The average challenge coin collector may not realize it, but each little piece of metal they collect is a piece of art. True, not all art has a monetary value, but equally as true is that art is in the eye of the beholder and even a sentimental value can be priceless. Nowadays, challenge coins take many forms, many featuring an element from popular culture, mixed with an element from the military, security or law enforcement; that creative convolution of contrasting elements and collectability make it “pop art” inspired by what was once called, the art of appropriation! The key word here is art and it’s a very important element to these challenge coins and as long as we are protected by your right to free expression.
The father of this genre was Andy Warhol. Known for his stylized imagery, often derived from popular brands, corporate logos, pictures and even newspaper articles, his “art” reflected popular culture during his era. He recreated already made images, transforming them and creating his own interpretations. This appropriation process was not totally new to the art world, but became much more complex as it was scaled at the onset of Warhol’s wildly successful career. Andy Warhol continued the tradition of appropriation, taking it to levels previously unforeseen. As times changed, his art became more controversial, especially with the onset of consumerism.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, mass production made branding a huge deal for companies who were competing for market share. Copyright and legal ownership of artistic material suddenly made the “art of appropriation” and “pop art” a complicated art form. In the early 1960’s, Andy Warhol created his very famous Marilyn series. The image he used of Marilyn Monroe was not his. Later, he used a Campbell’s soup can in one of his most widely revered works of art. Campbell’s soup sent his two cases of soup because they were so happy with the exposure they gained from his pop art. They weren’t mad! Imagine if Andy Warhol had created his own challenge coins. Wow!
Today, Romero Britto is the world’s most successful artist. Originally from Brazil, he now hails from Miami where he presides over an empire of artwork and licensing. In fact, Disney has worked with Britto to create is own “pop art” versions of their characters! He is known for creating portraits with a pop art flair of some of popular cultures more significant figures to include Presidents, Royalty, Heads of State and of course, Michael Jackson!
More and more each day, challenge coin collectors are seeing pop culture make its way onto challenge coins and I’m a huge fan of this, an advocate in fact. I love seeing super heroes and magical characters portrayed with a security spin, law enforcement angle or military element. These coins are pop art. They are free speech. Challenge coins can be a serious, they can be satire or parody, or whatever you want. They should be a creative endeavor of their designer’s expression. Coin designers often see elements in other coins that they love and in turn, they make them their own. This can be a sore spot for some but that’s generally because they don’t grasp how art works and don’t understand creative expression or the art of appropriation.
A collector may see a coin from a different agency and make a similar version for their agency. That is a quintessential example of the art of appropriation! Whether you like it or not doesn’t matter. I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, I don’t particularly care about what “the haters” say. In fact, I am more worried when they are silent. I learned a long time ago that if you have no haters and nobody is talking, then you aren’t making an impact. I feel good about the challenge coins I make. Every so often, I make a coin that goes viral, and it’s an amazing feeling. There are also coins that I’ve made that were not loved. It’s all part of the process. It’s how we, as artists and collectors learn and develop. It’s part of the process.
If you’re a challenge coin maker, be creative. How creative is up to you. You don’t have to be 100% original. Somebody or something influenced all great artists. You don’t have to be 100% inventive; some of the oldest methods are the best to this very day. Just create, enjoy, and make it your own. Try to give your challenge coin design a tie-in to something you feel strongly about. Whether it’s security, law enforcement, the military, or, to be quite frank, any team, organization or entity you love. Never let anybody make you feel guilty about trying to make money with your artwork. That has been the ultimate goal of all great artists. Although many never achieve a profit, it shouldn’t stop them from trying!
Express yourself, love the process and ignore anybody that has nothing to share that isn’t enriching to you!
– Louie G, 18 year law enforcement veteran