Before I get to the opinionated parts of this article, I should explain why I put the word “original” in scare quotes. There’s no such thing as a “100% original” work of art. Every artist is influenced and inspired by other things (even if it’s just painting from life). It’s an essential part of making art and being an artist.
But, for the purposes of this article, I’ll be talking about what most people consider to be original. Namely works of art that aren’t obviously copies of other things (and which take inspiration the old-fashioned way). In other words, anything that isn’t fan art.
For example, this painting that I made before writing this article is clearly inspired by things like the 1970s-90s, the colour scheme of this set of “Doom II” levels, cyberpunk movies like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell (1995)” etc.. Yet, it isn’t directly based on anything in the way that a fan art painting would be:
And, no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fan art. I make it on rare occasions, because it’s fun to make occasionally (emphasis on “occasionally”!). But, in this article, I’ll be talking about artists who seem to make nothing but fan art.
A while before I started writing this post, I was procrastinating and watching art videos on Youtube whilst thinking of an idea for the painting shown earlier in this article. Although the art videos that I watched were really interesting, one thing stood out to me. There was barely any original art in the videos on one channel whatsoever! Seriously, it was pretty much all fan art!
Yes, on a practical level, I can understand why some artists do this. More people like to see art based on their favourite TV shows/films/videogames. It’s a lot easier to paint or draw realistically if you have lots of ready-made references (that you don’t have to turn into something too new and original). And, yes, it allows you to start painting right away without having to go through the difficult process of thinking about what to paint or using your imagination.
But, for a while, I felt like a total and utter fool! Here I was, having “uninspired” days (where I crank out crappy original paintings, because regular practice is important –even when you aren’t “inspired”!) and putting time and effort into working out how to come up with good original ideas.
For a while, I thought that I was some kind of hilariously stupid traditionalist who limits themselves because of old-fashioned ideas about “originality”. After all, some of the popular artists on Youtube are making fan art all of the time. They obviously don’t have to bother with difficult things like “creativity” and “inspiration”.
But then, I realised that the joke is on them.
Making nothing but fan art is the artistic equivalent of a band only playing cover songs or hiring an outside songwriter for all of their songs. Yes, they might have recognisable hits and lots of fame. They might even develop their own musical style. They’ll probably end up in the charts. They’ll probably put out albums more regularly. But, compare them to a band like Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden is a long-running heavy metal band who are virtually never played on the radio or shown on TV. They’re barely ever in the charts. They take inspiration the old fashioned way. They write their own lyrics. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into coming up with their own unique sound, which has evolved over time.
Yes, they’ve covered other bands, but it happens extremely rarely (and the covers usually end up being obscure B-sides ). And…. they’re about a billion times better than bands who end up in the charts regularly. They have literal hordes of fans in pretty much every country on the planet and you’d be hard-pressed to find another metal band who hasn’t been inspired by Iron Maiden in some way. Iron Maiden’s music will echo loudly through the ages, whilst many pop bands will be lost in the mists of time.
Yes, making nothing but fan art might make art “easier”, but the only person you’re cheating is yourself. You’re missing out on the chance to learn how to come up with art that is distinctively “yours”. You’re missing out on the chance to develop things like themes and motifs in your art.
You’re missing out on the feeling of accomplishment that comes from putting something from your own imagination onto a piece of paper or canvas. You’re missing out on learning how to persevere through uninspired times. You’re missing out on developing and refining your art by taking inspiration from a wide range of sources.
You’re at the mercy of current culture and whatever happens to be “popular” at the moment. You’re also at the mercy of the imaginative people who make the things your fan art is based on.
Yes, thinking of original ideas can be difficult and time-consuming sometimes. But, at least you aren’t limiting your artistic development.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂