There's a frustrating element I've noticed lately in regards to Art. "Art with a capital 'A'", as a friend of mine calls it. And I suppose this blog was triggered by the cancellation of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan game Fighting is Magic. The fandom lost its collective shit because Hasbro sent the developers a Cease and Desist letter. The entitlement was just amazing to watch, and even worse was the sheer ignorance. Some of it stupid, like "Technically, all fanworks are parodies, so it's not illegal!" and "Copyright laws are so stupid!" to cruel, like "They can just take their development overseas, then Hasbro can't stop them!"
I was baffled by this. Because Hasbro had the right to protect their intellectual property.
See, I've been a freelance artist for a while now. And it's hard. It is so freaking hard, and part of the reason it's hard is because the default attitude of most people you deal with is, "We're not, like, going to pay you a lot. Or give you insurance benefits or anything. Because it's just, like, drawing, you know?" Leaving alone for the moment that more people are successful brain surgeons than successful artists, it echoes a larger sentiment: that Art is silly and fun and pretentious, not serious, and certainly not anything anyone should get paid for. In our highly visual culture, the pretty shiny has just become our due. It happens because it does, and we should get it for free.
A friend of mine related a lesson learned in one of her Illustration classes, where after a round of critiques, the teacher said, "Okay, which one would you pay money for?" And it entirely changed the perspective of the students. They were a little startled by the question, because suddenly the art wasn't just there for free. And suddenly the art was assigned a different kind of value aside from self-expression. A much more concrete value, that lets you eat and buy stuff. And it happens in every part of our culture. We pirate video games, and music, and movies. And become indignant when we can't. Also, angry when the creators ask for a little consideration. Case in point, the Hasbro thing. Another case in point is Deviantart itself. The points system is insulting to artists trying to pay their electric bill this month. Requests can also sometimes be insulting, doubly so for a professional artists who has no time to waste on projects that will not feed them. And believe me, when the most the average person is willing to give for a digital picture is maybe $35, breaking that down by hours becomes less than minimum wage most of the time.
I'm really trying not to get into another rant about fanworks, but it creates a disturbing trend for me. I feel it's kind of like corporate culture invading Art. First, you have this smoothly marketable thing, this character or concept, that is vetted in and out until it has broad, mainstream market appeal. (Apply this to anything: music, movies, whatever.) Then, part of that mainstream market starts doing Art of this highly vetted concept. It becomes free advertising. Free. Free for the corporation already making money off it. And then this weird line starts to blur, because on one side you have this corporate concept that's preempting other forms of self-expression because it's already got its vetting and appeal behind it, and on the other you have people who are willing to discount their own creative expression because it's just fanart. Then, this very same corporate culture can shut down anything in a legal sense, and it makes the creators of this Free Stuff howl in outrage. It's always okay to take Stuff For Free when it's Somebody Else's Stuff. We're all supposed to join hands in the Jungian space and agree that Art is all about expression, man, and when someone asks "Yeah, but how am I supposed to eat?" the question's disregarded as ludicrous.
This attitude towards Art is very pervasive. It discounts the original creators of content. It sneers at the idea that Art is valuable or meaningful (or original, in SO MANY cases). Art apparently belongs in the aether, an imaginary utopian hippie commune full of rainbows called Give Me My Free Shit, and if Art forgets itself and starts trying to wonder into the Real World where money and stuff is, it needs to be bitchslapped back into place. It's within the nature of an artist to share, but to ask for support like money and stuff? That's unforgivable. Then we're drama queens and selfish assholes, like Hasbro. Defending the thing that makes them money and shit; how dare they!? And the hypocrisy of it is nothing short of astounding. These people want to perpetuate the corporate elements of marketing and advertising appeal, and all the popularity it brings, but then gnash their teeth and wail when that very same corporate culture viciously puts them in their place. I don't even know where fake movie trailers and redubbed animations count on the Art spectrum, but I'm increasingly feeling that stuff like that is just an easy way out. Take somebody else's work and make it your own to bask in the praise. Harmless enough. It's just when stuff gets big, like Fighting is Magic, where people start ignoring the rights of the creators in order to feel like … I dunno, like they're artists without having any of the hard work that went into it, that it gets disturbing. (In the case of Fighting is Magic specifically it's tragically misguided, because these guys did work hard, they were just doomed from the start because they had no idea what the hell they were getting into and somebody should have told them so.) It sends a very clear message to creators: don't bother being original. Don't even bother trying. But if you become successful, Your Success will become Our Success and we don't have to pay you for it.
Take it from me: one of the worst, most condescending and insulting things in the world for an artist to suffer is the idea that Art Is Silly. That office jobs and mechanics and lawyers and stuff: they do real shit. Are deserving of dignity. Artists don't. Artists draw funny little doodles that are amusing, even when it's multi-billion dollar animated movies or video games. I have had the concept of my time scoffed at, belittled, and shamed because I draw for it, whereas something like a call center job or even fast food there's no question of being paid for your time. So yeah. When people slap something together and call it Art, especially Art that belongs to other people, it's a little aggravating. And if you think it's easy to do Art, you're not doing it.
And that's the vibe I'm getting from people who Don't Do Art. They discount it, take it for granted, and are even bold and stupid enough to think it belongs to them. Why nobody told the Fighting Is Magic development team that maybe they shouldn't waste two years of their life on something that was illegal in the first place is beyond me. It shows an amazing lack of knowledge about Intellectual Property laws, licensing, and copyright, which any artist who has been screwed by a contract (or a nonexistent one that leaves no recourse to not getting paid) knows backwards and forwards. The first time you get paid in shoestrings, gum, and the "privilege of being able to include it in your portfolio", you learn real quick that money talks and bullshit walks. And I'd honestly like to know what the original animators and designers think of their work being advertised while they're not seeing a dime of all that exposure. Someone else is, and it's probably profit margins.
I'm not saying the maze of corporate money, marketing, Art, and expression is an easy one to navigate. There's a lot of grey area and fog, and I don't want to equate some eleven-year-old who loves Pokemon and is inspired to draw a picture of it is the same as someone who thinks no artist anywhere deserves money for their creations. Or that all Art everywhere should be free because I Deserve Free Shit. But there's an unfortunate attitude that's extremely prevalent that I'm honestly getting tired of hearing. Especially when I hear "What do you mean you won't do it for free!?" for the umpteenth time. That phrase basically says "You and your skills are worthless!" for anyone looking for a translation. And don't tell me it doesn't exist. I've seen blogs and forum posts in the video game industry that encourage finding gullible people on Deviantart who will work for free or cheap, and specifically say you're better off avoiding more seasoned professionals because they'll cost you money. There's a saying: Amateurs make it hard for the professionals. And I have to say, the worst kind of amateur is the one that says "I worked hard on this thing that isn't mine totally for free!"
What the hell are the rest of us supposed to say to that?