Social Waste Product: Fan Art





I spent the morning un-following a bunch of very talented people on Tumblr.

That feels like a really weird thing to say. And it is.

It was nearly a dozen different artists in all, and they were all extremely talented. Part of what moved me to Follow them in the first place was their skill. In…

I agree with this so much. I watch many different people of varying skill level and focus, but the defining thread is that they produce original work and have original stories in their heads. I like young artists a lot for this reason; sometimes the stories aren’t the best but the feeling and brain power behind them is there.

Fanartists can do incredible work too, but as a consumer of art it’s as significant as the difference between eating a meal and eating someone else’s vomit.

Or maybe we’re just drawing what we enjoy and we don’t give a damn what you or anybody else thinks.  If that makes those of us who draw fanart unpopular, OH WELL.

The more interesting question to ask is- why are so many young and talented artists drawing mostly fan art? Pure enjoyment? Popularity? Why?

It also begs the question of why more artists aren’t actively producing their own original content. Obviously they have a right to draw whatever they want, including fan art. Maybe originality and creativity isn’t as important as other things like escaping from reality or admiring a favorite couple of characters.

What does it say about us if we simply don’t have anything original to say? No story to tell? No political message? Nothing of any real lasting value?

I know I for one have had trouble producing anything more than superficial art. When I go to create something, I find it very difficult to come up with imagery that hasn’t already been done to death or ‘stolen’ from something I’ve seen somewhere, even subconsciously. My mental/visual library is filled with copyrighted material! Woe is me, right? Haha

But regardless, I think it points to difficulty on the design and conceptual side of art and visual creation. It also points to a general lack of thought about the ‘why’ instead of just the how. It also reminds me that becoming technically skilled is just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the reason we are seeing more fan art or “low art” is that more people than ever are drawing. Not everyone has a strong sense of purpose, though. And not everyone has something important to say. Similar to music, not everyone that can produce a compositionally sound piece will go down in music history or move listeners. Does it have to? Certainly not. Would people be better off if if did? That’s what I’m not sure about. Maybe so, maybe no.

Perhaps what this article is really suggesting is that artists should seek to be more purposeful with what they produce and also to be aware of the larger social picture.

At the end of the day, though, we can all go do what we like. Leave the big questions to the philosophers, right?

Personally?  I draw fan art to find other fans, or I draw it as a nod of respect to other creators/a declaration of love for their work!  I enjoy doing this in my spare time; I do it every chance I get.

There’s a couple of angles to this: if you’re aspiring to be a commercial artist… face it, you may have to draw other people’s characters at some point, for money.  It’s entirely possible that fanart becomes a job skill at this point.

There’s also the idea that people who do it are self-serving, and this is their leisure time, so if you don’t like it, you’re definitely doing the right thing by unfollowing, but the complaining… well, no.  Back off.  Not unless you’re their patron and are paying good money to see something else, perhaps?  Defining someone as an “artist” by one’s personal metric (that artists, in order to earn the title, have to engage others and be provocative, etc… ) is only that— a personal designation.  Jackson Pollock, for example, didn’t give two shits about engaging an audience and I would even argue that meaning and significance attached to his work is mostly in thanks to Clement Greenberg.  (And I understand well that his particular departure from representation, the performance aspect of action painting, and even the fact that he’s literally expressed personal angst on raw canvas were a new, innovative implementation at the time, but… again, watch him give a shit.)  Yet, Pollock and his like-minded contemporaries are definitely “artists.”  Ask any curator or art historian and this is the case.  This is commonplace.

(Or, there are also other possibilities— what if, as artists, we don’t want to engage people outside of very specific facilities?  What if we simply don’t want to share certain thoughts with others?  Is it not allowed?  I don’t post my academic work online often, or other personal projects because they’re just that— personal.  There are paintings I make, that I can’t even handle looking at afterwards because I can’t face the thoughts I’ve addressed.  I have paintings I’ve made which make me feel sick inside, and tears well up in my eyes; I have to turn away from them.  Now why in the holy hell would I share that with the rest of the goddamned world?! It’s nobody’s business but mine, even up until I die.

Or, another possibility, maybe you can curse the Pop movement for glorifying the banal and take contemporary fanart as an extension of this idea that there’s a blur between high and low art ever since Lichtenstein and Warhol started hanging in the Met, and it’s only growing.)

But most importantly to me, there’s the fact that I don’t see much of a difference in using fanart as a cultural vocabulary than using… well, other visual cultural vocabulary (iconography, symbolism, etc.), because if you’re a fan of a series/book/etc. there’s an existing visual language there, which you’re communicating to others.  Art is always communication, and this doesn’t change it.

There are other ramifications about the idea that ALL ART MUST BE SRS BUSINESS OR ITS INVALID.  I think Dadaists (namely Duchamp) would take an issue with that (okay, but he and other Dadaists would also thumb their noses at any manner of “art” establishment no matter what but I digress).  Why can’t art be light-hearted and immature?  Not all art is all one thing.  Why can’t it be folded up in your back pocket and always with you, instead of behind glass boxes in a museum?  Art has to serve man, and it always will, in every capacity that we want (or don’t want), and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.  Is this why people feel a need to look down on others? To subjugate?  Because I don’t see much other need to denigrate others.

There’s a lot of crap IN fanart, but non-fanart also has its share of total garbage.  To dismiss fanart as deficient in ingenuity or originality is just too shallow to me. (And honestly… I dislike this inherent assumption that something is somehow superior because it is “original;” human beings don’t live in vacuums, what the holy hell is “original” anymore?  Postmodernism already asks this.)  It’s totally possible to put the person who makes fanart under more scrutiny, not because they’re using someone else’s characters to convey a message, but because the task of conveying messages that are thought-provoking or at least clever can be even more difficult.

And what of people who use literary, religious/biblical themes in their work?  The concept is similar— you’re drawing from a known mythos. (Not dismissing anyone’s religion as “myth,” just STFU and get what I’m saying before getting huffy ;) )  Are Neoclassicists just trashy fanartists because we’ve got some smattering of didactic late 1800s Ophelia paintings and bible scenes?  Should every artist who’s depicted Judith and Holofernes be condemned for not making up an OC instead (hah, take that, Klimt!  Suck it, Gentillleschi and Caravaggio!)?  Damn, Michelangelo, Raphael and a ton of other copycats have covered David as subject matter, I’d totally unfollow them if they were on Tumblr!

Why can’t people just say “I don’t enjoy this artist’s subject matter,” and leave it at that, instead of being insulting or speaking as if you’re owed anything?  It’s unfair to blame subject matter (fanart) for an artists’s personal shortcomings or lack of ability (or, hey, maybe even laziness).  And really, citing someone’s “ability” (or lack thereof) and weighing in “creativity” as a facet of “skill” also makes the assumption that one absolutely knows the intent of each piece, (it’s important to remember that formal exercises don’t rely on content and that this is a hallmark of most Modern-era work)  or even places equal weight on pieces (as if all are meant to be fully-formed finished work), and that this work is the ONLY work that an artists is currently producing, when it’s really not the case.  

Sorry, I just don’t buy it.  It’s not this black and white.