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05 July 2006 @ 07:11 pm
The Art of Faery book review  
Update 7/16/07: Although many of my opinions regarding much of popular fairy art (aptly represented by the volume in question) are still quite intact, my views and overall approach to the contemporary fairy craze and changed and softened somewhat. My earlier, more asinine reflections on the craze were not, as some might suggest 1, due to jealousy borne of the commercial success of some of the artists who are at the vanguard of the genre. Rather my initial fervor has entirely to do with the fact that something very near and dear to me is being cheapened and deprived of its integral mystery and ambiguity largely for the purposes of financial gain and popularity.

If contemporary "fairy artists" derive joy from their art, then it is hardly my place to attempt to intervene. I also completely understand that artists have to eat, and if "fairy art" is the vehicle though which they obtain the funds to do so, then more power to them. I still feel that there is a great deal more to Faery than what is displayed in virtually all of their work, and to the extent that what they do contributes to the growing superficiality and watering-down of a deep, profound tradition (sometimes this is born from the artist's genuine lack of knowledge of the subject, other times it is a blithe, arrogant disregard for viewpoints contrary to their own) I cannot fully endorse it.

My new approach has been to seek to initiate change from the inside of the craze rather than by shunning and trying to disassociate from it entirely. An apt phrase comes to mind: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Instead of focusing on what I believe to be detrimental, I am working to encourage that which reveals the depth and potency of Faery, hopefully by planting some seeds in the vast soil of the fairy craze with my own art and writing. I want to make peace with the contemporary fairy craze so I can more readily focus on my own work, and it is much more valuable to me to work on establishing and strengthening an alternative path for those genuinely interested in Faery than to waste precious time with criticism. Thankfully, I am not the only one seeking towards this end. In keeping with this more tolerant, progressive approach, I have removed the following review from the Amazon website where it had the most exposure. It contains what I still believe to be valid points,which is why I am allowing it to be viewable here, but most of them are stated in a more harsh manner than I would now prefer.

I just posted my review of David Riché's The Art of Faery to my website and submitted it to Amazon. You can also read it below the cut. There's nothing wrong with a compendium of fantasy fairy art when it is presented as such. The problem occurs when people mistakenly equate the cutesy, whimsical, winged little creatures fabricated in the past few hundred years with the same sphere of Faery that is documented in genuine world mythology and folklore. Unfortunately, only one or two pieces in this book really seem to hint at the true Faery of legend and myth.

Brian Froud's keynote introduction and the opening statement on the back cover lead the reader to anticipate a deeper, more sensitive visual response to the challenge of representing Faery beings than is actually supplied by the book. One anticipates that the artwork will, in the words of Froud, "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it." Despite this book's ardent desire and claim to promote Faery as an "individual connection to nature," it really has a great deal more to do with an obsession with the insipid legacy left to us by the Victorians - faeries as spritely creatures of fantasy, drained of their original power, wildness, menace, and expressive potency. Froud makes another telling comment in his foreword which more accurately relates to the book's true content: he writes of the perception of faeries over time as being "reduced to the tritest and gaudiest products of the human mind, washed up on the shorelines of nurseries." Taking into consideration the many saccarine, winged toddlers and preteens; pudgy elfin babies; and the horde of vapid supermodels-turned-fey vixens within these pages, I believe this collection of imagery is far closer to the "trite and gaudy" end of the spectrum. This would not be such a jarring issue if the book claimed to be a collection of fantasy fairy art.

I find it strange that many of the artists within this book list Alan Lee and Brian Froud's seminal book Faeries as a major influence (e.g. Baroh, Amy Brown, Galbreth, Browne, etc.), yet their own work doesn't seem to indicate that they actually read it (yes, it is more than a beautiful picture-book!) and/or seriously investigated the illustrations therein. On the contrary, it seems like they may have skimmed the book, taking note only of the petite creatures that suited their pre-conditioned notions of Faery while ignoring the vast majority of information presented. The denizens of Faery are linked not only to the spiritual heart of the landscape, but also to the realm of the dead and the mysterious weavings of fate. Faeries of old were not merely acknowledged by humans, but greatly respected, and, in some cases, feared. Despite the attempts of artists to depict so-called "dark faeries" in this volume, the figures they paint are simply the same fairy characters as in their other pieces playing dress-up; there's nothing inherently menacing, disturbing, or powerful about them other than the fact that these fairies apparently shop at Hot Topic instead of at the typical Renaissance Faire or hippie clothing store at which they normally purchase their garments.

The website of one artist included in this work hailed The Art of Faery as a compendium of "the best faery artists in the world." Unfortunately, if this book features "the best" the contemporary Faery art realm has to offer, then that realm is in a very disappointing state indeed. While this book does contain the work of a handful of skilled individuals who have a decent handle on human proportions, shading, perspective, color, etc. (as well as containing the work of a number of those at the other end of the spectrum who definitely do not have a good understanding of the human form or a sensitivity to their chosen medium) nearly every example of the faery art in this book suffers from an extremely limited visual vocabulary. Virtually every single image in The Art of Faery, regardless of the talent and skill of the artist in question, is hidebound by convention and stereotype. With scarcely any exceptions, all of the supposed faeries these artists depict embody a cookie-cutter mentality: they are either cutsey children with wings and clothing of petals and foliage, or they are winged Victoria's Secret models with similar botanical decorations. As previously mentioned, the skill level of the artists included in this book varies widely. Some of the more technically proficient, stylistically refined artists include Marja Lee Kruÿt, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, John Arthur, Maxine Gadd, and James Browne. Although Linda Ravenscroft possesses obvious talent as well, particularly in decoration and costume design, I was really put-off by her tireless recycling of the same exact facial features in every image. A lot of individual character is built up in her lavishly detailed backdrops and interesting ornamentations, but so much is subsequently lost when one reaches the faces of her figures. Unfortunately, Ravenscroft was not the only artist included who tended to constantly recycle portions of their previous works: a number of artists do not simply create images of fairies, they manufacture them using their own established stock of poses, clothing design, faces, motifs, etc. A few of the artists displayed their lack of skill at drawing hands by conspicuously covering them in their images with clothing or hair. The classic hand-avoidance pose wherein one or both hands are deliberately hidden behind the subject's body (typically behind the back or head) is even shamelessly utilized on a few occasions. Two artists in particular desperately need to lessen their dependancy on watercolor-and-salt textured backgrounds. The greatest artistic travesty though appears on page sixty-two. The piece displayed on that page is "Celestial Faery," a watercolor dated to the year 2002. What is so distressing about this image? Do a Google image search for Jennifer Lopez's perfume Glow, and compare the popular 2002 ad campaign photograph of nude J.Lo holding a bright point of light to "Celestial Faery." The striking resemblance is no mere coincidence: it is an example of plagiarism. If the artist had genuinely made up this composition on her own, the contours would not correspond so well to J.Lo's actual body (note the precise finger placement, the curve that runs from below Jennifer's breast down her torso as well as the curve just above the elbow on the lower arm). From viewing other examples of her work in The Art of Faery where she misplaces collar bones, flattens noses, deliberately conceals people's hands behind their bodies to avoid drawing them, and paints mono-blob breasts that do not respond when arms are lifted; there is no way she could have pulled off this sort of perspective on her own without reference. This sort of behavior is somewhat expected of budding middle school and high school aged artists, but it is deplorable for a college graduate with a degree (supposedly) in Fine Arts and "a focus on painting the human figure." Even worse, I recently discovered that this artist includes another version of this painting (a copy of a copy, you might say) for demonstration purposes in the book Watercolor Fairies by the same publisher, this time the fairy is wearing clothes. If an artist really requires reference, there are plenty of more honorable options available to him or her: hiring live models to pose, utilizing his/her own photography, taking life drawing classes in order to familiarize oneself with the human form in the first place, referencing copyright-free photography, and of course grabbing a mirror and becoming one's own model. There is no excuse for blatant plagiarism, and these artists should be held accountable regardless of how popular their artwork happens to be. Undoubtedly, this book will be (and already has) become a cherished addition to the libraries of many fantasy fairy enthusiasts. It is pleasant, pretty, and whimsical volume sure to provide inspiration for many mental flights of fancy. However, for those interested in genuine, mythic Faery art this collection will largely prove to be disappointing. To find artwork that earnestly seeks to "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it," one needs to look elsewhere. There is so much more to the fey than the pleasant, pretty, and whimsical modern veneer many assume is the totality of Faery. Don't be fooled into confusing fantastical fairies with the real thing; enjoy these fantasy fairies for what they are - creatures of fantasy.

1) Galbreth, Jessica. "Advice from Jessica." Enchanted Art. http://enchanted-art.com/pages/advice.php.
I'm referring specifically to the following statements: "Of course with the huge amount of artists springing up, there is bound to be a bit of negativity as well. I've heard that those of us who did it first have often become targets of hateful bashing on forums. While this is sad, we must remember that this is just like any other industry. And, some people react to other's successes by trying to tear them down, maybe with the hopes that if they do, there will be more room for them."

(Deleted comment)
{to await from the stars}sphinxmuse on July 6th, 2006 12:36 am (UTC)
I thought it was just me! I have talked about this phenom many times and it continues to baffle me. I see absolutely nothing going on among the "fairy" artists comparable to the wide range of earthly and other elementally influenced characters depicted in the work of Brian Froud.

Neither do I. Honestly I'm rather astonished that they were able to get Froud to write the foreword to this book considering that that he has spoken out numerous times against the dilution of Faery. I wonder if he was exposed to the artists' work before he wrote his essay.

I found this review extremely interesting and full of important (if potentially unpopular) points.

I imagine they will prove to be quite unpopular overall since so many of the artists within this book have huge (and hugely devoted) fan bases, but hopefully they will at least cause some people to reconsider what "faery" and "faery art" really means.
{to await from the stars}sphinxmuse on July 6th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)
I don't understand why this post was deleted. . . .

Did I do it by accident somehow, or did you do so deliberately?
Indigo Crowindigocrow on July 5th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC)
Whenever I paint fae or mythology/gods I find the traits, symbolism and trade marks of the gods I am painting to add to my art. I noticed alot of these artists listed will paint a God or Goddess and they will be nothing like the descriptions, which is easy to find with google, from mythology state them to be like. I know people have their own take on Gods however if you paint a war Goddess as a gentle spirit i think you miss the point of that Goddess.

As for the faeries, i am sick of seeing certain artists being blown up as being so talented when its a very basic style they are doing. There are tons of artists with better styles/views on faeries that are overlooked by popularity.
(Screened comment)
kit_wildekit_wilde on July 6th, 2006 01:08 am (UTC)
Hey Dez...

I found a doctor...all my problems will be forever solved tomorrow at 4pm.

You could CALL me you know...:)
{to await from the stars}sphinxmuse on July 6th, 2006 01:15 am (UTC)

There are lots of doctors, you know. There're not that difficult to locate ;)

Or, are you referring to a doctor that will agree to perform a tubal ligation (i.e. spaying) on a girl in her 20s? I was just discussing this with Andrew yesterday. . .

You could call too ;P
{to await from the stars}sphinxmuse on July 6th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)
Damn it. It should be "they're" not "there're." Well, you know what I mean.
soul_quakes: Lights.soul_quakes on July 9th, 2006 11:36 am (UTC)
I often have a problem trying to explain to people the difference between mythic and fantasy art. All they see in their mind is that it's the same creatures being portrayed, so what's the difference?

I have no problem at all with fantasy art... I paint/draw a lot of it myself, but I know when I'm just prancing around, and when I'm turning a little more serious. I do generally much prefer art which shows a deeper understanding of the mythology which supposedly inspired it, but a bit of fluff (especially fluff with excellent composition and use of colour) every now and again does no harm, so long as, like you said, it is presented as such.

I suppose I have nothing new to add to what you've already said... I'm just agreeing with you, and saying that it's good to see a more balanced review out there.
Sphinxelven_sphinx on November 8th, 2006 10:10 am (UTC)
I've just recently found this journal and have a great interest in both Faery lore as well as those of various world mythologies.

*hangs head in shame*...Hi, my name is Megan and I have a copy of "The Art of Faery".
-I bought it becuase I liked the artwork of several of the artists therein, but I completely agree with you. The artwork does in no way accurately convey the World of Faery. I am disappointed on that count, greatly. I'm a HUGE fan of both Brian and Wendy Froud and I feel that I've developed a higher standard for beauty, this book just doesn't quite do it for me on every page.

I like your critiq. of the book though, well worded and very straight forward:)