An Open Letter to “Fan Art”


“Fan Art” by Lisa, age 7 (circa 1977)

Dear Fan Art,

First off, I have to confess it has not been since I was six that I have ever felt compelled to write a letter to an entertainer, politician or any other public figure, but there has been a consistent inaccuracy surrounding you that I can’t ignore.

I want you to change your name.

When I hear the word “fan” I think of a faceless “gee, I wish I were just like you” minion sitting starry-eyed in a sports stadium, concert hall, movie theatre or living room couch feeling lovesick and somewhat inferior to those people, teams or characters they witness on stage or screen.

This most certainly isn’t the case with you. You’re admiration is anything but anonymous. You are seen. You are proud. You are creative. Are you actually talented? Depending on the source, age and results of your labor, that is the matter of opinion and debate. You are always, however, genuine.

You see, I was recently throwing away some old papers and I ran across a picture I drew when I was seven years old. I had just seen the first non-Disney movie I wanted to see again: “Star Wars.” Mind you this was before I knew anything about “Episode V” or trilogies or the monster of a franchise it was to become. I just knew I wanted to create these characters in my own way. I made what others would call a piece of “fan art,” but what I thought of as my own original interpretation. This little study in crayon and typing paper, as you can see above, might be a little rough. Yes I know Chewie’s hands look like insect pincers and Darth Vader’s lightsaber seems a bit “infected,” but I was proud all the same. This little piece of work didn’t exist until I made it happen.

I feel the same about you today. I heard you described by many critics who, of course, know more than us (just ask them) that “Fan Art” is a kind of dismissive name they’ve given to works inspired by an already-existing fictional character, story or place. Isn’t this inspiration true for all art? Why is a painting or sculpture  —one created not as paid job or commission, mind you — inspired by Iron Man or Dr. Who any different than a landscape inspired by a beautiful mountain range or sparkling city skyline, or an impressionist painting created out of admiration of beloved family member or even royalty?

I suppose it all boils down to what the art world deems “legitimate” subject matter.  If this is in fact the case, you aren’t giving yourself enough credit. “Fan Art” just might not be a suitable moniker for you anymore.

The question is what should we call you?

“Amateur Art? “Nah, people too easily associate amateur with “unpolished,” or “unpracticed.’ I have seen some of your work that rivals the most respected in the business.  “Unpaid Art?” Nope, that makes you sound like an indentured servant and you are certainly not doing this because you are forced to. How about “Art, created out of love?” Ick. Too vague and too disgustingly Hallmark-y?

So, what should we call you?

You know, after taking the factors presented in my letter in consideration, I think it may be best to not really change your name, but to simplify it.

How about instead of calling you “Fan Art,” we call you by what you really are at the core:


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