3 The World of Fan-Art: Fan Art as a Contemporary Art Form

Magnus Schodroski

 

Contemporary art throughout history has been shown as what is current and modern within the world of art. Various artistic movements at one time or another were defined as a contemporary art movement during the time in which they were popular. And in the past, these movements were restricted to a strict code of formal artistic conduct that in our modern society, many artists still attempt to adhere to it. But what then about contemporary art that exists outside of the confines of these formal limitations? It’s still contemporary art but we’re not given the opportunity to recognize it in that way because the world shuns this source, especially due to the subculture that it hails from.

Fandom. This is a word that can be defined in many different contexts and differently across a broad range of individuals who would call themselves “fans.” But first one must define just what exactly a fan is, what their role is. A fan, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is as follows: “an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator” and “an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit).”[1] Therefore, in retrospect, fandom is the group embodiment of this enthusiastic devotion to and following of a particular piece of media, be it a book, television series, movie, etc. or towards a specific person, such as an actor, musician, artist, or other form of celebrity.

Fandom is an embodiment of a wide range of things of fan-made creation; essentially it becomes a subculture of the main piece of media to which fans contribute to in a wide range of formats but can be narrowed down into three main categories: fan-art, fan-fiction, and cosplay. All three of these can be considered a form of creative and artistic expression in their own right, however the concentration of this particular chapter is on the concept of fan-art and its role in the contemporary art world. As formerly stated, contemporary art is a format of art that is current. So, one would assume that the active creation of fan art falls within the category, however, because fan art is a creation of a subculture of non-professional individuals, it doesn’t garner the level of respect that a fine artist showing their work in galleries and museums.

Like any artistic culture, the concept of fan art comes from an inspired source, just like artists within a certain artistic movement. For example, during the Feminism movement, female artists created works that drew not only attention to them, but to their experience as both a woman and an artist within a heavily male dominated field. And as a result, artists from these periods were oft told the things they created weren’t true art during the time in which they were creating it because at the time it didn’t adhere to what people understood art to be.

In our modern times, people think of art and they think of paintings and sculptures that are put on displays in museums, of famous artists that are long dead but well known due to the influence they had within an artistic movement. What happens as a result is artists who are not formally trained in traditional media art forms and are creating works that are inspired but are what many would describe as non-traditional, get overlooked in favor of these classic works of art that are presented on a formal platform. Why? Because the classics are familiar. They’re what the population is taught about throughout their schooling. However, for younger generations of artists, they do not seek their inspirations from the museums and galleries, from the artists of old. They seek their inspirations from their peers and from the media content provided to them through various formats, thus creating fan-artists.

 

Artist Entry: Takashi Murakami

Within the contemporary art world, it is perhaps surprising to believe that an artist would be utilizing the concept of fan art to inform the works that they create that ends up in galleries across the world. However, for Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, pulling inspirations from outside sources to inform the surreal and unique works he makes, which is a prime example of just what fan art is.

Born in 1962 in Tokyo, Japan and continuing to create all of his work in Japan, Murakami is known by the distinct stylization of his work, which he and others refer to as Superflat. The summarization of just what exactly Superflat is easily characterized by Dr. Sarah Parrish in her formal dissertation about Murakami’s work, Looking Both Ways: Takashi Murakami’s Eyes:

“More than just a formal theory, Superflat also represents the merging – or flattening – of these layers of Japanese culture together with Western influences, resulting in a single, unified style.” (Parrish, p.4)[2]

But what exactly are the layers that make up Murakami’s work outside of Western influences? Murakami has openly accredited a great deal of influence within his work to “anime[3]” and “otaku[4]” nerd culture, pulling distinct influences from these two circles of Japanese art and culture. These influences are incredibly evident in such works as My Lonesome Cowboy, Hiropon, and especially Miss KO2, a figure designed after a desirable, distinct trope within anime and otaku culture of a girl in a flirty maid costume.

Another example of how Murakami’s works are a call to fan art would be in the creation of one of his iconic characters that appears throughout his work, Mr. D.O.B. When working to create Mr. D.O.B., Murakami states the following in the artbook summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?[5]:

“I set out to investigate the secret of market survivability, that is to say, the universality of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, Miffy, Hello Kitty, and their knock-offs produced in Hong Kong. The DOB began with that purpose, but over time has evolved to become my own personal art.” (Murakami)

Mr. D.O.B by Takashi Murakami

This concept of looking at a specific source, in this case iconic characters within media, and seeking to create something within the same wheelhouse is an essential foundation when creating works of fan art. Fan artists take the original source work (movie, tv show, cartoon, etc.) and then create their own body of work based upon this source material. A number of fan artists who get their start as such end up producing bodies of work that transition gradually into original works as they develop their own stories and characters.

To quote Murakami again from summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?[6]:

“Devoting your life to art is a difficult choice to make, but in the discovery and creation of beauty there are rewards that far surpass the hardships. … Take your time, and enjoy.” (Murakami)

This quote speaks accurately not only to artists who are working solely in what would be considered the traditional fields of art, but to those who work in artistic fields such as fan art that are not recognized by the art world as contemporary art. That even though devoting your art to art is a difficult passion, so long as you do what you love and create what you want, it is wholly worth the while.

 

Artist Entry: DeviantArt

After creating a body of work, an artist seeks to present this work upon a platform, typically a museum or gallery space. That space then, for a period of time, becomes the “artist” as the artist is using that space as a “vehicle” for their art work in order to present their work to the public. So, for fan artists, who are a collective body of artistic individuals rejected by mainstream artistic media, where do they post their work? A majority of these individuals find themselves posting their work online and on websites, such as DeviantArt.com[7].

The site was launched on August 2nd, 2000 and is known as one of the internet’s largest online social communities for posting a wide range of works of art from digital media to photography, and more. While DeviantArt.com isn’t an “artist” necessarily, it exists as a platform, or a “vehicle,” for a considerable range of artists who are looking for a “vehicle” for their work, something that would ordinarily be a museum or exhibit space, but as fan artists that’s not a stage they can present their work on because it’s not considered formal work despite their works having formal qualities.

When viewing the site as a whole, it is notably obvious that not all of the art on this site is technically accurate or formally executed. The site caters itself as a platform for individuals to take their first standings as an artist and present their work to a community to receive feedback and thus move forward in their work, to grow and improve, all while creating works of fan art. However, there are many artists on this site that create works of art at an advanced level and while these works are classified as fan art, they can be argued to be formal works of contemporary art.

For example, DeviantArt user TamberElla’s works titled Miles the hero and Gwen, Reconnected are two visually stunning works of fan art that attempt to mimic the radiance and imagery depicted in traditional stained-glass windows through digital painting and media. These works depict two of the characters from the Academy Award winning animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey, juxtaposed in a way that they appear like holy figures as their roles are central to the film. From an artistic standpoint, the artist of these works took into account the lighting upon the figures of Miles and Gwen as they appear to be rising up before the stained-glass windows behind them, shadows falling heavily on the fronts of these figures as color and light bleed along the edges of their forms. Additionally, on both pieces there is the presence of a halo; especially on the piece with Miles, this halo reflects back to Byzantine art styles that focused around holy figures with radiant halos.

Another fan artist example on this website that is doing fan art with formal art qualities is andycwhite. Her digital painting, Dr. Strange, is visually stunning to a point where if the viewer was unaware that it was a digital painting, it would easily be mistaken for a hyper-realistic oil painting due to the attention to details in the face of the character of Doctor Strange, the colors, and the direction that the light source is coming from. These are all formal qualities that any contemporary artist pays attention to when creating a work of realistic art, especially of a character that’s portrayed by an actual human being.

So why shouldn’t these pieces and others like them be in galleries and similar spaces if they present formal qualities that contemporary artworks do? Simple: museums and galleries are a limited space that are confined to a single area (a town, city, etc.) and are therefore inaccessible to everyone. The benefit of an online “gallery” space, such as DeviantArt, is that it has the ability to reach an audience on a global scale. Artists like andycwhite, who happens to be from Croatia according to her DeviantArt profile, can reach audiences in the US and other countries because of the global online presence DeviantArt carries.

As a result of this global presence, fan artists don’t necessarily have a need for presence within galleries and museum spaces because they are empowered through a broader audience online and their fan art has a better reception through an online community of like-minded artists and individuals. Therefore, in its own right as a “vehicle” for these works, DeviantArt is a platform for fan artists to grow their audience and further establish themselves as contemporary artists as they grow and improve over time, creating original works alongside fan art.


  1. "Fan." Merriam-Webster. Accessed March 18, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fan#note-1.
  2. Parrish, Sarah D. "Looking Both Ways: Takashi Murakami's Eyes." Master's thesis.
  3. 1. Anime: a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes
  4. 2. Otaku: A term that varies in cultural definition, as some believe it to bear negative connotations and others use it to define being “quirky” or “a fan of a particular portion of Japanese media.”
  5. Murakami, Takashi "summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?" January 2015, art book
  6. Murakami, Takashi "summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?" January 2015, art book
  7. "Discover The Largest Online Art Gallery and Community." DeviantArt. Accessed May 8, 2019. http://www.deviantart.com/.

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Opening Contemporary Art Copyright © by Magnus Schodroski. All Rights Reserved.

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