Is fantasy concept art and illustration completely superficial?

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  1. #1
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    Is fantasy concept art and illustration completely superficial?

    Disclaimer: I am sincerely sorry if this comes off sounding like “fantasy artists are selfish and useless” – that is not my intent, it’s just that I often feel this way about my own desires because I worry I’m spending too much time focused on ‘reaching the top’ of this industry for purely self-serving purposes, and while I discuss this with my friends sometimes (friends who are impressed by my ‘talent’, but who themselves possess skills and education that I find much more useful to society), I’d love the perspective of other artists. I know it’s human nature to look out for one’s own interests above all else, and I certainly don’t mean to say that everyone needs to join the Peace Corps or anything, but I do wonder if anyone else besides myself has grappled with this quandary, and if so, what were your conclusions?

    Fantasy/Sci-Fi Art:
    It is super cool to look at. It’s fun to make, and to think of new ideas. It potentially pays the bills because it is a necessary tool in the extremely lucrative entertainment industry.

    But what is its true value?

    Fine artists and political cartoonists often at least create work that makes us think about the world we live in/our human nature/etc., and therefore potentially initiates the motivation for positive change. Scientific and mechanical illustrators aid in the understanding and teaching in fields of knowledge that are applicable to our real world problems. But, as much as I love drawing mermaids and monsters and far away places that only exist in my mind, all I’m really doing is indulging in a fantasy that my peers can afford to enjoy because we live in a first world country.

    Sometimes I wish I didn’t love art – and that I had the patience to become a doctor or environmental scientist or something. Anyone see the remake of “Dawn of the Dead”? Remember when they were converting those buses to survival/battle tanks? And all that the one red-head chick did was paint teeth on the outside of the vehicles? Whenever I see that, I think “she’s so useless! But… so am I – that would be my only contributable skill in that situation as well!”

    Also, maybe if I didn’t love drawing so much, and didn’t want to fulfill my dreams of creating entertainment for others to purchase, I would go off to Africa and help save the dying children or something.

    Fantasy and sci-fi art is a passion for many of us. Should we only use it as a means for income, and simply turn what little free time we have to the soul-satisfying work of volunteering and charity? If we are leaving the world-saving to the scientists, doctors and mechanics, then what purpose is our societal contribution other than to distract the masses from the problems we need to be focusing on as a whole if we want to make real change?


    p.s. I'm sure in the many years that this site has been up, a similar discussion has occured, but if something more recent has been posted that I am simply too shortsighted to notice, then I'm sorry for the repetition, and I'd appreciate a link.

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    "Why isn't fantasy art saving the world?"


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    Do you think there's inherent value in making yourself or other people happy? Will making the kind of art you want to make do either of those?


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    I'd like to think I'd be able to kill a fair few zombies on top of drawing bums and willies over ruined buildings. If you're that scared you're not making enough contribution to the world then do some charity work on the side or something. My Mum does bereavement councilng and freelance art at the same time. A fair lot of people (including myself) would say she's really helpful.
    Thing is, you can't force others to give up their time to satisfy your feelings that we're all useless either. Everyone has their own lives and obligations.

    What's stoping you from doing that, or something similar, too? Nothing, really.

    Last edited by Naidy; September 26th, 2011 at 01:27 PM. Reason: Spelling bawbawbabwabwabwaw
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Do you think there's inherent value in making yourself or other people happy? Will making the kind of art you want to make do either of those?
    Yes, I suppose there is - I usually forget to think about it as something that makes other people happy. This is a good point, sometimes I get too negative to be able to recognize the simplest of positive qualities without outside input.

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    Art matters.
    The kind of art doesn't matter. The catch is the person creating it doesn't decide so you can never know if what you did was considered art in the long run after you've passed away.

    It is easier to name ten artists, writers, philosophers or musicians from 100, 200, 300,400 or 500 to 2000 years ago than it is a doctor or lawyer or teacher. As a race we remember and honor the things that are important to us; art is one of those things. Nothing wrong with trying to make some of your own.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Naidy View Post
    I'd like to think I'd be able to kill a fair few zombies on top of drawing bums and willies over ruined buildings. If you're that scared you're not making enough contribution to the world then do some charity work on the side or something. My Mum does bereavement councilng and freelance art at the same time. A fair lot of people (including myself) would say she's really helpful.
    Thing is, you can't force others to give up their time to satisfy your feelings that we're all useless either. Everyone has their own lives and obligations.

    What's stoping you from doing that, or something similar, too? Nothing, really.
    Well, I actually do look to people like your mom - this is one goal I'm working towards - I'm trying now to scale back my day job to make more time for launching my freelance/contract career, and hopefully if I can make the freelance work my livelihood, I can scrap the day job and go back to volunteering in my free time. It's been a few years since I've had the time, maybe that's why I'm starting to feel sort of empty :/ Maybe the recent lack of any charity work has left me feeling desperate to make my whole life about it with the use of my skill set, but right now the plan is to just be able to fit both in.

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    Ah, must apologise since I didn't seem to read your first post entirely properly. Yeah, no problem doing things to benifit others (aside from your job) and surely, you could use your talent to help in a similar way as well? Many do. Artists have a knack for opening doors to movements or changing views and all that

    I think fantasy illustration has shown it's capabilities in the hands of real talents throughought history and it can only get better from here on in, right? I know I was heavily, heaaavily influenced by the stuff when I was a wee'n and I certainly would never knock it. As it's such a wide feild too, it's hard to just sit there and say "Yeah, none/all of this is benificial to society" all I know is it benifitted my childhood to a fair degree.

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    Naidy-
    no problem. I agree with you that, as artists, we should be able to use our creativity to come up with applications for our art that will affect our audience and the world in new and positive ways. That's why I get so frustrated when I can't brainstorm these applications myself.

    I also feel the same way you do in that it was the fantasy art I was exposed to in my childhood that truely led me to and has kept me in the field of art. It is a passion instilled in me in my youth, which did help facilitate a happy and imaginative childhood, which is why I choose to stay with it, and continue to have very childlike moments of happiness when I'm drawing from my imagination.

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    Elwell makes a really really good point. For one thing, not all fine artists make statements with their paintings (I mean, how much of a statement can you make with a painting of a vase and flowers?). It's a matter of making people feel good.

    My day job is a software developer writing software to help neuroscientists count cells, trace dendrites, etc. The software that I write is used by scientists to study all manner of diseases (ie. Parkinson, Alzheimers, etc). That's the job that pays the bills and I love what I'm doing.

    My night job is as an artist, selling paintings in art fairs, galleries, shows, etc. I don't make political statements or heavy thinking art work. I make "pretty pictures" as some say. But, I've had a number of times a customer will come back and tell me how much they love my paintings. After a long day at work, they come home, see the bright colors and it immediately cheers them up. For me, that's enough. There's huge benefits to society about just making people happy and giving them a bright spot in their day.

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    Doug,
    Thank you for the inspiring post. It sounds like you do very important, very good work, so it's encouraging to hear that you are able to reap karmic benefits from your artwork as well. I think, as I have said earlier, in my case, it will have to be that my main work will be art that hopefully makes others happy and enough income to support myself, and that I will contribute to charity work on the side, in some capacity that doesn't require a great amount of skill or knowledge in another field (like programming - props, but I can't even begin to understand that stuff), other than social interactions and basic phsyical abilities.

    But I will admit, it's having friends who do work like yours that begins to make me feel a bit guilty in the first place.

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    Heck! I feel guilty every so often about stuff that I do. At least I get paid pretty well. My sister-in-law works with the mentally ill and drug-users (she works for a needle exchange). She doesn't get paid a lot of money, but she loves what she does (which is amazing, since she really really doesn't like people). But, she loves advocating for those who can't.

    Everybody has their niche. I'm hoping that, when I retire and don't have to work my full-time job all of the time, that I can teach art to people who can't afford to go to school (especially kids... they don't care about egos, etc... they just want to do art for the fun of it).

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    Wow, I'm your complete opposite... I think art-making is the most beautiful thing you could ever do for your fellow man! What would the world be without books and films and art and music? I think I'd kill myself. Or be constantly drunk. :p

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    Some jobs help people physically, like doctors, some jobs help people mentally, like artists, creating things that inspire people, motivate people, make people happy when they have nothing else. I'm sure you've listened to a song before, looked at a piece of art before, watched a film before, read a book before that has made you happy, helped you to carry on. Depressed people can be on medication created by doctors and scientists but things like art and music are the only things that really help them. That's how I see it anyway.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EmiPark View Post
    Some jobs help people physically, like doctors, some jobs help people mentally, like artists, creating things that inspire people, motivate people, make people happy when they have nothing else. I'm sure you've listened to a song before, looked at a piece of art before, watched a film before, read a book before that has made you happy, helped you to carry on. Depressed people can be on medication created by doctors and scientists but things like art and music are the only things that really help them. That's how I see it anyway.
    This! art is food for the soul and yes, fantasy art is art.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saramel View Post
    Fine artists and political cartoonists often at least create work that makes us think about the world we live in/our human nature/etc.,
    Decent sci-fi and fantasy does that too.

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    Thank you everyone - these are exactly the kind of perspectives I was hoping to get from artists less pessimistic than myself at the moment. It all probably seems pretty obvious, but it's hard to think of or remember these things when I start going down this path of thinking. EmiPark, you are absolutely right - I am able to be very emotionally and spiritually influenced by good movies, music or books, and if impactful enough, I can have a lasting feeling of optimism, motivation and/or inspiration for days. I do want my art to have that affect on someone. Just reading everyone's responses has really lifted my spirits. I hope I can return the favor if and when any of you is ever feeling down or empty. (pardon my gushiness, I'll try to keep it to the secret girl sector)

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    I worked in the advertising agency/studio world most of my life. I made the decision early on that I would work more with non-profit social welfare groups and the classic entertainment areas (ballet, symphonies, etc.). I didn't make a lot of money compared to my peers, but it just felt better helping someone who actually needed my help to survive rather selling flashy rubber underwear to business executives or convincing a yuppie "housewife" she wasn't up to level unless she owned the Nixon-Commemorative stainless steel matched cooking set, when I knew damn well she couldn't tell the difference between sitting on a tomato and asking the maid to make cereal for the brats.

    Man in the modern world works, lives, and sleeps in a techno-utilitarian/mass produced world. What we artists/designers should exist for is to insert some anarchy into that world--Elvis on velvet, teddy bears with removable guts, entertainment outside the establishment mainstream, something to think about or give our straight neighbors a good shock or laugh. Make your mom wipe a tear away with one of your pieces, or giggle, and you've changed her world a bit and brought back something nice up out of her memory pool...

    I would call that a good thing.

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    "Decent sci-fi and fantasy does that too." --Melonkov

    Sci-fi and fantasy may be the most important genres in our world right now. They give us a sense of hope, and actually can change history through "sparks" of ideas that actually become reality years later, often because someone read the right story/comic or saw the right piece of art at the right time. Mainstream equivalents often just remind us of now, and the meaning of normal and abnormal in the now...entertaining maybe, but not all that helpful usually...

    It often just demonstrates that my 10-year-old niece is a more dangerous piece of potentially cannibalistic protein than any vilains in all your in all your funny shoot-em-up video games.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ilaekae View Post
    Man in the modern world works, lives, and sleeps in a techno-utilitarian/mass produced world. What we artists/designers should exist for is to insert some anarchy into that world--Elvis on velvet, teddy bears with removable guts, entertainment outside the establishment mainstream, something to think about or give our straight neighbors a good shock or laugh. Make your mom wipe a tear away with one of your pieces, or giggle, and you've changed her world a bit and brought back something nice up out of her memory pool...

    I would call that a good thing.
    Mmm, yes, I definitely agree with you on that. I am currently surrounded by very straight neighbors, sometimes I fantasize that I am better able to vocalize and illustrate my opinions in order to deliver that shock or laugh, but I think I need more practice or something, because what I show to my friends (or mom) for critique in that area seems to conjure more confusion and a need for detailed explanation of the message than strong feelings or ideas.

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    "Is fantasy concept art and illustration completely superficial?"

    Thousands of years' worth of illustrated myths say "no".
    If people weren't getting *something* out of all those legends and fairytales and religious iconography why's there so much of that stuff hanging around? We need narratives to make sense out of a life that's largely senseless and it's not just pictures of politicians in donkey and elephant suits hanging out by an oil derrick that's labelled "The Middle East" that make you think.

    I mean what's fantasy illustration? And why aren't YOU loading it with meaning?

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    Quote Originally Posted by vineris View Post
    I mean what's fantasy illustration? And why aren't YOU loading it with meaning?
    When I think of it, there are many great examples of fantasy and sci fi visuals/narration that have been loaded with social/political/ecological meaning for me and many others. I hope I have the insight and creativity to merge such powerful messages with my interest in drawing and painting 'cool characters and stuff' in some actual finished projects someday (some of which I have in the past began formalizing, only to end up realizing that their meaning is phantom or paradoxal), but for now most of my stuff is just for the sake of being pretty and cool, in order to hopefully demonstrate my ability to illustrate the ideas of others in exchange for money. Like I said, this has probably left me feeling so self-centered because outside of drawing I am working a day job, but when I can make this my real job, then some voluteering in my spare time and maybe some meaningful pro-bono work will help begin to fill the void.

    One day, though, if I could make other people feel about something the way Miyazaki makes me feel about nature and human kindess, that would be boss.

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    Creativity discovers things that science cannot, or it takes science longer to discover because science is limited to observations. Invisibility, time travel, teleportation and etc. were all first thought up by creative individuals. These phenomenas were said to be impossible in the past, and a majority, including scientists, agreed. Now we know that invisibility (for the time is to certain wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum), time travel (theoretically possible until the neutrino's speed is confirmed, hence the scientific limitations), and teleportation (when Austrian researchers teleported a photon across the Danube river in Vienna) are all possible, at least theoretically for time travel. This realization came across as a wake-up slap for scientists to rethink about the notion of impossibility. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and CUNY professor, says what is impossible now may only be a matter of time before it becomes possible. It is a matter of seeing and imagining. Our imagination is able to see things that won't come for centuries or millenniums, or which may never even come to being for the life of our universe. And for that, creativity or art for sci-fi and fantasy is valuable.

    Creativity in fantasy just does the similar thing, as they grasp the concept of history (rather than the facts) in historical fantasy (such as conflicts or dramas that could have existed but did not), or biological fantasy such as dragons. This creates options, even though intangible they are, they are enough for us to indulge in. We indulge in it every time we go see a movie, read a book, or see a painting that conveys a story or situation.

    Creativity, in a sense is a top down approach to "discovery", which we start off with a greater realization no matter how absurd they may sound and go forth with such an idea. Science is a bottoms-up approach, only accepting those that can be observed and collecting data as we go.

    You may never know, if the multiverse theory is true, there can exist things with your designs (but don't expect an exact match). Say a biological event happened and Tyrannosaurus Rex grew wings, which would split their time line from the time line of our universe like a forked river (our T-Rex don't have wings). The thing that separates these two time lines is the universal constant. If the universal constant can be surpassed, such as with a wormhole, we can travel to different times with altered evolution or history different from ours. You can also theoretically travel to a universe where different cosmological events happened, resulting in different laws of physics.

    Of course when it comes to a zombie apocalypse, most of art is rendered useless, because function takes over form; you want to survive rather than indulge yourself in almost non-existent opportunity of luxury to make art. One of my teacher said that "art is a sign of civilization". Why science is better in a zombie apocalypse is because of its relatively bottoms-up approach, which allows it to take advantage of more fundamental resources necessary for survival. This is because of the factual and technical knowledge that science gives as opposed to wild speculation in art. But I believe, even in a zombie apocalypse, people may find value in a good painting, with which they will hang in their bunkers or shabby fortifications to remember the good times with or for emotional connections.

    Emotions can go a long way, and the story of the Trojan War represent just that, whether it happened or not. Because art, like beauty, appeals not to our necessity for survival, and at the same time can have such a profound and magnificent effect on our lives. This is what differentiates us from robots.

    Last edited by Vay; September 26th, 2011 at 08:37 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saramel View Post
    One day, though, if I could make other people feel about something the way Miyazaki makes me feel about nature and human kindess, that would be boss.
    Why not start now? The problem with "someday" is that one day someday arrives and you realize that things have gotten no easier in the meantime. In fact they might be harder because you'll have clients and family putting pressure on you.

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    Vay - wow, that's a very in depth look at the values of works of imagination vs science, I appreciate your thoughtfulness. And you're right, besides happy accidents, most inventions and advancements came from imagination, and as we get further technologically, more inventors seem to be looking to the 'impossibilities' of science fiction for ideas and inspiration.

    In a zombie apocolypse, I'd be happy to have my painting hanging on a bunker wall but mostly, yeah, I'd probably be focusing on push-ups and my aim with a crowbar.


    Vineris - you're absolutely right - things will probably not be easier in the future, and they could just as well be harder. At the moment it is much easier for me to illustrate the ideas of others than come up with a solid idea that makes sense when I say it out loud, but brainstorming and fleshing out ideas seem like they should be practicable and improvable skills like any other.

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    There have been other posts that have explained my thoughts on this far better than I could, (in short, making yourself and other people happy is a worthy pursuit and a valid way to spend a life) but there is one thing that stood out for me that I'm not sure anyone else mentioned (forgive me if someone already brought this up):

    Quote Originally Posted by Saramel View Post
    Fine artists and political cartoonists often at least create work that makes us think about the world we live in/our human nature/etc.
    You're a fool if you think that the best science fiction and fantasy is anything but a metaphor for the world we live in/human nature/etc. That's largely what makes the whole thing so interesting in my opinion.

    I think, as well, that you're too hard on yourself in the "Dawn of the Dead" example. To become a good sci-fi/fantasy artist, you have to learn a little bit about the form and function of a lot of things, I'm sure that would come in handy?

    It's an interesting post, though!

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    Quote Originally Posted by GHudston View Post
    You're a fool

    oh! well, then. But I do agree, after looking back at the great sci fi and fantasy that has moved me; it is often due to the use of fables and parables that I have found myself engrossed in deeper thought about our own real universe.

    Maybe I could use my drawing skills to help design better skull-bashing weapons or something, that would be cool. Yeah, now that I think about it, I'd be way more helpful than that chick, she's useless (plus, remember when she went out into the horde of zombies to save that dog who wasn't in any danger? stupid).

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    you answered your own question lol~

    arts, entertainment, communication can be really meaningful for society. it is what you want it to be superficial and petty or meaningful.

    OF COURSE that is going to seem petty and self-indulgent to some, but if you have a skill already why shouldn't you use it? Get used to people criticizing you. Embrace it. Let them call you petty or superficial (your parents ever do it? mine did) You will get used to it and learn how to handle it. Most people just appreciate the passion though. You can always train yourself to do other things that make money. Have you ever heard of digital tutors?

    Just kick back. Get a job at a place you find decent. Nobody can take drawing away from you.

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    I think fantasy art is actually improved by the influx of other disciplines. That's why some of the older high budget animes are so outstanding: they draw upon the resources of highly educated creators and implement real-world knowledge into building realistic mythical settings and characters. And yes, maybe it is selfish for me to say that those other disciplines can serve the agenda of creating better art, but as Vay so eloquently pointed out, the opposite is true as well.

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    I thought about either going into physics or art after High School; I was in indecision. I went with art, then later I felt that something was missing, because I also valued academics (luckily my college requires academics). If you find a value in something and you pursue it, then chances are, you won't regret it at the end of your life; on the contrary, you might regret at your death bed knowing you hadn't tried it, at least I will.

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