Illustration by Cecile Smith
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone say or imply that transformative work is invalid and that those who create it are nothing but hobbyists. Transformative work is “fanart” and “fanfiction”- drawings, writing, and other art forms that expand upon the work of someone else, often drawing together an entire community of creators who happen to be interested in the same thing. Many view this type of art as inferior to and far less meaningful than original work. While it’s true that “Harry Potter” fanart will likely mean nothing to someone who’s never read the books, that doesn’t mean it lacks significance. I personally prefer creating and viewing fanart over “real” art. It is hard for me to discern meaning in a lot of art, including my own, and fanart already has a built-in meaning that I can understand and decipher.
When it comes to my own art, I draw other people’s characters because I find it more interesting than coming up with characters of my own, and I have more ideas. When I want to draw fanart, I have infinite possibilities. What if I put this character in a regular, real-world high school? What if I draw something in the canon of the show, but make something different happen? My ideas for original art are much more limited. I could draw this tree maybe, and I guess I’m bored so I’ll just sketch my eraser?
I read fanfiction because I grow attached to characters, and I’d often rather stick with them than dive into new ones. Much of it is just as well-written as many published books I’ve read, but the fact that it is about characters I already know and love makes it more interesting to me. I once read a piece of fanfiction called “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” about “Voltron: Legendary Defender” that was so emotional and heart-wrenching that I couldn’t stop thinking about it
Fanfiction takes beloved characters and puts them in new situations, letting readers delve deeper into them and their world. Writing about preexisting characters allows a writer to leave out some exposition for the sake of more plot development. People might say that it’s easier, but I would beg to differ: when you create a character of your own, while it is a difficult and complex process, you can decide what that character does, and no matter what, you are correct. But when writing someone else’s characters, you have to think hard about what they would do in this situation and why, and it’s very easy for what you write to feel out of character to those reading it.
People can spend hours on a piece of work and pour their heart and soul into it, but at the end of the day, advice forums on applying to art school still say that you’d be nothing but a hobbyist if fanart were in your portfolio. I understand apprehension toward fanart in this context, but I don’t agree with immediate dismissal over it. The only solution is if people begin to understand that while they might not understand fanworks, that doesn’t make it any less meaningful for those who create it.