18 Anna November 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I have to say I am with Emily on this. I don’t see how your brother is making a new statement. Just seems like he is relying on Prince’s statement on the interplay of art and advertising (which is part of the work even if the artist himself didn’t explicitly say so) and I am not sure simply putting the images on a billboard innovates and furthers the discussion of art as advertising. To me art as ads is the same as art as revenue generation which Prince’s high priced piece, along with most “important” art now days, alludes to quite well without much help.

Also if his goal is to make this an advertisement…art that sells…then I think he might need to actually get some revenue out of it. But then I think that opens an ethical cans of worms as art often does…so maybe he just needs to take it further and really commodify it.


19 Design Mom November 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm

P.S. — It’s late in France, so I’m going to bed. But I’m loving the discussion! If you leave a comment, I’ll try to respond tomorrow.


20 Lisa Mackin November 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Oooh – this makes my stomach hurt a little bit. Where do I begin?!
1. I feel really badly for Sam Abell – he was clearly ripped off. According to the interview on You Tube he handled it far more graciously than I think I would.
2. I guess Richard Prince follows the same mindset as Andy Warhol did when he created his famous “Soup Cans”. Seriously??
4. Copying someone else’s work and calling it your own creation is plagiarism, period. Profiting from it is unethical. For cry eye – even Warhol’s soup can was designed by some uncredited graphic designer somewhere – Andy just duplicated the concept in another medium. It still doesn’t give him ownership of the idea.
3. In my opinion, the art world is often times like the story of the Emporer’s New Clothes. There’s not too many that are brave enough to call out the absurdity of some of this so called art or smart enough to realize that it isn’t art at all.
4. I wonder if Sam Abell’s is smiling just a little bit at your brother’s project, thinking “Let’s see how you like it Mr. Prince.”
5. If indeed the goal of an artist is to generate a visceral response from its viewer – then you Gabrielle are the true artist here.
PS: I am a fine artist (but made a career as a commercial artist) I put MY heart and MY soul into MY creations. I’d be heart broken if someone else took credit for even one of them.

PSS – Thanks! This was fun!


21 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Oh Lisa. I think we would be dear friends. I adore your comment! #3 and #4 especially.


22 Lisa Mackin November 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

If we were closer I’d stop by for tea! Still checking in to see more comments on this post. The whole topic has me intrigued.


23 Danielle November 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Has your brother considered making the billboard a twist on the current image that still conveys advertising, albeit with an opposite point from the original: an ad against smoking? Meaning transformed, new work, point still made? I love the image and donated, but something to consider. I’ll happily accept my copy in the form of an anti-smoking ad. It’ll still look great in my entryway :).


24 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm

“I’ll happily accept my copy in the form of an anti-smoking ad.”

I have never thought of it that way, but I think it’s pretty genius!


25 Amy November 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

It is a natural progression for images to be reproduced. I think what Prince did and what your brother is doing makes sense and is interesting.
I was/am a painter and worked in a top NYC contemporary art gallery. From what I’ve seen – appropriation is widely accepted because the artist is giving a nod or a nudge to the artist that they are borrowing from. Either way, the original artist is being promoted or cited.
I feel that grabbing images from people in the blogging world to be a different story. I have a site where I post my illustrations and I saw one of them on another blog without any reference to the origin. I gave to the blogger the benefit of the doubt and informed them about my site and said they can use the image, just please credit me. They never added the credit.
In the end, the only thing that matters is that people are continuing to create, look and recreate.


26 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I’m so sorry the blogger never gave you credit! That’s bad form in a huge way. Not crediting a photo with a source — the original source, or the closest source to the original you can find — is very basic blogging etiquette.

And I LOVE the last line of your comment!

“In the end, the only thing that matters is that people are continuing to create, look and recreate.”


27 Kimberly November 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm

(Disclaimer: I would never do this.)

How is what your brother doing different from if I took screenshots of your blog and published them on another domain as .jpgs, .gifs, or pdfs and wrapped them in my own ads?

And do two wrongs really make a right in the case of Abel, Prince, and your brother?


28 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

That’s the big question, right?

Did Richard Prince have the right to use Sam Abell’s creation? Is it really art? Should the Met be paying for it and hanging it in their collection — thereby legitimizing it? And does my brother have any right to re-purpose the work yet again?

The art world gets messy sometimes.

I’m going to try the Pinterest example again to show how the blogging world gets messy too: In my sidebar are the 10 images I’ve most recently pinned. Some are my own images, others are taken by any number of photographers. I don’t monetize my Pinterest page, but I do monetize my blog. Should I not have my latest Pins in the sidebar? Am I unintentionally stealing others’ work by using it to provide interesting content in my sidebar?


29 mom in mendon November 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm

What could be a greater honor and credit to the original artists–the photographer and art director–than to have their ART appear on a billboard, uncluttered by advertising? I hope it works.

The questions of ownership and copyright are at the heart of Prince’s work and Josh is deliberately playing Prince’s game. As an avant garde concept, it’s very clever and, as your readers point out, raises appropriate questions for our time.


30 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Hi Mom! Did you see the compliment to you above?


31 mom in mendon November 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Yes, I did. Thank you, Kathryn h. My children are goodly people.


32 Sofia November 5, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Cool idea, but wouldn’t that be illegal? I mean, he did take a photo of an ad, and to just be editing it in PS and then put it in a different situation couldn’t be enough for it to be his own thing could it? I can’t help but still feel confused after reading the comments…


33 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

It does seem like it would be straightforwardly illegal. But in the case of this particular image, the legal waters are apparently murkier. Richard Prince’s photo of a photo is considered high art by many, and valued at great sums. I linked to a Youtube video about it in an earlier comment if you’re interested. People have strong opinions about the whole story.


34 Bonnie @ the pin junkie November 6, 2012 at 7:21 am

Very interesting conversation! Either way Gabrielle, you have such a talented and artistic family!


35 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Thank you, Bonnie. What a nice thing to say!


36 Tricia November 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

This is an *exact* reproduction of an original work. I’m afraid that doesn’t make enough of a statement for me to find it interesting. And it makes me very uncomfortable. I — like you and other writers, photographers, designers, and artists — am able to make my living because I own what I create.


37 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I hear you Tricia. Just out of curiosity, do you consider both Richard Prince’s photo-of-a-photo, and my brother’s photo-of-a-photo as an *exact* reproduction? Or do you consider Richard Prince’s work to be something new since he removed the Marlboro logo?


38 Tricia November 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Well, I do, yes. But that apparently puts me out of step with the Met and most of the art world.


39 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

You may be out of step with the Met, but I think you’re in step with the commenters here. : )


40 David November 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

I still don’t get it.


41 Design Mom November 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I’m sure you’re not alone, David!

I stand in museums and sculpture gardens and think the same thought in front of many pieces. I suppose one man’s art is another man’s… not-art.


42 Andrea. D November 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm

If you could get the cowboy/actor/model from the original ad to photograph your brother’s billboard – - now THAT image I would pay money for. :)


43 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Oh my goodness, Andrea! Hah! That is fantastic.


44 Azure November 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I wouldn’t want to hang anything in my house that made money for the cigarette industry and gave millions of people cancer. Bad house vibes.


45 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Another interesting point of view! A commenter above thinks of it in the opposite way.


46 Nicole November 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I don’t think your brother needs to print the billboard at all.
Concept Art doesn’t need an object to exist, idea and intention are enough. You could even say that in the Age of Information the physical product is unnecessary or even obsolete. I think by “publishing” his project on indiegogo (and you doing the same on Design Mom) his statement is already made about the commercialization/copyright/ownership/legitimacy.


47 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I don’t know how much of his goal is to have an object exist. More than creating an object, it seems like he’s wanting to make a BIG PUBLIC statement. Bigger than a blog post.

P.S. — I also responded to a part of your comment in my response to Michelle below.


48 Michelle November 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Hi there! As someone from the legal field who does freelance graphic design, I can’t quite get this post out of my mind, even though it’s probably almost on the second page of your blog by now. That the comments are so thoughtful obviously doesn’t help!

I think there are several questions here. There’s a legal question – ultimately, it’s either legal or it’s not. That’s for the lawyers to battle out. Then, there’s an overlapping ethical and moral question which several other comments address. The notion of profiting from another person’s creation, whether or not you’re adjusting it, is probably tough for most of us to swallow… Unless, of course, you’re the one profiting from it, either financially or just from the publicity it brings. Lastly, there’s an artistic question, which also has been covered here. In my opinion, it would have been more interesting if your brother had taken a viewpoint on it, and until then, perhaps the emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes.

The Met made a choice to hang the photo because they appear to think (based on their own description of the work) that Prince’s piece was innovative as a concept in re-rendering. But what statement is your brother making by putting the same image on a billboard? What’s bold about copying an image from Pinterest (that come via a blog via Tumblr via a professional photographer) and posting it in yet another forum? It seems in this case like your brother is contributing to the “un-boldness” rather than the visionary approach high art is going for.

Personally, I agree with other reviewers that this “feels” like plagiarism. He’s pushing the envelope. As a fellow pusher, I respect that. But I want this to have a deeper meaning ascribed to it – a spark – something larger than just a “reproduction of a reproduction,” which feels sort of… boring. I also agree with the comment above that the statement has been made. Your post and this discussion is a statement in and of itself. Frankly, as an LA resident, seeing the billboard would steal from that purity.


49 Design Mom November 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I agree with you and Nicole that by publishing this here “the statement has been made” but I think this is a very small discussion, so the statement has only been made in a small way. Though I’m delighted with the size of it, in the publishing and blogging world, my blog is ultimately quite small.

He didn’t tell me this, but I imagine Josh wants to generate the same conversations that are happening in this comment section on a much larger scale. And by doing something hugely public — like printing the image on a billboard in a city of millions — he’s more likely to instigate those conversations.


50 Michelle November 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I can appreciate that. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and thanks for bringing this conversation to your blog (which, in my little world, feels enormous)! It obviously got the wheels in my head turning. :)


51 Sara November 9, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I actually had a whole long comment written on this post the other day, and then my computer crashed (don’t you just hate when that happens ;)?). Anyway, I didn’t have time to red0 it then, but I kept thinking about this post and decided to come back and try to rewrite it.

Personally, I just LOVE discussions of “What is art?” From when I was in high school and got into a debate with an English teacher about the value of non-representational modern paintings, to college class discussions about Marcel Duchamp’s “Readymades” and John Cage’s compositions (including that one that was just silence), to the surprising exhibits at contemporary art museums everywhere, I just love when art causes a conversation. Questioning it, seeing how others view or present something in a way that is unexpected, to me can actually make any given piece “art.” I love more traditional art, too, but I also enjoy art that I may or my not even find appealing in any sort of aesthetic way (unlike this photo, photo-of-a-photo, or photo-of-a-photo-of-a-photo, which is quite beautiful) just because of the they way it makes you think.

I don’t know much about the legal aspects of this particular situation; it’s been great to read all of the other comments. I think any creative person is entitled to owning their work, so I can absolutely see both sides, but I’m really enjoying the conversation. I like your tie in to Pinterest, too…and am wondering if any of these issues or questions are different for the new secret boards.


52 Anne December 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is plagiarism. Period.


53 Kate March 4, 2013 at 8:43 am

I was so excited to donate and really liked the project. I had far fewer issues than others here in the discussion. Unfortunately, after donating, I heard the prints were being shipped…..but mine never came. Followed up twice with Josh and heard nothing back. It’s too bad. I thought Kickstarter was more legit so I hope others didn’t have this issue too.


54 H. Murphy March 26, 2013 at 9:38 am

Same here, Kate. My husband paid $100 and never received the print. This was one of my big Christmas presents. December came and went, then my February birthday, then our March wedding. We have each emailed a number of times, and I even included Gabrielle on my emails, and….crickets. Very disappointing.


55 Design Mom May 3, 2013 at 5:30 am

Oh dear! Just seeing your comment today, and can see I also missed your emails. No doubt they are hanging out in my inbox. I really do work hard to stay on top of email, but there’s no question it often overwhelms me. My apologies for not responding to your emails.

Like I mentioned in my comment to Kate, I’ve been told all the prints were shipped. I hope you’ve received yours!


56 Design Mom May 3, 2013 at 5:26 am

Hi Kate. My apologies for the slow reply to your comment. I haven’t been watching this thread and didn’t see it until today.

Last I heard all the prints had shipped. Are you still missing yours?

And I’m so sorry if this project wasn’t what you were expecting. I imagine when you made your donation, it was assumed that there was a stack of prints ready to ship out, as if from an online shop. But really, this was an art project and involved experimentation. I know my brother tried 3 different printers in attempts to get the best quality — and I don’t think that process even started till after the holidays. It sounds like the whole thing took much longer than you were expecting.

Mostly, I’m sorry that he didn’t respond to your emails as quickly as a shop owner would have. I’m sure it was very frustrating.


57 Lisa Mackin April 25, 2013 at 7:33 pm


Oh stink – this guy’s at it again. And now he’s got a judge agreeing that he didn’t infringe on anyone’s copyrights. But the real stinger is that Prince is raking in far more dough than the original artist could even fathom. You’d think he would at least have the decency to throw him a percentage of each COPY he sold.


58 Design Mom May 3, 2013 at 5:16 am

So glad you shared the link, Lisa. I’m fascinated! I’m going to link to the article on my Friday link list.


59 Will January 23, 2015 at 2:34 am

Hi there – I’ve been looking for this print for years and came across this thread. Is there anyway you can please email me in the event you pick this message up? Hopefully hear from you soon.



60 Jennifer June 6, 2015 at 11:10 am

Wondering if it is still possible to purchase/donate for this print? Any info is appreciated. – Jennifer


61 Kate July 11, 2015 at 5:07 am

You can purchase here: http://www.thepopcore.com/store/shop/cowboy-2/

But be aware, I ordered the print on June 6, 2015 for $250 and have yet to recieve it (it is now July 11th). I have written three emails and have recieved no response. Hope I didn’t waste $250.


62 Oskar January 3, 2016 at 11:53 am

Hi, Any updates regarding the prints? Tried to get in contact with Josh but didn’t get an answer. Did anyone receive a print? Thanks /Oskar


63 Christine August 21, 2016 at 12:17 pm

I am wondering if your brother has any prints left for donation? I’ve emailed his popcorn site but did not get a reply. I’d love to get a print if they are still available.


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