Words: Tahira Resalat
Tahira is the owner behind Teecaake Art. She owns the rights to all images within this article.
Art speaks to people in ways that words cannot. During my recent visit to the Queen’s House at the Royal Museums Greenwich, I came across a group of very elaborate images of Queen Elizabeth I know as the Armada portraits. Now, you might be wondering what she has to do with fan art. Well, these portraits, known as the Armada portraits, tell an incredibly interesting story. Royal portraits historically began life as miniature images which, once approved by the royals, were turned into masterpieces by artists from across the country.
Walking past the three remaining portraits, it occurred to me that they were in fact a form of historical fan art! Artists had produced these paintings based on a reference image, and each added their own little twists. Some painted the incoming ships more dramatically than others, while others painted a red globe instead of blue.
Although this in no way undermines the great artists of the past, why is society nowadays insistent upon trivialising the work of fan artists in comparison? Why do we continue to celebrate the work of artists long gone, but overlook contemporary creators who are capturing the present world around us?
The popularisation of fan art is closely linked to fandom culture. Everyone from pop stars to influencers, actors to authors have fandoms, with fan art becoming an incredibly powerful tool to allow fans to show their support for the people they love in passionate and creative ways. Many fans have also ventured off into successful small businesses with their work, and in turn, contributed to an entire sub-culture of the fandom world.
It is no secret that pop culture and the influence of celebrities has never been greater in our history than it currently is, and the rise of digital art and social media has expanded the scope of creative opportunity. Artists have explored the realms of mixed media in unimaginable ways and it’s time to make room for them.
The V&A museum recently created headlines when it added a cardigan designed by JW Anderson to its collection, famously worn by Harry Styles. If it wasn’t for the Harry Styles fandom creating waves in the pop culture world, leading to a viral DIY knitting challenge, the cardigan would have never drawn as much attention as it has. However, this highly respected and progressive institution is yet to explore the fan-art world.
The rise of social media and its unprecedented effect on the distribution of art is one of the primary reasons fan-art is so popular. However, whilst Instagram, Tiktok and Etsy creators might be perceived as inferior to ‘professional artists’, they demonstrate a whole myriad of skills which others lack. These creatives display artistry not just in their work, but in their physical and digital presence. Everything from the curation of their social media ‘feeds’ to the synchronicity of their branding and marketing, is a mark of their artistry.
Fan-artists are revolutionary, being major contributors to the history of art in our time, with their art going beyond traditional constraints. The rise in popularity of clay and ceramic art, home décor design and many more underrepresented areas of creativity has allowed artists to branch out from traditional tools.
We need fan-art in our museums to encourage more artists and creators to embark upon and continue their creative journeys. Clearer efforts need to be made to actively document how regular people create artistic masterpieces from the comfort of their homes, evoking incredible emotions amongst their admirers.
After all, is that not what art is all about?
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