Fantasy Art Isn’t Really Art At All

Stag with extended antlers that morph into a tree in full bloom

“Dear Emperor” Fantastic Version by NextMars via DepositPhotosI came across this statement the other day:

For the most part, quality fantasy art isn’t considered “serious” art by academia, but surreal art of similar quality is universally applauded. Why is that? — DeviantArt

I admit that the attitude puzzles me.  All three of my kids would rather have fantasy posters on their apartment walls — and they have the high-end, collector editions of fantasy art that makes you keep on looking.

It’s not just their generation, either.  I am “getting along in years” as they say, and to the right of my chair where I currently sit, a limited edition, framed Star Wars movie poster hangs on the wall (and there isn’t a single reference to “A New Hope” anywhere on it).  I bought my daughter a set of stylized Lord of the Rings art posters for Christmas that she promptly framed and hung on her wall–but she doesn’t know I was within an inch of keeping them myself.

I keep hoping someone in my family remembers how much I want the WETA Workshop’s Pillars of Argonath print. 🙂

And every now and then, I browse through DeviantArt’s latest entries, always amazed at the dedication and skill of the artists who display their images there.

There has been more than one setting and character in my books that I’ve built up from artwork that inspired me.

Why does surreal art get the applause and fantasy art get the wrinkled noses?

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that a lot of the difference comes from the viewer’s reaction to the two forms.

Classic art is designed to provoke emotions and feelings.  The stronger the reaction, the more effective the art.

Fantasy art, though, does more than simply provoke feelings.  Good fantasy art does provoke feelings, but it also suggests story.  Some fantasy art images almost tell a whole story by themselves.  There are plenty of fantasy art images I’ve studied and found my writer’s muscle twitching, spinning up a story to explain the image.

Perhaps it is because I’m a professional wordsmith, but I find art that suggests story (in professional art circles, they call it “narrative art”) far more interesting than a canvas with a few dabs of different colour on them.  The emotion I get from the latter is usually a sensation of disgust that someone thought it worth paying for those paint drops.

Simple story-telling, which included fairy tales and myths and fables featuring superheroes, gods and fantastic creatures, was once the domain of the common man.  Only the upper classes had access to “true” art, and looked down upon fairy tales, with their black and white morals and happy endings.

Perhaps Fantasy Art’s connection to that antiquated divide is what condemns it in the eyes of the classic artworld.  But this is purely a guess on my part, because I’d rather have the chips than the caviar.

The Fight Isn’t Over Yet.

Recently, Art.Net posted about “A New Book Makes the Case That Fantasy Art Is America’s Least Understood Fine-Art Form”, discussing Dian Hanson’s “Masterpieces of Fantasy Art” — a huge, and very expensive, hardcover coffee table tome that includes very recent fantasy art (Brandon Sanderson’s books’ cover art) and classic artists like Boris Vallejo, with a great many stops in between.

Art.Net suggests that Fantasy art gets a bad rap because of the plethora of flesh and sexual imagery.  If that is true, though, then what do we make of the nude statues from the classic art eras with full genitalia on display?  What of the fully naked and half naked men and women that dot classic artwork from the Renaissance onward?  Should we not give that artwork the same thumbs-down that fantasy art gets?

You tell me.  Why do you think the two artforms are given such different receptions?


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