|Elfwood has seen a lot of evolutions in its time - indeed, originally Elfwood was known as Lothlorien, a name that only one portion of the entire site now uses. Through all the changes and additions, however, it's fairly safe to say FanQuarter has been and remains one of the most controversial.
"I never even knew fan-art existed when I opened Elfwood," said Thomas when he was contacted regarding this article. "Later on, I never realized that it kept creeping into Elfwood, nor how popular it was."
What exactly is fan art? Generally speaking, fan art is a drawing based on a pre-existing image. When you or someone you know does a sketch of their favorite X-men character, or draws what Buffy the Vampire Slayer might look like with wings, or paints an image of a pair of X-wings in battle, that's fan art. Elfwood has its own more detailed rules regarding what is and isn't acceptable fan art, which will be covered later in this article.
Is fan art right or wrong? That issue is still somewhat up in the air. Some artists feel the entire thing is a waste of time, not to mention a violation of copyright. Some feel that it's okay, but as Elfwood artist Monique Morgan puts it, "I can go to any geocities, tripod or other generic page and see as much fan art as I want to. It's very common on the net and there's not too much special about it, really."
Other artists, however, feel it's a very positive thing. "What isn't good about fanart?" asks Zone artist Sarah Digna Yudlowitz. "It's taking some of the very cherished things that you read, watch, or play and molding it to your own creativity. It's a jumper cable for me. If I feel myself start to slip in a rut, I always know I can turn to fanart." Another argument, voiced here by Valerie G. Hilgendfeldt, says, "I doubt that any of [us] could say that they were never inspired by another person's artwork, or writing, or whatever. Considering that fan art is drawn by a fan of something, couldn't a description so generalized include those who draw as a direct result of viewing someone else's creation?"
It was arguments like these, as well as the sheer amount of fan art that had come to be present on Elfwood, that lead to the creation of FanQuarter. "There is no doubt that it is fantasy/scifi art - but I didn't want it in Lothlorien or Zone, " Thomas explains. Due to the outcry surrounding banning it from the 'woods entirely, Thomas and the rest of the staff attempted to come up with a compromise. "We simply created another area where you can have your fanart. That way, it doesn't disturb the ones who dislike it, and if you do like it, you have a new place to go!"
However, it was very quickly decided that this new area wouldn't be like Elfwood's other art areas. After all, even pro-fan art people have said, "I feel it shouldn't be the only thing a person does, but rather as part of the whole process." (Dani Shaddeau) Another issue is the direct copying of another image - making no changes of one's own, so that the picture you create comes out looking identical. "The people who copy off of others' works and call that fan art, yes, that's garbage," adds Valerie to her pro-fan art argument. It is generally acknowledged that doing this can be a productive way to learn the actual techniques of drawing - but such work is hardly something you can expect the praise of your peers for!
Therefore, FanQuarter has two basic ground rules for which there are no exceptions. One is that a person absolutely must have a regular Lothlorien or Zone 47 gallery before he or she can create a FanQuarter gallery. "My intention with Elfwood was to promote fantasy creativity," explains Thomas, "and I personally have some problems in seeing the creativeness in doing a superman with faery wings (for example)." By insisting that one have a Loth or Zone gallery, he hopes ensure that people will still follow his vision of creativity while being able to enjoy fan art, as well. The other, and most commonly violated rule, is that the fan art cannot be copies - which means that if you do create a FanQuarter gallery, every image in it must be of your own imagining of the characters involved, not a direct copy of a pre-existing image! The infractions of this rule are being seriously cut down by the new moderating system, however, and items which slipped in prior to the new system are being slowly but steadily weeded out by the ERB.
Elfwood also has several detailed rules about what is and isn't fan art. The key to understanding what Elfwood considers to be fan art is remembering that general definition of fan art: art based on a pre-existing visual image. Therefore, as far as Elfwood's purposes go, art based on a written description, such as something found in a book, isn't fan art at all, and is perfectly acceptable in the applicable regular gallery. In other words, if you've created a Lord of the Rings picture based on a description in the book, which is your own unique take on how the thing in question would look, this is an illustration and belongs in Lothlorien. If, however, you create a picture based on the images in the movies, it belongs in FanQuarter. A good idea is to take any finished drawing you create and compare it to any official visuals that accompany the written work, such as book covers. If there's a strong resemblance, stick the image in FanQuarter, otherwise it's okay for the regular Elfwood. The only notable exception to this is Harry Potter based art which, due to factors such as the mix of modern and fantasy elements as well as the popularity and extent of official images, is all routed into FanQuarter just to keep matters tidy.
But for all those who are extremely happy about the existence of a fan art section to Elfwood, there are many who are, at best, lukewarm. "I would breathe much easier if Thomas had decided to create the Fan Quarters on his own, but... well, what's done is done," is the opinion of Monique, who adds, "I don't think he gets enough credit period. This is his idea, and if people don't like it, they can go elsewhere. I am happy, however, that he does realize that art, in ANY form, is still art."
Yet others are entirely ambivalent. "I personally do not like the idea behind the fan quarter," says Loth Artist Shawn Yates, "for the very simple fact that it doesn't seem right for people to post another person's characters up for the world to see, and then receive comments on as if they were their own."
Right or wrong, however, FanQuarter appears to be here to stay, and as Thomas himself has put it, "I still do not like fan art, but I respect that it exists and I hope this is a solution that fits all."
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