Ditulis oleh: Indira Sukmariana
Disunting oleh: Zania R Putri
Ilustrasi oleh: Lisa Kalystari
Have you ever loved something so much that it inspires you to immortalize them in any way that you can? Whether it is books and works of fiction or someone so admired, artists have created beautiful artwork of their inspirations, from painting to posters to over a hundred thousand words retelling an admired figure in alternate situations. They then share their work for the world to enjoy, especially to a community with the same appreciation. This practice is not as new as one might think, finding different ways to fill in the gaps and turning imaginations into tangible products.
Creating works of fiction, whether it is visual art or even spoken stories, dates back to the dawn of humanity. Folklores of warriors fighting bravely, or even the existence of demigods in Greek mythology, came from assumptive answers to unanswered questions. Humans found fossils of a bear and thus born the story of Hercules. They saw the sky turns grey and assumed the existence of the sky deity of Thor. Those stories are then written, passed down to generations, and owned by the collective. Take, as an example, the Christian Apocrypha.
Larsen (2019), in her paper, Fanfiction and early Christian Apocrypha: Comparing hypertextual practices, argued that:
“as long as we do not understand the hypotext as a fixed text, but rather as the narrative of Jesus character, it is fair to claim that the Jesus tradition and the Apocrypha developed and functioned much in the same way as hypertextual fan fiction.”
Hypotext is the source material. In this case, it constitutes the earliest telling of Jesus’s narratives. Writers then used materials from the hypotext, such as names, places, and then placed them in new situations, gave them new narratives. The results are called “hypertext”, done to, for one, fill in the “missing gaps” of the stories, going as far as retelling stories from another character’s point of view to recontextualize them. Different interpreters and scribes then develop those stories even further to include their group as a form of validation and inclusion. These stories are then published, distributed, turned into shared reading, and continuously being developed to maintain their relevance.
Fanart then follows after that. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is a remarkable illustration of one of those stories, praised by Rembrandt and even Mary Shelley. So are Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, an illustration of the Book of Genesis, and The Last Judgement, which also included figures from Greek mythology in the biblical illustration (Michelangelo.org). All derived from established source materials, either a hypertext or a hypotext, illustrating characters or narration important to the story. They serve the same purpose all fan arts serve: visualizing parts of a story dear to the artist and sharing them with their community. Then, what makes them so different from your local fan artist who draws The Avengers’ shawarma scene on Tumblr?
Well, the difference is everything and nothing at all.
There is a paradox in our progression of society in the sense that yes, we have achieved far more complex technologies than da Vinci could ever dream of, but we have not yet progressed on who held the power over our societal structure (even one might argue that we have regressed, but that’s a different story).
Technology, with the integration of the Internet into our daily lives, has made art accessible. In the Renaissance era, the time when literacy was a rarity, artists as a profession were limited to men who had access to higher education. They would have to have access to the Church and understand their narratives, highly respected, with enough money to pay for a 5 year supply of art materials or a generous sponsor. Art was exclusive. Now, even a fifteen-year-old can buy their own set of acrylic paint with money made from babysitting. Also, with the existence of digital painting, online courses, and free social media platforms to share your work, anyone can be an artist.
However, art, at least those that you see in galleries, has always been defined by an exclusive group of people. They dictate what constitutes ‘real art’. This gatekeeping exists since way back then, including the Renaissance era. Women were not allowed to have citizenship, female artists were not allowed to be in league with ‘the professionals’, entering academics, and could not make art as their source of income. Artists like Artemisia Gentileschi and Plautilla Nelli, an Italian nun who painted a 21ft long mural of the Last Supper, were simply forgotten. All because they did not fit into the criteria of a real artist back then (which is, first and foremost, to be a man). Male-dominated governments and the Church who often commissioned those artworks were the enforcers of those practices.
Now, the same male-dominated industry, critiques, and the academia of art are also gatekeeping art from other minority groups by its refusal to acknowledge fan art as ‘real art’. Fanarts are usually seen as ‘copying’ or ‘unoriginal’, often dismissed as ‘training phase’ before the artist creates original work. Take famous fanfic writers, for example, Claudia Gray or Merissa Meyer, who was not taken seriously as writers until they publish ‘original’ stories. Moreover, contemporary fanart as a genre is dominated by younger artists as contributors, most often derived from pop culture. The difference in social climate and interpretation of culture between young artists and the older generation who controls the industry created a difference in the definition of ‘art’, often resulting in the robbing of one’s respect as an artist.
Fanarts will also not be seen in art galleries any time soon unless that it is a Comic-Con hall because they are only valued by people who share the same experience and appreciation of the source material. The double standard comes to play where there is no distinction of praise between da Vinci’s Monalisa with his Baccus, but there is a different amount of respect given for a young girl’s charcoal drawing of Bucky to her abstract self-portrait.
Fanworks, historically, has been used as a social and cultural identity by minority groups. For example, a 300k words slow burn enemies to lovers with a happy ending fan fiction of Dean Winchester and Castiel falling in love was written because there was no gay representation on the show (at least, not one that ends happily). Another one is drawing a female Jedi because there were no women as a Jedi in the original trilogy. Fan artists create out of love for the source material and for the satisfaction of having created something, sharing it to their community as a language only they understand. Like Nelli, their names would probably be forgotten in the years to come, buried under other ‘original’ artists. But is it not the highest form of love, to love something to the point of creation?
Fan artists put hours of work and money to create something based on the source material and make it their own (as much as they can under the U.S. Fair Use guidelines, anyway). It is no different and should not be different, than da Vinci or Botticelli. Behind their artwork are years of practice, experience, and hours sacrificed, like any other form of art. Fanart then should not have a negative connotation, the tone of inferiority when being compared to other genres of art. Fan artists deserve the same amount of respect and recognition as any other artist. Because, essentially, the difference between the Bible and Twilight as a hypotext for fanart is that one is so integrated into our society that it is impossible to see it as a work of fiction or to be claimed by one entity. This is also the case for Greek mythology, where it became a shared story, where there is no one author or artist to be credited for the original source material, therefore Botticelli can profit off of The Birth of Venus without being sued for copyright issues.
It is important to remember that art is highly subjective. There is no right or wrong, ugly or pretty, and beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, art theory exists to explain why certain things might appeal to more people, but there will always be anomalies. The discussion often lies on whether art should be seen by its quality or its characteristics. However, art is an ever-expanding field, and every day we push its boundaries a little further. If a banana taped into a wall is considered a real art, then fanart should have the same recognition as well.
At its very core, art should be a form of expression of love, emotions, or simple beauty. The art does not mean anything to anyone other than the artist until viewers gave it a meaning of their own. Categorizing an artwork as a fanart should not take away its artistic value. After all, the term is merely a categorization of one genre of art. We have to, at the very least, respect the thought, care, and expertise of artworks, whether it is of Venus or Veronica Mars.