A Personal Philosophy of Faery Art

Everyone has their own intensely personal manner of creating art, an unconscious or subconscious way in which we perceive the world and translate it into image, movement, word, or sound. Many times people also develop a more or less conscious system of representation, a particular style that defines much of their work. There is nothing inherently wrong with possessing and utilizing a style of one's own (and truthfully, it may be nearly impossible to escape our ingrained manner of expression), but our purpose as artists is not merely to exploit the playground of personal style. Peter London, in his wonderful book Drawing Closer to Nature, explores the nature of art:
In this game we call art, the purpose of effort is to extend the features of the map of consciousness. In this infinite game, every probe attended to brings back news for consideration. All the news is vital because it may fill in features of the world as it is. All news must be attended to in order to discern noise from pattern, novelty from redundancy. A probe not made for fear of bringing back bad news misconstrues the purpose of news. News is the only means we have to draw up the ever-expanding map of what is. Bad news is as much a feature of the world as any other news. A probe weakly made brings us distorted news, corrupting information, insinuating structures into the map of the world that are not in the world but only on the map, making for a dangerous journey for those who consult it. [. . .] All artistic undertaking that is motivated by inquiry rather than by manufacture is awash with probes and gropings.1
To do otherwise, to knowingly or unknowingly refuse to reach beyond the periphery of the standard tricks and traits of one's personal style, is to make of one's self a compact assembly line in which components of a personal style are simply rearranged to form "new" pieces. Those who will not allow themselves to truly tread through the Veil are doomed to produce formulaic, repetitive, stale material. The question is not so much one of creativity per se, but one of being in a constant process of seeking to create more genuine work. And the quest for more genuine work simply cannot be exhausted by anyone during any single lifetime — one can always improve, refine, and experiment.

Yet, a limiting and complete reliance on style has made much of contemporary Faery art stagnant. Now there is no end to depictions of supermodels or buxom pin-ups with butterfly wings and flowers in their long, wavy tresses, not to mention the current obsession with corsetry and striped stockings. The same can be said of cute, childlike sprites bedecked with insect wings and antennae, set amid a profusion of toadstools. It is quite true that there is no one right way to conceive or express Faery. However, something rings inauthentic about the fervent belief among some that faeries and nature spirits, beings/energies/emanations/representations of the wild and ancient heart of the landscape, constantly go traipsing about in modern prom dresses, or that they perpetually don the forms of nubile young women whose physical attributes conveniently coincide with the narrow, 21st century, Western ideal of feminine beauty.

Much of contemporary Faery/Fairy art is also born of secondhand knowledge. We draw lovely creatures with shimmering wings, a gauzy shift, and ears which terminate in delicate points not because our firsthand encounters inform us as to how they may appear, but largely because we are patterning ourselves after other artists whom, we presume, have had that firsthand experience. And, unfortunately, there are some cases in which such a dependence on vicarious knowledge results in blatant plagiarism. Therefore, so many artists, writers, and Faery enthusiasts are presenting "distorted news, corrupting information, insinuating structures into the map of the world that are not in the world but only on the map, making for a dangerous journey for those who consult it." Thus we end up with another generation of those who, for whatever reason, do not seek out the Otherworld and its denizens for themselves, but instead are content to gaze at the rather misleading work of those with only secondhand knowledge. As in the children's game of Whisper Down the Lane, a phrase is passed through a line of individuals who grow progressively more distant from the original source, and it gets increasingly garbled — perhaps so much so that there is almost no resemblance between the first words and the last.

Drawing insect wings on humanoid creatures etc. is fun, and there are definitely times when they appropriately fit the mood, subject, and personality one is trying to convey, but it should not be the knee-jerk reaction and immediate solution when one truly seeks to reveal Faery through art. For instance, diminutive Tinkerbell-esque fairies may be well suited to a light-hearted and whimsical children's story, and many people specifically want large-breasted, blond, overtly sexual women with butterfly wings tattooed on themselves. However, if one is sincerely interested in using their art as a vehicle with which to address and explore the realm of Faery with a real sense of receptivity, respect, and sensitivity, the crude formula so many have adopted to depict faeries simply will not suffice. For those who view their art practice as a form of personal shamanism - a shift in awareness allowing us to hold conversations with those subtle elements which normally evade our day-to-day consciousness — that formula leaves so much left unsaid. The seemingly obligatory faery traits (i.e. wings, small stature, etc.) are conventions that can serve to strangle the presence of others which may, in fact, be more genuine.

Within the sphere of contemporary Faery artists and enthusiasts, author/illustrator Brian Froud is likely the most widely loved and recognized (as well as one who is the most typically ripped-off of by other budding Faery artists) , and while I also admire and appreciate his work, I have to admit that I respect the work of Alan Lee even more so. Lee is the co-author and illustrator of the book which very well may have brought both Froud and contemporary Faery art into its first wave of post-modern popularity, yet Lee, unfortunately, appears to be much more neglected by the contemporary Faery art crowd 2. In regards to skill and technical ability, he is an insanely talented watercolorist who can produce rich, textured work without resorting to hackneyed tricks with salt etc., but his depictions of faery subjects is also quite remarkable. Superficially, they seem quite human enough since they often do not possess those stereotypical features we have come to associate with Faery, yet they are decidedly not human. Perhaps their gaze seems more penetrating, their hands reveal a grace seldom present in mortals, their beauty is timeless and otherworldly unlike the fleetingly popular "it" models that are plastered on magazine covers, or maybe they are even ugly, yet that homeliness still has a strange, captivating quality — in other words, they possess that elusive taint of Faery. His work proves that those traits many assume are required of a faery subject are unnecessary. Even when we look towards the better-known Faery work of Froud, while we do find female human-like creatures with wings and flower-adorned hair, we also find a wide variety of other Faery expressions which do not fit in with the typical mold.

Embarking on an artistic endeavor with the intent and expectation to create a "picture of a faery" is about as futile as staring at a very restricted portion of the night sky in order to see a meteorite — the state of consciousness required to do both wisely and well is not one of strained perception or imposed concentration. I am convinced that, in my very own work at least, images which speak of a genuine connection with Faery cannot be produced on demand. One cannot command that muse just as one cannot command Nature to do one's bidding. This is one reason why I personally cast a certain amount of suspicion on those artists who crank out dozens upon dozens of fairy pictures at an alarming rate to brand on various products. Creating the more authentic work with which I am happy is deeply involved with developing receptivity as well as being intimately connected with my own spirituality.

I must be clear that I am speaking as an active student rather than as an ascended master. I am not a Faery expert (if such a thing can possibly exist) , and I'm certainly not claiming to be the best Faery artist out there. I am well aware that my work often contains flaws on a technical level, and I too am seeking to create more genuine work. Yet I do know that my work is improving and that as a result of sincere effort, my work, at least from my perspective, is much more genuine than it once was. I have grown closer to expressing that strange and wild cast of Faery, but I can draw closer still...

Footnotes and Bibliography
1) Peter London. Drawing Closer to Nature: Making Art in Dialogue with the Natural World. Boston, MA: Shambala Press, 2003. ISBN 1-57062-854-8. 149.
2) The second wave I would say is the more recent one which began in the mid- to late-90s and is led by people including Amy Brown, Jessica Galbreth, Nene Thomas, etc.

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