Killing the Muse

I must begin this journal with a disclaimer. This topic is perhaps one of the topics I am most passionate about, so please forgive my fervor if any of this offends you.

I’ve noticed a pattern lately, particularly at anime conventions, where fellow artists set up their tables, toss up a “will work for food” sign, and litter their booths with fan art because that is what sells at anime cons. There seems an atmosphere of desperation that’s almost sweltering with the $10 originals and $5 quickie sketches while the rest of us who are charging what we’re worth are left to the mercy of undercut prices. Besides selling yourself short, the other half of what bothers me so much about this practice is the sheer hopelessness of these artists. Not every artist in an anime convention artist alley is this way, but it’s something I notice more at anime conventions in general.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well crafted and well thought out homage to anime. Selling fan art is not the problem, it’s the intention behind selling the fan art. I have gotten the response from some of these artists about how they can’t sell their original work because it’s fluffy and idealistic to think one can make money off of drawing what they love. My response to them is that if you’re looking for a quick bang for your buck, the art world is not the one for you. For one, it is certainly not guaranteed for many of us to make money right out of school, though I have heard of it happening. Success in any creative profession is about doing what you love and standing out in the crowd for it. Doing what you love and doing it well…because there are a thousand others trying to do the same thing. If you have no passion, you’re more than likely to be a flicker next to a candle in the crowd.

(EDIT for clarification) For example, if you’re selling fan art in the artist alley, what will a customer be more likely to buy? The half-inspired doodle of Sasuke or the inspired, or at the very least masterfully crafted, image of Sasuke that really says something about the character and your love of him? This same concept can be applied to the creative field as a whole.

I used to be in the same position where I thought I could not make money with the subjects I enjoyed (an unfortunate byproduct of a gallery-focused fine art education). That is, until I started talking to more professionals in my field (and in other creative fields as well, for that matter!). Every single one of them has told me the same thing during interviews:

“It’s scary relying on the uncertain, but do what you love and they will find you. Doing anything else is a way to get stuck designing cereal boxes till you don’t care anymore.”

If you market yourself to draw the popular things you don’t even remotely enjoy drawing, you are going to burn out quick because that is all anyone will ever want to hire you for. This business takes patience, focus, and self-motivation. Forcing yourself into it just to make a buck generally leads to sub-par work because you are not challenging yourself or fostering your inspiration and you just cannot compete with other people in the same field who genuinely enjoy and love what they’re doing.

I am not naive enough to think an artist or creative individual will always be inspired for every single job they’re hired for, but if these sorts of jobs become more numerous than the ones you enjoy in even the slightest capacity, than something’s gotta give. Why? Why torture yourself if you don’t enjoy it even a little anymore? There must be a breaking point where you discover just how much your creativity is worth to you.

Why not just get another job that’ll help pay the bills, and then do art on the side because you can truly enjoy it rather than be held prisoner by the motivation of money? Don’t kill yourself! Don’t kill your muse! If the single motivation of your art is to make money without any enjoyment of what you’re doing whatsoever, than I can almost guarantee you that it is not worth it.

(Another EDIT for clarification XD) However, as Brenda pointed out in the comments, if making money is your enjoyment and that doesn’t harm your inspiration or quality of work, than more power to you! I realize not all people operate the same way I do.

My plea to you, the desperate undercutting artists, the money focused fan art peddlers who are afraid to explore their limits, the hopeless and uninspired who feel trapped by their profession, you have options. There is no shame in guarding your inspiration as a hobby if you cannot do it as a profession. There is no dishonor in doing such a thing.

Please stop torturing yourselves! It is painful to watch…


  1. Brenda L. says:

    My response to them is that if you’re looking for a quick bang for your buck, the art world is not the one for you.

    Unfortunately, the way anime convention art circles are now, they can churn out lots of fan art and make a lot of money. They can sell cheap prints of Naruto and Sailor Moon and Faye Valentine and random Final Fantasy characters kissing and make a LOT of money. Even if they don’t enjoy drawing such things, the point is it islucrative and they know it.

    Does that make things difficult for the rest of us, who draw original characters and often put a lot more effort and care into our work? Heck yeah. But keep in mind, there is a demand for the ‘quick, easy and cheap’ fanart we see table after table of at the anime cons. And that demand is huge.

    I think what we need to look at here is the primary audience. At DragonCon there tends to be a more mature crowd, and by ‘mature’ I don’t necessarily mean ‘doesn’t make fart jokes.’ I mean older, which usually means more income and more appreciation for better art. However at, let’s say, AWA, the primary audience consists of a much younger age group. More kids who would rather spend 3 bucks for a cheap laser print of Sephiroth making out with Cloud than $50 for a high-quality, matted giclee print of an original character.

    I don’t think we should be setting all the blame on the artists. Many of them, although we may not agree with the moral drive of their intentions to make art to make money, are being VERY successful in what has become a very easy way for them to make money. We may not be happy with it and it may not be completely legal (I always question the legality of selling fanart of copyrighted characters), but saying that “the art world is not the one for you.” It’s like telling Dominoes Pizza “the pizza business is not for you” because they’re selling cheaper, lower quality pizzas than the mom-and-pop place down the street that’s about to go out of business because everyone keeps ordering from Dominoes instead of them.

    And before this appears to be an attack on your point of view, let me clarify that I do agree with your viewpoint. It makes me sick to death of seeing artists who love what they do – who truly strive to improve, who draw from life and experiment and study other artists and make a damned good effort to become better artists – struggle to even put food on their table with their art because they’re surrounded by fanartists who water down the market with their cheap doodles of Sasuke with ribbon wings. One thing that still confuses me is how an convention’s art show can prohibit the sale of fanart, yet the artist’s alley doesn’t. Selling art of a copyrighted character is still selling art of a copyrighted character, whether it’s hanging on a wall with a bid sheet or sitting in a plastic sleeve on some fanartist’s table.

  2. Angela Sasser says:

    See, I don’t really agree here with what you’re saying. The majority of people in the AA who sell uninspired fanart aren’t making alot of money, at least not the ones I’ve seen and talked to. The ones who make the money are the ones who have at least a half-inspired skill in what they’re selling because that is what draws in the viewer. Popularity of a character is a main drive incentive, but who is going to win a buyer? The really well drawn picture of Sasuke that drips inspiration or the half-inspired doodle of Sasuke with ribbon wings?

    I am also speaking in generalities here. I’m not saying no one will ever make money being uninspired, but it certainly does help and the majority of artists who go into the industry half-inspired will not be able to keep up with the artists who are. Does that mean the uninspired ones won’t be hired anywhere? No. But it does mean that people who do have the drive, skill, and love are generally going to get ahead quicker while people who settle for something that doesn’t really drive them will have a disadvantage.

    I just hate seeing some of these artists thinking that they have no choice but to draw what sells. If the only motivation is to sell and they don’t even get any gratification out of the money beyond just surviving than that they really need to examine other prospects.

    When I say to these desperate artists that the art world might not be a place for them, I mean that is it not the place to make a quick buck. The majority of fanartists (and regular artists) are not making a living off of it when they first start out, and if they are, they’re scraping by unless they are just that good and they stand out from the crowd of thousands of fanartists out there. I’m not telling them not to give it a shot, but that they should not expect it to be easy JUST because fanart, at its core, sells.

    Also, I’m mainly referring to people who think that they cannot draw their own personal subject matter because they think it won’t sell like fanart does, which is untrue (this is the heart of my argument, which is not really focused on whether or not fanart sells). So many artists think their personal work won’t sell and therefore they don’t even TRY. This also leads to the desperation that is prominent in so many anime con allies.

  3. Brenda L. says:

    I guess this is where our arguments are separate. Primarily I was talking about the fanartists who do make a decent buck off what they’re doing. You know the ones I’m talking about – they actually have a fan following of their own.

    It is true that there are a lot of artists who aren’t doing this ‘professionally’ and don’t make a substantial amount of money off of it, and for them I think they should practice perfecting their art before jumping into fanart (which already has a huge fanbase already).

  4. Angela Sasser says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you there. I think as far as many of these artists who are starting out go is that they really just need to take the time to perfect their craft and gain more confidence before resorting to doing something they don’t really enjoy in order to make money. Confidence is key, particularly with the creative industry.

    Sorry for the confusion with comments! I added an ‘edit’ bit so people will realize where things have been clarified. Please don’t avoid my blog now XD Curse the alluring draw of Dexter taking me away from triple proofreading things!

  5. Martha Pennington says:

    unfortunately I’ve never been to a con but I do work for cafeteria/catering business, one of the biggest in the world, Sodexo and what I’ve learned is that its more important to sell then to make food, or art in this blogs case, that’s good. I hate it but the people that sell the same old boring fan art are doing exactly what any big corporation does, do what is easy and cheap to make a quick buck, that’s business..its nasty and its unfair but that’s the way it is. I never thought that it would find its way into the art world, but it has. Hopefully we can change that, but there will always be people that cheat the rest of use.

    Every day I hear people telling me to take the easy way out and get a degree in something that will make me money.

    Everyday I hear people say that I should go into animation or portrait art or digital art and maybe I can make it, but I love the traditional media and even though I love animation and portrait drawing I want to study surrealism and pop art. All one can do is do what fits for them and hope the rest of world see’s their worth….not that it should matter but hey lets be honest we need money lol

    Hugs and props for posting this blog!!


  6. Angela Sasser says:

    Martha, I am not very sure food can be compared to art because there is a different process involved in it. People enjoy art in a different way than food, which is generally fast and consumable. Of course, there are different types of art that are also ‘digested’ quickly and not really appreciated in deeper ways. There’s also gourmet food made by chefs which the loftier crowds pay extra money for. The comparison is an odd one that I think would have to be looked at on a case by case basis.

    I definitely wouldn’t compare the food business to surrealism which qualifies as fine art. That is the sort of thing which one generally views in a gallery where the work is admired in layers, from the technique to the symbolism and to everything beyond. I think what’s great about the age we’re in now is that you CAN do just about anything you’re passionate about and use the internet to connect with those that appreciate the niche you’re in.

    There are definitely art corporations making money, like Kinkade. But do you think he got where he is by being completely uninspired? It took time to get where he is. Time, practice, and some kind of love of either the money or the process or both. He found his niche and he is making money. Without knowing him personally, I can’t say much more about his personal drive, but I do now that any person who puts that much effort into making a business isn’t driven by lack of confidence and takes some enjoyment out of it, else he could take his significant earnings and do something else.

  7. Martha Pennington says:

    Well what I’ve seen is that most ways of doings can be applied to anything….the general public doesn’t view art the we do…as artists we have a deeper connect with art, but they are thinking “its pretty” and “that picture would look cool on a shirt or a key chain” People don’t think beyond their pocketbook. So If they are willing to be cheap with food, something that goes in to their body then they are definitely wiling to get a piece of art as cheap as they can…so artists that need money will sometimes resort to making cheap and unoriginal art to make a quick buck. Most businesses know this thats way their produces are cheap…and yes their are chefs that make good food and their are people that buy it, but remember the major of the people buying things are people can’t generally afford high quality things, so that’s where walmart and other large business come from. Being an artist is a business at heart, even if we all aren’t very good at it lol. But, I do see that surrealism is something that is in a gallery, but galleries art where people that have money go to buy these things and know that what they are buying are good quality, but most artists now are trying to reach the entire world and stop relying on galleries an their extremely high fee.

  8. Angela Sasser says:

    I think no matter the business, it all boils down to finding a way to keep up with your competition, be that improving one’s skills, service, or cost effectiveness! Most good businesses aim for all three. It’s a matter of choice and preference just how we choose to conduct business, and for the most part, the ‘how’ will be what attracts the loyal customers, whether you’re a corporation or a mom and pop shop. There’s only so far a corporation can go before bad business practices will cause them to lose business. Even Walmart has been sued before. They still make money, but if cases keep popping up, it can really effect their sales and more importantly their stocks. I don’t think corporations are the most effective example to follow, particularly in a creative biz where the focus of work is on the idea and execution and how these effect the final product.

    Also, you’re right that a majority of the audience do take in art because they think it looks cool. That is why the most effective marketing strategies that have generally worked for professional artists are those which involve informing your audience about what you do and convincing them of the importance, emotional impact, and skill behind your art so it’s not just the random cool thing they should pass over quickly. Make them feel that it’s worth collecting…and if you don’t believe that yourself, than people are apt to not believe it either.

    It’s all in the presentation when there are a million people doing the same thing you’re doing.

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