The Nuances of Fan Art in Modern Culture

In the contemporary art landscape, the definition of fan art has expanded, bending boundaries and sparking fresh inquiries.

In today’s art scene, fan art’s definition has evolved, blurring boundaries and prompting new questions. From ancient myths to digital anime renderings, it reflects cultural engagement and fandom. This exploration delves into the complexities of modern fan art, its categorization, reception and lasting impact.

The Evolution of Fan Art: Blurring Boundaries

While better access to art has made it more of a marketed pleasure than an academic discipline, the rise of fan-art is not a new phenomenon. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fan art as “artwork based on popular works of fiction (such as books, movies, etc.) that is created by fans.”

In a more generalized sense it is art created based on an existing production. The process of any new art is the creation of a narrative whether conscious or unconscious and the transferring of this narrative into a visual creation. However if someone were to create a visual representation of an already significant narrative, wouldn’t that be fan-art?

From Ancient Myths to The Digital Realm: Reflecting Cultural Engagement

Many times Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance art utilizes theological and symbolic imagery based on mythological stories. From sometimes religions that have long been extinct such as Egyptian and Greek. But also from more currently significant beliefs like Christianity. If a person were to make art of figures from Egyptian or Greek theology now, it could be argued to be fan-art.

For instance if one were to look up “Zeus Fan-Art” on google, they would get several results of digital art or more cartoonish figures of Zeus. However, if one were to look up “Artworks of Zeus” they are presented with more academically inclined images of the God like Jupiter Enthroned by Heinrich Friedrich Füger. There is not much that separates these images. 

Analyzing Depictions of Zues: What Matters? 

Both are depictions of the same figure, with the same idealized image, with the same sense of power. However only one of them is considered Fan-art the other is a classical, well respected, academic piece. The difference stands to be the medium and the way it is displayed. While the classical painting is oil on canvas and hung in a museum, the Fan-art is done digitally and is for the time being stuck within a screen unless printed. However, something to consider is that, to someone who has not seen the real Jupiter Enthroned in person, this difference doesn’t matter all that. If desired both these images could be printed out in large.

It can be surmised that the reason the painting is revered as a masterful work of art while the digital image is reduced and called fan-art, because there is a certain history and emotion connected to the piece. Painted at the turn of the 18th and 19th century, it is perceived a historical piece of work. Presumably it is  history and medium that separate these two pieces from one another. It could be considered however that in several years the fan art may also be appraised as a historical piece.

Though it is hard to assume where technology will precede in a few years, going with the assumption that the commercialization of such works of fan art are not going to be similarly well respected as the art depictions of Zeus that range in history. We can question the intent of both the artists: Why did both of them depict Zeus? Most likely because they were enthralled with the stories told of him in Greek mythology. 

Shakespearean Influence: The Intersection

Anime is the source of much fan-art produced today. Ghibli movies for instance are a root of inspiration for many artists. A likely reason that fan-art is taken in such triviality is due to the audience it is geared to. Anime and moreover specific shows are only a topic of interest to a select group of people. Many times the people who consume this fan-art are those, who are fans of the story aspect, rather than expressly of the art aspect.

There is also a certain stigma that comes with being part of a fandom, which extends to the art created for that fandom. This idea that people who like anime are embarrassing means those who create art for anime are also embarrassing. This idea is flawed because people have always been fans of stories. For example Shakespeare was a popular figure and had a great number of fans. So much so that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood took a lot of inspiration from the works of Shakesphere.


The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were a group of young artists who joined together. With the aim of returning to the artistic styles of late Medieval and early Renaissance Europe, they have also been adopting themes of naturalism. They subsequently took interest in Shakespeare’s descriptions of natural scenes as well as his emotional and moral complexity.

A historically significant piece that belonged to this movement is Ophelia by John Everett Millais. The painting portrays Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A myth in which, driven out of her mind due to the death of her father, Ophelia falls into a stream and drowns. This painting would never be considered fan art. But it raises the query, would paintings of fiction from today be considered fan art?

Popular instagram artist, Ruth Speer who goes by @septemberwildflowers on the instagram. She painted an equally beautiful painting in the Pre-Raphaelite style of the anime movie/book, Howl’s Moving Castle. Would this be considered fan art?  

The Paradox of Portraiture: Tradition, Commission, and Creativity

The debate of what constitutes fan art has been a fairly modern nuance in the art world. When it comes to portraiture, fan art can be considered part of this subsection of art. This brings to question whether commissioned art of figures from fiction or celebrities can be considered fan-art. If someone painted a remake of the Mona Lisa that would be considered fan-art. However when Da Vinci painted the portrait he was simply commissioned to do so. The question stands to be is fan art still considered fan art when it is not created by the fan?

If it is still created specifically with a character whether real or fictitious in mind, there is still the basis that it is fan art. However the woman, Lisa Gherardini was not historically significant until painted by Da Vinci. So the recreations of the Mona Lisa are fan art not of the person Lisa Gherardini is but rather geared towards a love for Da Vinci’s artistic prowess. Alternatively there are also Pablo Picasso’s renditions of Las Meninas. A painting which he did out of love or curiosity of the original painting done by Diego Velázquez.

While there is still this sense of originality with the style Picasso paints in it is still a recreation of the original painting. Does an artist’s take negate the work from being fan art? This brings us back to the question: just what is fan-art? If we take the Merriam Webster definition it is simply artwork, does not matter made by who, or when or why. It is just an extension of creativity. 

The Interconnectedness of Art and Life

Inspiration comes from the world that surrounds us. This idea that art is inspired by nature dictates that we are fans of nature. Fyodor Dostoevsky said “At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.” We as people are inspired by the arts allowing us to create art and finally find solace in this art. This process acts as a cycle.

Art today is inspired by the society we exist in, whether it is political issues, works of fiction, people, places, or objects, all inspiration is derived from somewhere. All original thought bounces off of a predetermined idea. We are all fans of something, it is part of what keeps us going. We exist to love and by loving we create art.  

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