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Fan Art as Visual Art

Is art defined purely by its one-of-a-kind quality?


MAR 03, 2023 | ISSUE 10

Illustration by Xiaotian Wang

Our definition of art continues to change as new movements emerge. Fan art — art inspired by pre-existing characters, places, and people, created by fans — is a genre that arose as early as the 1960s with Star Trek, but continues to be popularized today through social media.

What’s interesting is that fan art isn’t limited to fictional characters. Celebrities, musicians, content creators, actors, and even other artists are often muses for fan artists. Each piece of fan art creates a new combination of things that otherwise wouldn’t have intersected, like musicians stylized as anime characters, or cartoons drawn in realism. Fan art’s collaborative nature makes this genre an unusual — but striking — way to meld communities.

Despite its do-it-yourself ethos, fan art doesn’t exist without criticism. Fan artists are often criticized for plagiarism, especially when the inspiration for their art are characters created by other artists. Does the use of pre-existing personas make fan art disingenuous? Is art defined purely by its one-of-a-kind quality?