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This whole fanart debate has been an interesting one to creep on, since it exploded all over Tumblr. I have a few disconnected thoughts about it.
1) A tumblr consisting only of fanart does not signify that it’s all an artist does. They could be a professional under an NDA and use fanart to relax after work. (A thought about this situation next). They could be in the act of developing original stories and characters, which are not yet ready for the public eye. They may post their “real” art on their actual portfolio or website and leave Tumblr for the fanart. I guess this thought amounts to: let’s please not judge. There’s enough of that on the internet as it is D:
2) Okay, back to the thing I hinted at before. I had a teacher tell me once about this situation he ended up in while being a professional storyboard artist. Basically, he was sinking his entire artistic soul into his professional work, which actually ended up being really unhealthy for him in the long run. He would get really attached to things, and when it went the way of the entertainment industry and got changed or thrown out, it was a sock in the gut. The way he ended up fixing this problem was developing a comic on his own time. A comic book that was eventually published. And it was something that he finally had full creative control over. So I think it’s probably healthy to have something else to do with yourself besides your contract work, if that’s what you do. Fanart could fill that void for some. Original work could serve the dual purpose of filling the void AND giving you future portfolio material. Worth thinking about.
3) I do consider fanart to be “lesser” in many ways, but it is not creatively bankrupt as a rule. The way I do fanworks and characters, it’s a creative exercise to fit them in the original world in a way that flows with the spirit of the original. Or maybe look at things from a different angle, or add something interesting and new. Coelasquid mentioned asking yourself “Am I making something worth looking at?” and that’s totally right for all things, fanart or not.
4) Finally, I wanted to mention what I think is the greatest asset of fanart, and that is community. The positive side of fandom, where people participate in shared appreciation of an original work by paying tribute to it. When I post fanart and people like it, it gives me a little warm glow because somewhere, I could make someone smile over my idea about this shared interest. Add it to the community experience, I guess.
5) I do need to post more original stuff though, I grant. Of course, this requires it to finally escape text (and nebulous idea) form, which I should probably get working on. The odd BWD stuff I toss up might have to suffice until I get more of my solo work to a viewable state.
Anyway, there’s my thoughts, if you cared to have them. :d