Well, although I don’t really make that much fan art myself and often prefer to just be inspired by something (rather than re-create it), I thought that I’d talk about why fan art is such an important genre of art.
One of the things that always surprises me when I look at artists’ galleries on the internet is how much fan art both well-known and lesser-known artists make. For quite a while, I used to secretly think that this was because these artists “lacked imagination” or something foolish like that.
But, although fan art isn’t exactly “original art”, it contains more originality and imagination than you might think. The first reason for this is that although all of the characters and settings used in fan art have been made by someone else, there are still a lot of creative decisions that go into how to represent these things in a new and interesting way.
A piece of fan art is kind of like a cover version of a famous song. A good cover version will not only be as good as the original song, but it’ll also make enough changes in order to set itself apart from the original. Yes, it isn’t a “new” song, but it’s a creatively different version of a pre-existing song. For example, Jimi Hendrix didn’t write “All Along The Watchtower”, but his famous cover version of the song is almost a totally different song to Bob Dylan’s original.
Fan art is pretty much the same thing. An artist can represent familiar characters using a totally different art style, they can give mundane scenes from a film an interesting colour scheme, they can make fun of things, they can render unrealistic things in a realistic way (or vice versa) etc…
In addition to this, fan art is also a way for artists to participate in our surrounding culture. This is something that is integral to making art and it’s something that has been a part of human creativity ever since the first cave people picked up sticks and started scrawling pictures of their hunting expeditions on the walls of their caves. This is something that also goes back to the time of Shakespeare – given that many of his plays were either new versions of pre-existing stories and/or based on historical events.
By making art based on contemporary popular culture, artists are able to make a statement about the surrounding culture. They’re able to show their approval or disapproval for the popular stories we all watch, read, play or listen to. They’re able to give their own perspective on our surrounding culture (eg: by making art that shows what a popular film would be like if a few things were different, by parodying things that are taken too seriously etc…). Fan art is a way for artists to interact directly with our culture.
This instinct is as old as humanity itself. One of the reasons why fan art is often seen as a “lesser” form of art is probably to do with the relatively recent invention of copyright rules.
Back in the really old days, no-one really “owned” stories, plays, songs etc… Everyone was free to interpret and re-interpret them in their own unique way. But, with the invention of the printing press and other such things, individual people can technically have monopolies on important parts of our culture… Even after they’ve died!
Of course, fan art is something of an interesting grey area (in practice, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright.
Provided that your fan art isn’t obscene or offered for commercial sale, then you probably don’t have to worry about getting an ominous knock on the door. Most major media companies tolerate respectful fan art for the simple reasons that fan art can serve as free advertising and because attacking their most dedicated fans is bad for business. Likewise, mocking or disrespectful fan art is sometimes protected by copyright exemptions in some parts of the world (eg: the EU and the US) that protect people’s right to make parodies.
But, because of the principles of modern copyright law, fan art is often seen as a lesser form of art. Even though it is just a modern extension of a creative tradition that is older than the written word.
In addition to this, fan art is an interesting form of art because it forces artists to focus on the process of making art. When you’re making an “original” painting or drawing, you have to think of a “new” idea (that is probably inspired by, but different to, something else). This can sometimes take a lot of additional thought, which can sometimes mean that the actual painting or drawing can be something of an afterthought.
By basing your art on something that has already been created, you are free to focus all of your attention on the actual art itself. Not only can this be extremely relaxing, but it can also lead to higher-quality art too. It’s kind of like making a still life painting – yes, you still have to use artistic licence (and make creative decisions) but the quality is often a lot higher since you have something pre-made that you can base your artwork on.
Of course, there are lots of other reasons why fan art matters, but these were just a few of them.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂