Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. This often comes in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Many people think that fan art, or art based off of a previously existing thought, isn’t considered real art, because it isn’t original. And others believe that fan art does indeed involve creativity and originality because of fan theories and interpretation.
The critics of fan art claim that it’s not courageous enough to be considered real art. Fan art is based on an idea that is not their own, and simply builds off of something. So, the images and drawings are not of the artist’s own mind and therefore do not represent their own thoughts and personality. And isn’t that what art is all about? Expressing yourself in a visual way, and appealing to the viewer’s emotions? Real art, or original art, comes from the artist’s person, and their soul is laid out for everyone to see. Artists are stripped bare, completely open and vulnerable to attacks and criticisms of their entire person. That takes immense courage and bravery, to let the most inner part of yourself free. Artists who struggle with self-worth (read: me), find it hard to create original work because it’s so much more personal. And fan art often garners more attention because it’s more widely recognized. For artists who draw fan art for Harry Potter, one of the most popular book/movie series ever, it is extremely easy to recognize Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but not as easy to recognize or appreciate original characters.
Another criticism of fan art is the fact that it doesn’t make you connect emotionally with the art. Because it doesn’t reflect the artist’s personality, there is no way for the viewer to identify, or disagree with what the artist has put on the page. The emotional connection only happens in the best of fan art; when the artist takes an idea, but builds off of it to make it their own, only loosely based on the original thought.
The defense for fan art originates from the idea that every Renaissance artist drew “fan art,” for the Bible. While that may sound blasphemous to some, many figures of Renaissance portraits were taken from the Bible, from characters and scenes that resonated with the artist. That is extremely personal; an interpretation of a book that shapes entire cultures. And it is extremely brave to take inspiration from the Bible, a book that people base their lives on.
And the idea that only good fan art represents an artist’s soul is a flimsy claim. Just because an artist is an amateur, or their art isn’t the best, doesn’t mean that their art is irrelevant and not a reflection of themselves. Bad original art exists and it’s criticized for its lack of depth, lack of color, lack of imagination, but not a lack of personality.
I myself rarely draw original art, choosing instead to draw illustrations for song lyrics I like, book characters who I personally connected with, and movie scenes that inspire me. That to me is far more personal than creating an image that only means something to me. When I draw song lyrics, they are specific ones that I like, ones that I listen to and think wow I feel exactly the same way. People look at my art and think, wow I never thought about those lyrics like that, or omg I feel like that too! Song lyrics are extremely personal, and I make them mean something not only to me, but to other people who have listened to the same song lyrics and understood the message too.
I draw portraits of book characters I personally connect with. The shy, bookish one, the nerdy best friend, the misunderstood angsty teenager. Those characters are a reflection of who I am, and I draw them because they are imitations of my own soul. Presenting that to my parents, to my friends, to random people on the internet takes huge amounts of courage that I don’t have. I do not want to show people my deepest inner-self, and people who do that every day earn my overwhelming respect and admiration.
Fan art is courageous, and depicting a character or a quote that has made you who you are today is terribly brave, just as creating an image of something from your own brain is.