My Open Letter to Fan Art

GeekMom Lisa’s first official “fan art,” created circa 1977. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Dear Fan Art,

First off, I have to confess. The last time I felt compelled to write a letter to an entertainer, politician, or any other public figure, I was 6. However, there has been a consistent inaccuracy surrounding you that I can’t ignore. I’ll just come right out and say it:

I want you to change your name.

When I hear the word “fan,” I think of a faceless, “golly-gee, I wish I were just like you” fangirl or fanboy sitting starry-eyed in a sports stadium, concert hall, movie theater, 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. Your admiration for your passions and interests is anything but anonymous. You are seen. You are proud. You are creative. But, are you actually talented? Depending on the source, age, and results of your labor, that is a matter of opinion and debate. You are always, however, true to yourself.

You see, a couple of years ago, 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 Episode IV: A New Hope. Mind you, this was before I knew anything about Episode V, VI or even VII,  or any other indication of 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 now 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.

One of my more recent pieces of “fan art.” I call it “…stranger.” Age and parenthood haven’t softened my love for turning favorite characters into personal pieces of art. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

I’m still creating fan art today, and am proud of it. I may be using more advanced mediums or utilize a trick or two I picked up in an art class, but the original intent is still intact. My daughters have caught the fan art bug as well, and I couldn’t be more proud.

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” or “Fanart” 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 a paid job or commission, mind you—inspired by Iron Man or Doctor 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 the original subjects of fan art, saints and 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.

I’m planning on demonstrating this point over the next three months, as I revive my summer “Be The Artist” series on GeekMom, starting the first week of June. This series allows young artists to create “fan art” and other pop culture-inspired works in the style of several wonderful and influential artists and photographers, such as Pablo Picasso, Corita Kent (aka Sister Mary Corita), Alphonse Mucha, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Anna Atkins, and Mary Blair, to name a few. These artists will join some of last year’s homages to greats like Maya Lin, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Joan Miró.

Sounds fun, right!

The question is what should we call you?

“Amateur Art?” Nah. People tend to associate the word with “unpolished” or “unpracticed.” I have seen some of your work that rivals the most respected professional artists 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. Not to mention, you sometimes do pop up in the portfolios of professional and working artists, and are sneaking in there more and more. Good for you! How about “Art created out of love?” Ick. Too vague and too Hallmark-y?

So, what should we call you?

You know, after taking the factors presented in my letter into 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: Art.

creed art
This framed “art print” is just a greeting card of Assassin’s Creed concept art I picked up a local gaming store. Even though it would be considered “fan art” and there is no credit given to this talented artist anywhere on the card, it still hangs in my kitchen and gets many compliments from visitors who have no clue it is inspired by a video game. Image by Lisa Kay Tate, featuring artwork from UbiSoft.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site and maintains her own blogsite at She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.