Art + Fandom ≠ Fan Art: Definitions

Art + Fandom ≠ Fan Art: Definitions

Before I get properly rolling with this blog, I thought it might be worth taking a moment to stake out the territory I plan to cover.

This website, and these blogs, are all about fandom, and so it might be expected that the art I am posting here will be what goes, these days, under the label “Fan Art”. I am not a big fan of that word. Or at least, I am not a fan of indiscriminately applying it to any art that references a fandom – be it in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Supernatural bracket or not.

There are a variety of things which fall under the scope of this blog. One thing they all have in common: they generally include references to other people’s creative work. Be they individual writers, visual artists, film makers, animators, comic artists, engineers, scientists, academic researchers – or the anonymous traditions of folklore or urban myth.

There is Fantasy Art, which is art that represents fantasy characters or settings which have sprung from the authors mind, without making reference to any particular fantasy universe or novel or short story or comic or film or video game or what-have-you. They are generally  based on agreed conventions of what a dragon or a fairy, a mermaid or a troll, an enchanted forest or a wizard’s dungeon or a unicorn ought to look like: traditional folklore and inherited iconography, or modern conventions that have evolved in the genre, and which may be driven by a particular artist’s work: who first gave a dragon bat wings? If they weren’t based on these conventions – by repeating, or by deliberately contradicting them – they would not belong in the Fantasy genre.

There is Science Fiction Art, which – apart and sometimes on top of the above – may incorporate visualizations of scientific findings, or engineering features, or be inspired by photographs in a scientific context: astro photography, or microscopic images for instance, which are outside the scope of what the average Science Fiction artist would be able to see with their own eyes, or by their own means.

Much of the art in these genres is inspired by a particular fandom – be it a work of literature, like Lord of the Rings, or a work in an audiovisual medium, like Star Trek or Doctor Who. There is also the whole realm of Manga and Comics, which, as far as this blog is concerned, I am going to largely leave to another blogger – there is, after all, a whole separate category for it on this site!

This is where it can get a little messy when it comes to copyrights and things. And this is where, as far as I am concerned, the Fan Art tag can serve to make a useful distinction: namely, between images which are derivative, and which are likely to infringe a copyright and/or trademark (but are generally tolerated in a non-commercial context), and images which are original visual interpretations, and where there is no such infringement involved.

For all further purposes, I will call images which are clearly based on a design or still from a comic/manga, animation, movie, TV show or game – and which are therefore derivative, and may infringe a copyright, trademark, or other right of authorship (unless they are authorized commercial art): Fan Art – and images which don’t, by that old time honoured name: Illustration.

AstridNielsch_Galadriel_03

Fan Art: Galadriel by Fiwen on DeviantArt. A fairly faithful rendering of a screen shot from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

AstridNielsch_Galadriel_16

Illustration: Galadriels’ Farewell Song by Astrid Nielsch – frodo-lives on DeviantArt. Interpretation based on the description of the book, with no similarity to the movie incarnation of Lady Galadriel (in fact, it’s my own face and hands).

AstridNielsch_Galadriel_17

Still an illustration, though the inclusion of the line of text “Galadriel’s Farewell Song” on the image violates copyright, and trademark registration.

I have had people call some of my pieces Fan Art, simply because they depict a scene from a well known book – such as Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” series, which has served me as inspiration for a major series of paintings. The paintings are entirely based on my own visualization and interpretation of the author’s writings. They do not depict characters or locations in any way that could be seen as derived from the animation movie, or the (abysmal) TV miniseries which were both based on those books. Neither do they reference another artist’s interpretation (of which there are, sadly, conspicuously few, for this particular fantasy universe.)

I am undoubtedly a fan of the Earthsea books, but that does not make my paintings Fan Art, according to the above definition. Because one cannot copyright an idea: copyrights only apply to things “in material form”, as the legalese goes. When I translate a scene from a book into a visual medium, I depict my own interpretation of the author’s idea. No rights infringed. When I include a passage of text, or a distinctive word such as a character’s name, in my painting – then, and only then, am I infringing the author’s copyright – and possibly running foul of trademark regulations, too.

It gets more tricky when it comes to works in a visual or audiovisual medium. The design and shape of a comic/manga or animation character has material form, and is moreover often trademark protected: when I incorporate someone else’s character in a drawing or painting, it is likely that I will be running foul of both copyright and trademark regulations. It is, of course, always possible to ask permission, or ask (and pay) for a license to use the design. Similarly, if I create a painting or drawing which is recognizably based on a screen shot from a movie, or which shows a particular actor’s face, or copies costumes, props or set designs, I will have to ask for permission before I can commercialize the image – and that permission may well be denied.

There are some rather fuzzy and ill-defined grey areas, of course: Creating a painted or sketched portrait of an actor from a screenshot is a creative effort, and a translation into a different artistic medium. The problem in that case may not be copyrights, but the personality rights of the actor, and of course, those pesky trademark regulations. Also, once  a text has been translated into film, it can become hard for an artist to visualize specific characters or locations completely independent from the film version: Who does not see Ian McKellen’s face, and that iconic pointy hat, when they think of Gandalf the Grey, these days? When does an image simply become part of a new iconographic tradition?

There is a bit of leeway involved in the legislation, anyway: an image which is loosely based on a film interpretation of a book, but includes a “considerable creative effort” on the part of the artist, is not infringing copyrights. Sketching a Gandalf who looks a bit like Ian McKellen, is not the same as literally copying a screen shot. These things will generally have to be assessed on a case-to-case basis. There are no easy answers, and if there is a legal dispute, it will often come down to who can afford the best lawyer: which is why generally, the movie studios win. It still pays, as an artist, to make oneself wise on the do’s and don’t’s: to avoid things which might get one into trouble, just as much as to be able to confidently defend things, when they do not in fact fall foul of any legislation, even though they are associated with some well known franchise.

Lastly, there is commercial Science Fiction and Fantasy art: commissioned illustrations, concept art for movies and games, character designs, environments, storyboards, posters, merchandize … the list goes on. If an artist is commissioned to depict a character or scene based on someone else’s design, there is of course no infringement of the copyright and/or trademark holder’s rights: but often, there are restrictions with regard to when and where the artist may show and display their own work. Concept art for movies, for instance, may usually not be publicly shown until the movie has been released – if at all.

In the next instalment, I will be looking at some more representations of Tolkien’s Lady Galadriel, in order to illustrate the difference I perceive between what is Fan Art, and what is Illustration – and the fuzziness of the grey areas in-between! Stay tuned, and see you next week.

All images are copyright the respective artist, and may not be reproduced elsewhere without permission.

Disclaimer: while I have a working knowledge of copyright and trademark legislation, I am not a lawyer, and this article should not be taken as legal advice. If you need individual advice on any of these matters, please seek out a legal professional.


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66 Comments

  1. March 2, 2013, 6:30 pm   / 

    [...] does fan mean, as blogger Astrid Nielsch insultingly defined it, a perpetrator of works based on “a comic/manga, animation, movie, TV show or game — and [...]

  2. February 1, 2013, 10:21 am   / 

    [...] Top Ten Posts for the week of Jan 25-31 were:Art + Fandom ≠ Fan Art: Definitions – Astrid Nielsch Dissecting Our Present: How SF Can Highlight Our Historical Bias -Matt [...]

  3. Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
    January 29, 2013, 3:56 pm   / 

    The term “fan art” — as part of the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist — is defined in the WSFS Constitution (http://www.lonestarcon3.org/wsfs/constitution.pdf — the version at wsfs.org is out of date, and the correct version is linked from the sidebar of the Hugo Awards web site: http://www.TheHugoAwards.org/), thus:

    3.3.16: Best Fan Artist. An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public display during the previous calendar year.

    Fanzines and semi-prozines are further defined in other parts of the WSFS Constitution. Those publication types are in turn defined by the word “professional,” which is pinned down at Section 3.2.11:

    3.2.11: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:
    (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
    (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

    Essentially, fan art is defined not by its content but by its medium of distribution. If it’s published professionally, it’s not fan art. If it’s published non-professionally (and non-professionally does not in this context mean “slapdash, poorly done” but simply “not in a professional publication or venue”), including semi-professional publication, then it’s fan art.

    Fan writing is defined similarly, by the way.

    Something that appears to be lost upon many people is that “fan” and “pro” are not polar opposites, or in computer terms, “radio buttons.” They’re check-boxes. You can be neither, one or the other, or both. Indeed, Jack Gaughan famously won both the Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist Hugo Awards in 1967 (http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/1967-hugo-awards/), after which WSFS changed its rules to prohibit a person from being eligible in both categories simultaneously. However, WSFS repealed the Gaughan Amendment a few years ago, so if someone publishes both professionally and non-professionally, s/he would be eligible in both categories simultaneously.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 29, 2013, 5:02 pm   / 

      If you’ll excuse me for saying so, from an art criticism/art history point of view, that is an *inane* definition. If you ask me, it was time it got changed to something that makes sense. I am certainly not going to use it that way in my blog – I’d have to rewrite it every time someone sells or publishes a previously unpublished piece.

      • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
        January 29, 2013, 5:20 pm   / 

        Astrid: It sounds suspiciously to me like you’re saying, “You should throw away fifty years of history and precedent and rewrite your rules so they meet MY definition!”

        I’m reminded of anime costumers who do “cosplay” (which I love, by the way) and think that they invented it as an import from Japan, with absolutely no understanding of where it came from, and who get testy when people try to explain that, “Yes, people were doing this before you came along.”

        This specific definition of “professional” as a general rule is brand new; however, it was adapted from versions of the rules we used to distinguish semi-professional magazines from fanzines. For several years, there was no explicit definition: “Professional” mean “Whatever I point out when I say ‘professional.'” Before that, there was a specific rule that applied only explicitly to one category that defined “professional” as “having a net press run of at least 10,000 copies,” a definition that became increasingly outdated and was abandoned when the Professional Editor category was split into two categories and the word “Professional” removed from the category title.

        Since the beginning of recorded fan history, “Fan Art” has never meant “artwork derivative from other artwork or inspired solely by existing artwork or genre fiction.” It effectively has meant “artwork drawn by fans, not intended for professional publication.” That’s how come someone could be both a fan artist and professional artist simultaneously. You can be a fan writer and a professional writer simultaneously as well, incidentally: there are examples of such people I can cite if you want me to do so.

        • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
          January 29, 2013, 5:39 pm   / 

          “For several years, there was no explicit definition: “Professional” mean “Whatever I point out when I say ‘professional.’”

          Well, don’t you think it was time then that someone came up with a proper definition.

          “That’s how come someone could be both a fan artist and professional artist simultaneously.”

          And for what reason could one not create both derivative and original artworks? There are many fine artists out there who specialize in creating images of movie characters from screen shots.

          • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
            January 29, 2013, 5:50 pm   / 

            Well, don’t you think it was time then that someone came up with a proper definition.

            We did. It’s just not one that suits you, obviously.

            Bear in mind that WSFS rules aren’t imposed by some faceless, nameless “them” or distant Board of Directors of The World Science Fiction Society, Incorporated. The rules are written by the members of Worldcon who choose to participate in the process. Any attending member of Worldcon can come and make proposals and debate and vote upon them, and any proposal that can get a majority in favor of it in two consecutive years becomes part of the WSFS Bylaws. WSFS isn’t even an incorporated permanent entity — its membership consists of whoever joins the current Worldcon. This means that any changes, such as adopting a technical definition of “professional,” must be something that a majority of the participating attendees will agree to adopt. No matter how brilliant your suggestion is, you still have to convince the members to adopt it.

            Heck, I’m the closest thing WSFS has to a leader — I’m chairman of its only permanent body, the Mark Protection Committee that holds the service marks on “Worldcon,” “Hugo Award,” etc. — and I can’t order changes to the rules. I have to propose and debate them like any other member. (And I’ve done so, multiple times.)

          • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
            January 29, 2013, 6:05 pm   / 

            Actually, all I intended to do is lay out the terminology I intend to use in this my blog.
            Then some people jumped in and told me I was not allowed to do so.

            Well, it certainly has instigated a discussion though, hasn’t it. And there I thought this was a humdrum, somewhat boring topic.

          • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
            January 29, 2013, 6:24 pm   / 

            Yep. There are others out there. Try using “ticket” as the term for “what I buy when I pay a convention money to allow me to attend it” instead of “membership” and you’ll set off a similar storm.

        • Profile photo of Robert Lichtman
          January 29, 2013, 8:05 pm   / 

          So, Astrid, although Kevin didn’t explicitly say so, you’re certainly invited to join Worldcons, propose a change to the definition of Fan Art that meets your needs, and then come to the next three, four, however-many-it-takes WSFS business meetings at the Worldcon to promote your agenda. Oh, and while you’re attending you may wish to bring along some of your artwork and try to sell it there…..

          • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
            January 29, 2013, 8:48 pm   / 

            That would be lovely. Are you going to have one Downunder? Unfortunately I am not at a stage in my career where airline tickets are a feasibility, but thanks for the invite!

          • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
            January 29, 2013, 8:54 pm   / 

            The 1975, 1985, 1999 and 2010 Worldcons were in Melbourne. Like the Olympics, the Worldcon moves around so it can be shared with different parts of the world. There are no current Worldcon bids for any sites in Australia, although there is a group bidding to hold the 2020 Worldcon in New Zealand. (Worldcon sites are selected two years in advance by the members of the current Worldcon; for example, the members of this year’s Worldcon in San Antonio will vote on where to hold the 2015 Worldcon.)

            FYI, each Worldcon is organized independently of each other by different groups of fans, none of whom are paid to do so. It is among the larger completely volunteer-run non-ongoing events in the World, since each convention is effectively a large one-shot, one-time event organized from the ground up, held once, then dissolved. Many other SF genre conventions are all-volunteer, and some are bigger than Worldcon, but most or all of them are ongoing events held in the same place and run by the same group annually.

          • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
            January 29, 2013, 8:49 pm   / 

            Oh and err, where do I buy tickets for the con? ;)

          • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
            January 29, 2013, 9:05 pm   / 

            Despite how it may seem from my tone, I’m not so humourless as to not notice when I’m being tweaked. But I honestly don’t know how much you know about Worldcon, so I’m starting from a pretty low level.

            There is a less-expensive class of Worldcon membership called a “supporting membership” that gives you all of the rights of membership except actually attending the convention. You might think of it as your annual dues to the World Science Fiction Society, while the difference between the Supporting and Attending price is what some conferences call the “convention supplement.” A Supporting Membership includes all of the convention’s generally-distributed publications including the Souvenir Program Book, and also the right to nominate and vote on that current year’s Hugo Awards. (It also includes the right to nominate on the following year’s Hugo Awards, and if purchased before January 31 of the previous year, the right to nominate on the previous year’s Hugo Awards.) For example, if you join LoneStarCon 3 as a supporting member (currently USD 60) by January 31, 2013 (Central Standard Time, North America), you will be able to nominate for the 2013 and 2014 Hugo Awards. If you join after that date, you’ll still be able to vote on the final ballot for the 2013 Awards and nominate for the 2014 Awards. In addition, most recent Worldcons have been able to arrange to provide a package of free electronic copies of many of the Hugo-Award-nominated works to their members so that they can make a more informed decision on the final ballot. (The Hugo Voter Packet is not guaranteed, and nominees are not required to make their works available.) Finally, membership gives you the right to vote on the site of the two-year-hence Worldcon, and while there is an additional fee to vote, that fee makes you a supporting member of that Worldcon automatically. Regular participants like me simply vote every year, meaning we’re always paying for our membership two years hence but never for the current year.

        • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
          January 30, 2013, 12:40 am   / 

          Right, I remember that some people were trying to organize a bid to have the Worldcon in NZ. Well, the national convention is coming up this year, and I was certainly planning on attending that. No dice for coming anywhere further afield at the moment, though. :S

  4. Profile photo of Frank Wu
    January 29, 2013, 3:23 pm   / 

    I’ve been waiting to weigh in on this issue (though it was nice to see Leah and John say nice things about my art – thanks!). But it’s something that comes up frequently in my daily life. Every once in a while, we will have visitors to the house, and Brianna (or, I admit, I) will point at my Hugo Awards on the shelf. This last happened late Friday night when a very kindly and excellent plumber Mr. Steve Kirkland of Kirkland & Shaw of Burlington MA came to fix a burst radiator pipe (a story I wouldn’t go into here).

    The conversation usually goes like this: What’s a Hugo Award? Oh, it’s like the Oscars of the science fiction field. So… I see it says “Best Fan Artist”. What’s a fan artist? Well, there are two categories of artists – the professionals who get paid huge gobs and gobs of money for their work. And everybody else. And they voted me the best of everybody else.

    Not entirely accurate, but clear enough for people outside of science fiction fandom to understand.

    But it’s something that keeps coming up. “Best Fan Artist.” Is the phrase accurate and clear? Well, if you look at the WSFS (World Science Fiction Society) constitution, which delineates all parameters Hugo, then, yes, it’s clear. But what if you’re not a WSFS constitutional scholar?

    Is there a better term? Maybe “Best Amateur Artist”? I dunno. Sounds like “amateurish”.

    And would it be good, after over four decades to change the wording on Hugos? If nothing, fandom is all about history (raise your hand if you’ve seen at least five movies from the 1930’s). A better term hasn’t arisen in 46 years, and isn’t likely to, so we’re stuck, for better or worse, with “Fan artist”.

    • Profile photo of Frank Wu
      January 29, 2013, 3:30 pm   / 

      I’ve also heard the suggestion of renaming the Hugo “Best Fan or Semi-Pro Artist” to acknowledge that fan art, by WSFS constitution standards, can have stuff in “semi-prozines”, which are allowed to pay people a small amount of money.

      But can you imagine having to explain what a “semi-prozine” is to a mundane?

      • Profile photo of Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey
        January 29, 2013, 4:20 pm   / 

        I am not accusing Astrid of being a mundane; but yeah, Frank, sometimes this discussion seems like we are being expected to explain words that have been pretty clearly defined for decades, to someone who appears to Just Not Want To Get It. To be a fan is to be about the future; but to be a fan is also to remember the deep history of this genre. SF, as we used to say, did not spring full-grown from Gene Roddenberry’s brow (or George Lucas'; or even Joss Whedon’s).

        • Profile photo of John Purcell
          January 29, 2013, 4:30 pm   / 

          I think Orange Mike is narrowing down the problem of categorical definition here pretty well. In fact, the discussion in this blog has given me the germ of a couple ideas that I may develop over on my blog in here.

          Yeah, there is a “deep history” in fandom, and that may very well be where things have gone awry in this thread.

        • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
          January 29, 2013, 4:59 pm   / 

          Actually, after following this discussion, yes I am a “mundane” and proud of it. Don’t think it is an “accusation”.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 29, 2013, 5:16 pm   / 

      Hi Frank, thanks for weighting in on this as an artist. Such a categorization may make sense for the purposes of an award, on the same level as age groups make sense for sports awards (though then what happens if someone sells or publishes a previously unpublished piece?) – and “amateur art” would be on the same level. The only reason I can see for it, is to give people who cannot for whatever reason concentrate on their art to the level of doing it professionally, better odds at actually winning something.

      But it creates an artificial distinction between “professional” and “amateur” artists which does not actually exist in real life, at least not in that clear cut way, and to me, it certainly implies a value judgement, as in “professionals” being “proper artists”, and “amateurs” doing it “just for fun”.

      That is certainly a categorization I want to move away from, as it opens the doors wide to all kinds of doorkeeperism, which in this day and age of digital publication and the internet, makes less and less senes. It also doesn’t make sense as a category to discuss pieces of art for their intrinsic merit. Besides, it implies an automatic devaluation for any work that is not (yet) published or sold in a professional context. Then one would also have to get into delineating at what point “professional” starts. I recently sold a license for someone to use one of my images for a print-on-demand on lulu.com. So is that “published”? Is that “professional?” –

      If that makes me a “mundane”, yes, I am. I’d rather be, in fact.

  5. Profile photo of Chris Gerwel
    January 29, 2013, 2:25 pm   / 

    I think a big part of the taxonomic discussion happening here stems from a case of in-group vs out-group usage. Within fandom, the term ‘fan art” has a particular (and rather broad) meaning, with various connotations and value judgments attached to it. Outside of fandom, the term “fan art” frequently (though not always) has a slightly different meaning, with different connotations, and different value judgments. And this discussion is an outgrowth of those differences.

    Rather than splitting semantic hairs over the terminology, I think a more relevant question is what can fandom do to lessen the wider world’s ignorance of fandom’s artistic traditions? (disclaimer: I’m an artistic neophyte – I love looking at fantastic artwork of all kinds, but apart from that I’m pretty ignorant and have no horse in this race)

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 29, 2013, 5:24 pm   / 

      Oh THANK YOU. You’re my man. Couldn’t have said it better.

      • Profile photo of Lenny Bailes
        January 29, 2013, 8:05 pm   / 

        Two things that Amazing has done to lessen the wider world’s ignorance of fandom’s artistsic traditiions are 1) to revive the classic Clubhouse feature, and 2) to display the fan artwork of Steve Stiles, who also has a professional art career.

  6. Profile photo of DianeSeverson
    January 29, 2013, 7:32 am   / 

    OK, as someone completely clueless as to these issues, who is neither a writer nor a visual artist (fannish or otherwise), who is merely a Fan of all things Science Fiction (used in the broad, ill-defined sense), I should say that it seems to me that Fan Art (the term as used by most people in the fandom circles and among those responsible for the Hugo Fan Writer/Artist Awards) is not at all limiting, but rather all-encompassing. It is about sharing the LOVE with open hearts for all things SF or Fantasy with others who love it just as much. If a professional artist wants to share her work in a venue traditionally known as a Fan venue, then I feel that is entirely up to her. If not, then not. More power to the artists trying to make a living do what they love. I think that Astrid’s pointing out that the “big bad world out there” defines these terms in a very different way than “we” do, serves to give artists who aren’t aware a heads up that is valuable to be aware of. That doesn’t change the history of the the terminology within Fandom, and I think you are fighting a losing battle if suggesting that, after 80 years our terminology should be redefined because those not within Fandom have misconstrued it, Astrid. I think most people within SF Fandom are intelligent enough to hold the difference in mind.

    Conversely, there is a certain courtesy, kindness and mutual admiration (which goes hand in hand with the generosity of spirit which is fandom) that, those within Fandom and who use Creative Commons licenses accord one another, which the “big bad world” is not (or seems not to be) aware of either. One need merely to consider the recent run-in Jonathan Coulton had with the TV show Glee, which use his arrangement of a cover song without asking, notifying or crediting him. If you hadn’t heard, check it out on Wired: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/01/glee-coulton-baby-got-back/

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 29, 2013, 8:17 am   / 

      I am fishing for a term that would describe something which is, in terms of the creative process involved, a distinct genre from Illustration or Fantasy Art or Comics or any of the other relevant genres. There is a distinct difference between creating images which are mainly based on pre-existing visuals, and images which are mainly developed from the artist’s own imagination. That doesn’t necessarily imply a value judgement (though to some people it does), but it would be purblind to ignore the difference that exists between those pursuits.

      Fan Art presents itself as term which is widely used, in the sense that I have defined it, in the visual arts community. To claim that its meaning has been “misconstrued” seems to me to imply that the definition that is used by those strongly involved in Fandom, has priority. I, personally, find that smacks of elitism and arrogance, and a cliquish, *us versus them* attitude which I don’t affiliate myself with.

      I am also surprised that a bunch of people who define themselves as fans of a genre which places such strong emphasis on progress, should be so utterly conservative and concerned with their history, when someone proposes something that does not accord with their ancient old usage. I do think this discussion is really about something else than which words to use. And I don’t like power games, or initiation ceremonies for that matter.

      I also think that the definition of “Fan Art” as used within the Fandom, for however many years, does not make any sense in terms of distinguishing an artistic genre. It seems to jumble together a wide range of artistic activities on criteria which have nothing to do with anything that is intrinsic to the artwork itself. As a blogger concerned with discussing artworks, that’s not a definition I find at all useful.

      The discussion about copyrights and Creative Commons and all that is an entirely different one, and one that I think is entirely more relevant than splitting hairs about terminology. Believe me, there are plenty of people in the Big Bad World outside fandom who are just as concerned about these things, and just as generous with sharing their work. Love and generosity do not exist exclusively within your particular fandom. But at the same time, love and generosity should never be confused with exploitation of artists. And yes, I have heard about that guy and Glee. If you want to hear stories about being ruthlessly ripped off, meet me in chat.

      • Profile photo of
        Dennis Howard
        January 29, 2013, 11:55 am   / 

        “I am also surprised that a bunch of people who define themselves as fans of a genre which places such strong emphasis on progress, should be so utterly conservative and concerned with their history”

        Amazing Stories magazine is an odd place to be arguing that history is unimportant!

        • Profile photo of Lenny Bailes
          January 29, 2013, 3:23 pm   / 

          I think the terminology Astrid is looking for may just be “original” vs. “derivative” artwork. Mike Lowrey goes into this in more detail in his comment. It may be a linguistic pitfall to want to define “original creative” artwork as a genre. “Genre,” itself, is a term that’s much discussed in science fiction circles (in critical discussion and at s-f conventions).

          Also, fwiw, “illustration,” to me, suggests pen and ink as opposed to paint. S-F illustration (as I know it) is usually pen-and-ink artwork with a stefnal theme. (“Stefnal” is another one of our fan terms. You could substitute “science fictional” for it, if you prefer.)

          • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
            January 29, 2013, 5:32 pm   / 

            Illustration, in the Science Fiction/Fantasy context, suggests a work that depicts a character, scene, place or mood from a literary work. It can also imply a depiction of a scientific fact or finding, or of engineering features, and a whole variety of other things outside the fantasy/sf context. Medium has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

            Illustrators, particularly in the science and fantasy genre, have used whatever medium they wanted. Frank Frazetta – oils. Alan Lee, John Howe, and a plethora of others – watercolors. These days, for purely practical reasons, increasingly Photoshop, Painter, or other computer graphic software, including a programme called, for some strange reason, Illustrator. Pen and Ink is often used for black and white illustrations and cartoons, yes. But it is by no means the only medium.

  7. January 29, 2013, 5:52 am   / 

    [...] graduates once in a while! You are more than welcome to visit my author page. My latest blog post is here, look at the discussion, and I thought that was a fairly uncontroversial, even slightly boring [...]

  8. Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
    January 28, 2013, 11:27 pm   / 

    I think I really have said all there is to say on this issue. Comment all you like, dislike what I write all you like, try to tell me what I ought to write instead all you like – for my part, I consider this discussion as closed. Please read my comments below for my point of view. That’s all there is to say, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Profile photo of Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey
      January 28, 2013, 11:29 pm   / 

      It’s absurd to start out by saying that you’re going to blog “all about fandom”; and then ignore what fandom has to say on the subject.

      • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
        January 28, 2013, 11:55 pm   / 

        That is not what I said. If you quote, please quote correctly. Also, I consider this type of comment unconstructive and unnecessary, and bordering on an attack on my person. I’m sure there are guidelines about appropriate commenting on this website, please stick to them.

        • Profile photo of Sandra Bond
          January 29, 2013, 11:16 am   / 

          I am inexorably reminded of the story of the proud parents at the military passing-out parade who commented “Look! Everyone’s out of step except our Johnny”.

          It is not the act of an intellectually honest blogger to refuse to engage in debate, but to threaten those who seek to do so with sanctions for their desire to do so.

          • Profile photo of Robert Lichtman
            January 29, 2013, 1:45 pm   / 

            I agree with Sandra. It’s a bad case of what might be called “Haynes’ Disease” to write about Michael’s comments that they are “bordering on an attack on my person.” Gimme a break! I’m reminded of Hari Seldon’s comments about “the last resort of the incompetent.”

            Reading further in Astrid’s comments on comments, it would appear that she’s somehow defensive that *her* art would be referred to as (gasp!) Fan Art since from her main Website one gets the idea that somehow that would devalue her efforts to profit from her work so she has to reject it. Here’s the bottom line:

            “Site design, all text, music, image, video and multimedia content, except where otherwise indicated © 2002 – 2013 Astrid Nielsch (Asni)
            Please do not copy, download, share or print any material on this website without permission. Please contact us to request permission.
            Permission for non-commercial use is usually granted free of charge. Permission for commercial use: licensing fees apply.”

            Nothing wrong with that, but be honest about it in your blogging.

            You also write in response to Michael: “I’m sure there are guidelines about appropriate commenting on this website, please stick to them.” If there are, as you asked Steve Stiles, please post a link.

          • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
            January 29, 2013, 2:46 pm   / 

            Robert,

            There are not, as yet, posted, formal guidelines for commenting here. They will be going up soon, but there is nothing yet for someone to link to. That said, the following ought to suffice for now:

            I expect everyone commenting here to do so with the same degree of tolerance, professionalism and maturity that we would all like to see exercised when attending a convention, or a reading, or a club meeting.

            I would greatly prefer it (and will enforce when and where necessary) if everyone would confine themselves (EVERYONE) to discussing the subject(s) of a post or news item, and NOT their perceptions of the individual posting or commenting.

            I would prefer it if, rather than endless textual shouting matches between two or more individuals who find themselves at great odds over an issue, the parties agree to disagree and go elsewhere on the site for more constructive conversations.

            I would prefer it if everyone visiting here would remember when interacting with others that one of our primary themes here is STRENGTH THROUGH DIVERSITY. No one individual, or even group of individuals, is going to set the tone here at Amazing. All of you together are going to do that.

            I strongly urge you all to remember that your participation here is helping us all to move in the direction of creating something greater than ourselves, something we all hope to benefit from in one way or another. Ask yourselves if what you are about to write is in aid of that goal.

            Despite examples from the mundane world, it IS possible to respectfully disagree with others on an issue. Tone is often difficult to suss out from a comment thread. Keeping that in mind can help avoid future confusion.

            I like to believe that the fannish community IS something special. That its members are a cut above the average, more insightful, more creative, more tolerant and more understanding than non-fans. I sure would like to see everyone here living up to that belief.

    • Profile photo of Murray Moore
      January 29, 2013, 12:05 pm   / 

      You have inspired me Astrid to begin a blog about rugby. But I won’t be mentioning your famous All Blacks.
      My definition of rugby is a contest between two teams whose members wear helmets and, skating on a rectangle of ice and using L-shaped sticks, propel a round rubber “puck” into the net guarded by the member of the opposing team called the goalie.
      My post: my definition of rugby.
      We haven’t changed your definition of fan art.
      We won’t change your definition of fan art.
      Your blog: your rules.
      We are happy in our “tiny little bubble” to quote your words..
      Luck to you in your bubble.

  9. Profile photo of Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey
    January 28, 2013, 10:47 pm   / 

    What’s bothering people, Astrid, is that you are taking a term which has had a good and specific meaning in the science fiction genre for much longer than you’ve been alive, and redefining it to suit purposes of your own, in a blog which is hosted by a site using the oldest name in the SF genre. “Fan art” already has a meaning in actual science fiction, one not congruent with that in the WIkipedia article you quoted. What you are referring to is non-original media fan art, a sub-genre (and not a very important one) of fan art. In doing so, you are losing your original point, which is the copyright status of non-original media fan art. Actual “fan art” of the sort which deserves Hugo nominations does not derive from commercial imagery in the ways which violate copyright, and thus is not relevant tot he conversation. Discuss it all you want; just don’t appropriate the term “fan art” to cover pencil sketches of SUPERNATURAL characters and paintings of Naruto on black velvet and lovingly modeled statuettes of Powergirl’s cleavage, as if that kind of thing is what matters to fans.

    And “fan” in science fiction culture is not derogatory in any way. It is used to distinguish things done for joy, from things done for profit (each has its place). The Robert Silverbergs and the Wilson Tuckers and the Leslie Fishes and the Earl Kemps each have (or had) their own feet firmly planted in both realms.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 28, 2013, 11:00 pm   / 

      See my comment in reply to Leah below. My definition of Fan Art is perfectly in line with the commonly accepted definition of Fan Art as exemplified by the reference on Wikipedia which, you will allow me, I am taking as a current, valid definition though there may be others. My date of birth has nothing whatsoever to do with this.

      And I am stating that the definition of Fan Art according to Wikipedia is the one I am going to use. Just to avoid confusion. Got it? I feel like I am really starting to repeat myself.

      What you guys seem to be saying is that I am not one of your club of people you know from convention XWZ, and that therefore you are entitled to lecture me about what you perceive to be the “correct” use of words, which as it turns out, only applies to whatever tiny little bubble of a world you live in. Well I am sorry that upsets you. Learn to live with it.

      I intend to write this blog in a way which is comprehensible to the average, science fiction and art loving random visitor, and I don’t require a “genuinely fandom approved” pass from my readers, nor a test in the history of the genre. I do not write it primarily for the kind of hardcore propeller heads who are capable of working themselves into a froth over this issue. And therefore I will use the generally accepted definition of “Fan Art”, rather than the one which is only comprehensible to those of you who consider yourselves the Keepers of the Holy Grail of True Fandom.

      Thanks.

  10. Profile photo of Steve Stiles
    January 28, 2013, 11:50 am   / 

    I think my own fan art, which is on display in a Retrospective elsewhere on this blog, doesn’t fit your definition.

  11. Profile photo of Leah A. Zeldes
    January 28, 2013, 11:23 am   / 

    Astrid, If it offends you for your work to be termed “fan art,” I’m not saying you have to call it that. If you don’t wish to call any original work “fan art,” that’s fine, too. I’m just saying that the definition you want to give “fan art” is wrong and asking you please to use some other term for the copies.

    To say that “fan art” is a “derogatory” term, not “respectful to the art,” which should only apply to copies of movie stills and the like, is to insult generations of excellent, creative, original artists such as Jack Gaughn, George Barr, Steve Stiles, Brad Foster, Taral Wayne, Tim Kirk, William Rotsler, Stuart Shiffman, Alicia Austin, Frank Wu, Teddy Harvia and many others.

    Why would you want to do that?

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 28, 2013, 7:13 pm   / 

      Leah, I am defining the term for the purposes of my own blog, for the reasons I have outlined above and in my replies to people’s comments.

      If you are not happy with it that’s fine, but I have no idea what makes you THINK you have the right to ask that I not use the term, or state that it is “wrong”. Wrong according to who? If you are the appointed authority on terminology on this site, then please show me your police pass – and where it is written that there is a law against it.

      I would appreciate if you would refrain from further comments trying to prescribe what I write on my blog. I must say I find what you have written extremely arrogant. I hope I have expressed myself clearly enough on this point.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 28, 2013, 7:29 pm   / 

      FYI, here is the definition of “Fan Art” given by Wikipedia:

      “Fan art or fanart is artwork that is based on a character, costume, collage, item, or story that was created by someone other than the artist, such as a fan, from which the word is derived from. The term, while it can apply to art done by fans of characters from books, is usually used to refer to art derived from visual media such as comics, movies or video games. In addition to traditional paintings and drawings, fan artists may also create web banners, avatars, or web-based animations, as well as photo collages, posters, and artistic representation of movie/show/book quotes.[1][2][3][4]
      Usually, it refers to fan labor artworks by amateur artists, or artists who are unpaid for their fan creations—so that, for example, professional comic adaptations of the Star Wars films would not be considered fanart while a version done by an unaffiliated fan would be. The distinctions here cannot always be finely drawn and the actual status of particular works can often fall into a gray area.[5]”

      That is *precisely* what I was saying. Except that I would insist that the term *not* be used for artwork directly derived from books or other texts (as opposed to visual or audiovisual media) – because there already is a perfectly good term for it, and it is illustration. And in order to *avoid* the confusion around the term which currently exists.

      And BTW – any value judgements you seem to attach to what I have stated about works being derivative and potentially infringing copyrights, exist purely in your own head. I recommend that you read my post again carefully. I have at no point implied that such works are not a legitimate creative activity, I have merely pointed out the obvious differences that exist both in the creative process, and legally. I have also pointed out, in one of my comments, that *other people* tend to attach such a value judgement. These people seem to include yourself, and a few others who have commented here.

  12. Profile photo of Tom Whitmore
    January 27, 2013, 9:18 pm   / 

    I think you’re seriously bucking history by trying to define “fan art” in the way you choose, Astrid. You can do so, but you’ll find yourself compared to Humpty Dumpty — “The question is, who is to be the master: you or the word.” There’s a long history of fan art being art created by fans for non-commercial purposes: some of it is the type of copying you’re talking about, but most isn’t. Personally, I’m going to stick to the more common usage pointed out by Leah Zeldes and John Purcell. I’m less likely to confuse people.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 27, 2013, 9:57 pm   / 

      “The question is, who is to be the master: you or the word.”

      PRECISELY my point.

  13. Profile photo of Leah A. Zeldes
    January 27, 2013, 7:52 pm   / 

    Actually, Astrid, yes, in fact, we _do_ call writing by fans “fanwriting,” and there is a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer, too. And as far as I know it’s never gone to any derivatives of professionals’ works, either.

    You could call it essays or reviews or rants or blog posts, too, but if it’s writing by members of fandom for fannish purposes — in fanzines or semiprozines or online — then it’s fanwriting, even when professional science fiction writers do it. Frederik Pohl won the Best Fan Writer Hugo last year, and he was tickled pink to get it, too, even though he has a big glass case of Hugos and Nebulas and other awards he’s won for his professional work.

    You seem to be saying that “fan” = amateur = bad. What some of us are trying to tell you is that there are and have always been a lot of members of fandom who create completely original artwork or writing for the pleasure of their fellow fans, which has no commercial purpose and nothing to do with copying pictures out of the movies or using somebody else’s copyrighted characters, and that we revel in calling it fanwriting or fan art, because we revel in being part of fandom. That is a tradition that goes back to the 1930s,

    And we aren’t exactly happy that you want to use these time-honored terms to describe work that verges on copyright infringement.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 27, 2013, 8:09 pm   / 

      Acltually, Leah, I am defining the terminology I am going to use in *my* blog, and trying to bring it out of the happy little bubble of Fandom and in line with what the Big Bad World out there uses.

      If you had read my post properly, you would know that I am not calling Fan Art “bad”, I am just stating how I see it as different from Fantasy Art, Science Fiction Art, Illustration, and all the rest of the commonly accepted art genres.

      You are perfectly entitled to not be happy about it, but I feel strongly that this is your problem, not mine. And no one forces you to follow my blog.

  14. Profile photo of
    John Purcell
    January 27, 2013, 4:41 pm   / 

    Astrid, what you are defining in this initial blog posting is one type of “fan art”, that being art created by fans that is their take, rendition or characterization based on a work of fiction or characters in a tv series or movie. As Bill Burns noted, the Best Fan Artist Hugo Award has been handed out since 1967, and if you look at the winners since then, not many have based their work on recreations from what could be described as a pop cultural definition of SF and F. There is a lot – and I mean A LOT – of original fan art that is produced strictly for fanzines; for example, if you flip through Robert Lichtman’s long-running fanzine TRAP DOOR you will see art by Steve Stiles, Harry Bell, Dan Steffan, and Brad Foster (any many others over the years), none of which bear any resemblance to Star Trek, Star Wars, Eureka, Serenity, Dr. Who, or shows/movies like those. Instead, these people produce artwork for fanzines because they have either been asked to do so or want to do so on their own volition. My fanzine ASKANCE has featured Frank Wu as a cover artist; it was of a dinosaur on stage playing guitar in a rock concert. Nothing science fictional there, but it was a great cover and I am glad Frank sent it to me.

    I am afraid you’re limiting yourself with the definitions you proposed. There is so much more to “fan art” than you state here. If anything, the term “fan art” is extremely broad – as you note – and it is a creative expression of all sorts of artists. It would be a shame to limit their means of expression. My suggestion is that if anybody reading this is an artist – professional or amateur producing serious, cartoonish, or caricature artwork – they should go to http://www.efanzines.com and spend some time perusing the different fanzines listed there. There is a wealth of variety displayed therein, and it is meant to be enjoyed.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 27, 2013, 7:09 pm   / 

      What I am trying to say, is that these things should not go under the tag “Fan Art”. But be called by their proper names, AND differentiated into the various genres, i.e. Science FictionArt, Fantasy Art, Comic Art, Manga — heck am I repeating myself?

      I am contesting that “Fan Art” is an appropriate tag to jumble all these things together. One good reason for that is respect for the artist. Another good reason for that is that the term tends to be misunderstood, AND seen as pejorative, outside fandom circles.

      They should rename the Hugos then. And split them into more categories! That would give visual arts a bit more weight in the genre.

      • Profile photo of
        John Purcell
        January 27, 2013, 10:04 pm   / 

        The interesting thing about this discussion thus far is how the term “Fan Art” is interpreted by various individuals. There is a parallel here between how Science Fiction as a parent genre has spawned assorted sub-genres: besides the literary groupings (science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, adult fantasy, sword and sorcery, cyberpunk, Steampunk, Alternative History, and so on), there are media fandoms based all sorts of television and movie franchises, manga, comics, et al. As far as renaming the Hugo Awards, that would be silly, considering that they’ve been running for nearly 60 years now; splitting them into more categories is equally silly, especially since now that some of the sub-genres have developed their OWN awards, and the visual arts have their place in all of these sub-genres.

        So going by your idea that ” ‘Fan Art’ is an appropriate tag to jumble all these things together” is akin to “Science Fiction” being the parent to all of its sub-genres. I can live with that. After all, there are fans involved in all of these groups, and there is nothing wrong with that. But like Tom Whitmore said above, there is a lot of history involved here.

  15. Profile photo of Bill Burns
    January 27, 2013, 11:44 am   / 

    Are you aware that there has been a Hugo award for Best Fan Artist since 1967, and to my knowledge it has never been won by anyone whose art is: “images which are clearly based on a design or still from a comic/manga, animation, movie, TV show or game – and which are therefore derivative, and may infringe a copyright, trademark, or other right of authorship (unless they are authorized commercial art)”?

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 27, 2013, 7:05 pm   / 

      Why do they call it Fan Art then. Why not call it Science Fiction Art, or Fantasy Art, or Comic or Manga Art, which would be more respectful to the art and the artist. You don’t call every piece of writing in these genres “Fan Writing”, or do you?

      • Profile photo of Kevin Standlee
        January 29, 2013, 5:33 pm   / 

        Actually, we do, although most fan writing isn’t fictional. It’s typically (but not required) writing about the field. The definition of Best Fan Writer is:

        3.3.15: Best Fan Writer. Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during the previous calendar year.

        Depending on whether Amazing Stories is a professional or semi-professional venue, this conversation — including your blog post — is “fan writing” too.

    • Profile photo of Murray Moore
      January 28, 2013, 1:32 pm   / 

      To readers of Astrid’s post who would like to see fine examples of the art that a majority of responders so far define as fan art, view http://www.scifiinc.org/rotsler/ .

      • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
        January 29, 2013, 4:34 am   / 

        These are very fine samples of what I would call cartoons published in a fanzine, and that was a very diplomatic post. Thanks for posting. :)

  16. Profile photo of J. Jay Jones
    January 26, 2013, 9:51 am   / 

    Interesting discussion. I’ve never really considered the personality rights of an actor, in part I suppose, because I always attributed such rights to the creator; i.e., the writer who created the character.

    Copyright, I imagine, undoubtedly gets violated all the time because it can be such an arcane art to decipher. Thought provoking.

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 27, 2013, 7:20 pm   / 

      Copyrights, just like about every other matter under the sun, are only arcane until one reads up on them. And I think if one works as a creative artist in fandom, which is by definition about the admiration for other people’s work, it pays to be aware what the rules are, at least along broad outlines.

      Copyrights were originally created to protect the creative artists. Sadly, these days they are often misused to protect the interests of corporate franchises, who have more money and more employees who can enforce them, which sometimes hampers the creative expression of artists.

      Copyright undoubtedly gets violated a lot these days… every time someone thinks they can download an ebook or a music track or a video or whatgaveyou for free. :S

      • Profile photo of Lenny Bailes
        January 28, 2013, 11:35 pm   / 

        >Copyrights were originally created to protect creative artists.

        This is a common misconception about the purpose of copyright law. The original purpose of copyright legislation was to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts” by rewarding and encouraging creators. See:
        http://copyright101.byu.edu/module1/page3.htm
        http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA158872.html
        http://www.udel.edu/topics/techtalk/Issue/Current/purpose.html
        etc. …..

        In re ethical issues surrounding downloads and copyright violations, you might want to take a look at this article by Cory Doctorow.
        http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2011/11/cory-doctorow-its-time-to-stop-talking-about-copyright/

        • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
          January 28, 2013, 11:51 pm   / 

          Indeed!! Now here is a discussion worth discussing. Copyrights! The Hot Potato of Hot Potatoes! Thanks for bringing that up.

          It’s an interesting point, isn’t it, that these days, copyright regulations seem to get in the way of creative expression as often as encouraging it. Most artists, including myself, do not have the means to enforce the rights we have on our work, and are more or less reliant on voluntary collaboration of those who want to use it for commercial purposes.

          On the other hand, artists working in the Fantasy/Science Fiction/Fandom field always have to be wary of not overstepping some line that might make them liable to prosecution by whoever owns the franchise.

        • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
          January 29, 2013, 4:41 am   / 

          Say Lenny, would you mind reposting that as a new comment at the top of the discussion? Those are excellent links, and I think this is a MUCH more worthwhile discussion than that over use of terminology.

          My personal feeling is that the answer to the copyright quandary is education, not control. Make people aware that they kill off the very writers, artists, musicians whose work they admire, if they are not prepared to contribute their penny so the artist can make a living.

          In the music industry, this whole process happened about a decade ago and seems to now have settled down into a more general acceptance that you can get tracks on iTunes etc, but they cost a dollar each. For me, that does make a small but noticeable difference on the bank statement. The power of the internet is that of “small amounts in large numbers”.

  17. Profile photo of Leah A. Zeldes
    January 26, 2013, 12:48 am   / 

    Interesting. I would define “fan art” as any art drawn by fans for fannish purposes: Fanzines and sf cons being their principal venues. They might be illustrations or they might be stand-alone pictures or cartoons, but the subject matter is irrelevant.

    I think there ought be some other term for art that derives from other people’s images. In the art world, artists who copy other artists’ paintings — a time honored practice for art students — are called “copyists,” and their work “copies” or “ectypes.” I expect fanartists won’t much like “fan copies” as a descriptor. Maybe “fectypes”?

    • Profile photo of Astrid Nielsch
      January 26, 2013, 4:14 am   / 

      Well, the thing is that “Fan Art” is often used with a slightly derogative tint to it – implying that it is not professional art, and implying also a certain lack of original artistic creativity. You may question the justification of attaching such a negative tint to the term “fan” – outside fannish circles, at least – but that would be a different discussion I think.

      I don’t think publishing an illustration or an original comic or manga in a fanzine, makes it Fan Art, there are perfectly good names for it already, namely, illustration, manga, comic, painting. To jumble all that together under one umbrella term would be limiting, and what happens if someone wants to publish the same artwork in a different context, then? Personally, I prefer to think of my work as artwork, rather than as an expression of my fandom, though to some extend of course it is both.

      • Profile photo of
        John Purcell
        January 27, 2013, 10:12 pm   / 

        I have never really thought of the phrase “Fan Art” as being derogatory. Much like Leah and Tom have written, many of the people who have been involved with SF fandom for a great deal of time – 20 years or more, as an arbitrary figure (been 40 years now for myself) – think of Fan Art as artwork produced by fans for fans, and strictly for a non-paying market. Some of this “amateur” art is incredibly good, too! And I agree with you that your artwork is an expression of your love of science fiction and art.

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