Although I seem to make way less fan art than I probably should, I thought that I’d devote this article to explaining several of the reasons why many artists often tend to make art based on TV shows, games, books, movies, celebrities, comics etc… rather than thinking of more “original” ideas for their artwork.
Before I go any further, I should probably point out that fan art is something of a grey area (in practice, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright-related issues.
I won’t really be discussing this in too much detail here (since I’m not a legal expert), but a good general rule is that you should never sell your fan art.
In practice, most large media companies etc… tolerate non-commercial fan art for several reasons. This is because being mean to their most devoted fans isn’t a good business strategy, because fan art can serve as free advertising and because fan art makes existing fans more interested in their movies, games, comics etc….
Likewise, some types of fan art (eg: parodies) may be exempt from copyright rules, depending on where you live.
But, all of that said, why do virtually all artists make fan art? Here are a few of the many reasons:
1) It’s how all artists start out: A day or so before I wrote this article, one of my relatives found something that I’d drawn when I was about twelve. Back then, I didn’t really see myself as an “artist”, although I used to draw little cartoons quite a lot.
Anyway, the drawings were of various Pokemon, since I was a Pokemon fan back then. If I cast my mind back, I can think of drawings that I made earlier than this which were based on all sorts of computer and video games that I’d either actually played or had read about in magazines.
I’m sure that quite a few other artists did similar kinds of things when they were kids. When you’re younger, it’s more difficult to come up with good “original” ideas for the simple reason that you haven’t really been exposed to enough of the surrounding culture to really come up with great “new” creative ideas.
In addition to this, copying other things is also an integral part of the learning process too.
All artists learn to make art from copying things. Whether it’s their favourite cartoons, whether it’s old paintings or whether it’s just real life, learning how to make art involves a lot of copying.
This is why, for example, I’ve put the word “original” in scare quotes in this article since there are no truly original works of art (since even the most “original” artist has probably learnt techniques etc.. from other artists).
2) Cover versions: Artists often make fan art for pretty much the same reason that musicians often play cover versions of their favourite songs.
With a good cover version, a band will usually take one of their favourite songs and produce a new version of it in their own unique musical style. It’s a way of paying tribute to something inspirational, whilst also getting to hear what that song would sound like if they’d come up with it instead.
It’s the same with art. When we make fan art based on something that we love, we get to see what our favourite things would look like in our own unique art style.
We also get to learn more about the things we love by re-creating them in our own distinctive way. We also get to pay our respects to something that has inspired us, amazed us and/or fascinated us too.
3) Tradition: Artists have been making fan art for a lot longer than you might think. If you look at a lot of famous old European paintings, then many of them will be based on either classical mythology or religious mythology.
Since these two things were much more important parts of contemporary culture back then than they are now, artists instinctively wanted to paint them and audiences instinctively wanted to see them.
The thing to remember here is that the whole concept of copyright is a relatively recent and counter-intuitive invention. When Shakespeare wrote his plays, he often took pre-existing stories and just put his own twist on them. When musicians played music in the olden days, they just played songs and ballads that were popular at the time.
Back then, culture belonged to everyone and it belonged to no-one. This has been the case for most of human history in most of the world.
The skill of an artist, writer, actor, musician etc.. was measured in how well they were able to re-create pre-existing things in interesting ways rather than how “original” their ideas were. In a way, modern fan art is just an extension of this ancient and instinctive tradition.
4) Cynicism: If I’m being cynical, then I’d argue that a small proportion of artists can occasionally make fan art for the sole purpose of becoming popular. This can be seen most clearly on a well-known art website called “DeviantART”.
I’ve been a member of this site for quite a few years and I’ve noticed a very strange trend. Even the most beautiful, elaborate and creative piece of “original” artwork can often get a lot less views than a simply-drawn piece of fan art based on something popular.
In fact, the last time I checked my stats on DeviantART, the most popular picture in my gallery was, by far, a badly-drawn fan art picture that I made for amusement in 2010, rather than any of the much better “original” paintings and drawings that I’ve made in the years since.
The reason for this strange phenomena is that audiences often want to look at interesting and cool works of art but, since they don’t really have the time to sift through literally millions of “original” artworks, they’ll often just search for art that’s related to their favourite TV shows, games, comics etc….
5) Modding and remixing: Finally, artists often make fan art for the same reason that programmers often like to modify their favourite computer games. Not only is it a way to learn more about your favourite things and to get practice, but it also allows you to ask “what if?”
It lets you answer your own questions about all of your favourite things for example “What would happen if the characters from two of my favourite TV shows met each other?” etc… Chances are, if you’re asking yourself questions like this, then other people might also be interested in the answers too.
In other words, artists make fan art for the same reason that writers write fan fiction and programmers modify computer games.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂