Escapism through Fantasy can be seen through out the ages within most art forms, dating back as far as the 9th century with Homer’s “Odyssey,” then on into the 1800’s with John Grimshaw’s famous fairy paintings. Although fantasy literature interests me, it is fantasy art that I find most intriguing. This form of art, at present, is not considered as ‘fine art,’ more ‘popular culture.’ Fantasy certainly is popular. You can find it in the cinema, in bookshops on the television, and all over the Internet.
By definition, fantasy is an ‘unrealistic or improbable supposition’. Or even, ‘An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need.’ Much of fantasy art is comprised of mythological beings, humans with supernatural powers or people in strange situations. I often wonder why it is that human kind craves this kind of escapism. Perhaps documenting these dreams and fantasies on paper makes them appear that little bit more solid.
Sometimes fantasy art can seem prophetic, almost religious in its ways, depicting scenes of great destruction and dark forces. It’s possible that people, who are in some way susceptible to these apocalyptic and occultist ideas, could well believe there are ‘hidden-prophecies’ within these works. Others may see fantasy art as the mere documentation of the artists unrealistic dreams and desires. Some may view them as metaphoric and representational of something more tangible. What is clear, however, is that pretty much all of fantasy art has its roots in something earthly.
The unicorn, a popular fantasy creature, clearly resembles horses, deer, goats and other such animals. Pictures of the classic dragon show much similarity to lizards, crocodiles and dinosaurs. It would be practically impossible to come up with a creature or scenario that doesn’t have any roots whatsoever within our lives. This is for the simple fact that, right now, this life/world is all we know. It is incomparable to any other intelligent-life-holding planet. The mere definition of fantasy then seems ironic.
Why then, are people still so fascinated with fantasy and imagined art? One thing it often does do is to allow the viewer an escape from the present. Very often fantasy scenes are depicted either in the past or the future. Such as a medieval castle or in a futuristic world where ‘good’ has triumphed in the battle over ‘evil.’ This offers the viewer an alternative time and place to one he/she is actually within, and I’m sure this can often seem quite appealing.
Deciphering metaphors within fantasy art and illustration, however, is a lot more complicated then working out what time it is set in. The metaphors may be on a personal level to the artist and only readable to those close to him/her. Or they may have a much more global meaning, which the artist intends to be read. For example, one particular artist might choose to represent ‘nature’ with the figure of a dryad; ‘A divinity residing over forests and trees,’ instead of just painting nature itself.
This particular type of metaphor is often called personification, ‘A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.’ Personification proves a very popular form of fantasy art. Brian Froud’s ‘faeries,’ are very good examples of this. He gives them names such as ‘A small pang of regret,’ ‘a slight of panic’ and ‘Honesty.’ These seem to be a drawing of an emotion personified. Froud states in his book ‘Good Faeries/Bad Faeries,’ “The Faeries I draw are a spontaneous manifestation of my relationship with the world.” The beauty of fantasy art then - considering all the former - is the way that it allows the whole world a glimpse into the mind of the artist.
You could argue that all art offers a glimpse into an artist’s mind. As the information was processed by his/her brain in a way that is individual to anyone else’s, and so the work that comes out is a direct recording of the process. This is indeed very true. Perhaps the difference with fantasy art, however, is that balance between abstraction and recognisable objects.
The recognisable objects are abstracted to a greater length, in a much less subtle way, which is easier to read. Also the abstraction seems only to be of certain parts, for example: instead of a girl being painted in a certain style or colour that shows her personality or mood, she is painted with wings and whiskers to show that she is feeling free and playful like a kitten. I don’t believe that this way of representing someone or something is any less intelligent or open to interpretation. It is just a way of taking objects or parts of objects that are already in existance to create a new meaning for them as a whole, almost like a recycling.
I can, however, understand why this way of drawing and thinking might not be considered as ‘high art.’ There often seems to be a very innocent and untarnished feeling to fantasy illustrations, even if the subject is a soul-eating demon. Perhaps this is explains why a lot of fantasy art is aimed and youths, through games, magazines, films, storybooks and the like. The fact that fantasy art presents meaning in a visually obvious way, yet still holds mysterious elements, makes it an ideal subject for children. The apparent lack of depth, therefor, may account for the fact that fantasy is sometimes considered rather less perplexing than other art forms/genres.
Another explanation, which is just as likely to explain the stigmatisation of fantasy art, is the subject matter. It is no doubt considered whimsical, light-hearted and sometimes even silly. Could it be that fantasy art is not serious enough? Surely not every piece of contemporary art has a sombre under-tone. Or is the fact of the matter that fantasy art/illustration isn’t taken seriously enough. Maybe the childhood connotations are too great for it to play an important role in the present art-scene.
There almost seems to be an embarrassment factor attached to fantasy art, and moreover ‘fantasies’ in general. The word fantasy often brings up connotations of a person’s private thoughts and feelings, ones that help him/her get through a harsh reality. Perhaps it is for this reason, that some people believe these types of thoughts ought to be kept ‘private.’ Fantasy art would therefor become an awkward genre for some, if not outwardly then subconsciously.
It is no wonder that art or illustration with a fantastical subject could seem daunting and alien. For it is, of course, a way of being transported into the very mind of the artist, in a very different manner to that of most art. The explicitness of the piece offers a far more direct path into the thoughts of another, and the subject is often unlike anything seen before. These factors already make for certain awkwardness and feeling of estrangement. On top of that, the mere fact that someone ‘fantasises’ suggests that there is something inapt with the reality he/she is living.
Despite all this, and the way fantasy is viewed by the art world, it is still a very popular subculture. Furthermore its seems the very things that can create an air of alienation around fantasy art, are the things that draw people towards it every day. Most people can relate to wanting to be in a better situation, or needing a bit of excitement. This, at least, draws one parallel between artist and viewer. In a life with ever-increasing responsibilities and pressures, I doubt there has ever been a greater collective need to escape. Fantasy art and illustration certainly pose this opportunity, if only for a moment.
For the artist the appeal of fantasy art is the way something so fleeting can be brought to some form of existence, no matter how vague. Offering another a glimpse of this must also be a very rewarding thing. For the viewer perhaps it is the novelty of catching sight of something so rare, and beautiful in its purpose. Or at least the release it provides them with. When all of this is realised, it is quite clear to me why fantasy art is possibly stigmatised, and why, at the same, time it is uniquely popular.
Perhaps we will see fantasy art in famous galleries in the future or maybe its illusive nature will keep it well hidden behind the boundaries of our understanding. I hope at least, that the artists will keep enthralling us with this ever-growing genre of art. Not only does it bring hope to countless people; it is a celebration of the human imagination.
2005-09-29[DawnUnicorn]: Please leave comments and let me know what you think.. It's a fantasy lover's point of view I am looking for :)
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