Fan Subcultures as the Next Thing

A theory listicle

Duncan Alexander:

Postmodern art is at the end of its life. The monolith of Modernism was torn down successfully decades ago, and since then, the once hip, edgy and avant-garde movement has run out of places to go. Instead, 'fine' art has turned inward, gnawing at its own structures in critique. Meanwhile, popular culture has dramatically changed around art from a mainstream, centralized package into a plurality of fandoms with their own artistic methods and traditions. With this essay, I intend to explore the nature of this shift, its implications for art, and the methods which current artists are using in the new cultural model.


A friend of mine once half-seriously joked that "Postmodernism died on August 7, 2000." This was the day that Deviant Art, one of the largest arts-and-crafts based communities on the Internet, was founded. What he meant by this remark was that the relevancy of fine art in society had begun to diminish because of the rise of group-centric art practices. Deviant Art allows producers of images, music and literature to band together via connected profiles and share their content. Most of the content hosted is 'fan art,' unofficial art depicting characters from pop culture. These works fall all over the board in quality, from highly polished paintings and sculptural work to crude (and often vulgar) crayon drawings produced by the sites’ younger or less talented inhabitants. The advantage of this system for all participants is that it contains an artificial structure – all artists know what the characters should look like, and so can test the flexibility of the personas and settings that fans bring to the Web.


My examples of localization that I have discussed so far have been internet-specific, but I should be clear that the phenomenon is not limited to online, 'outsider' art. I would go as far as to include artist Takashi Murakami in this trend, with his use of the now globally recognizable Anime aesthetic. His art does not need an understanding of art history in order to enjoy the work. Viewers can choose to delve into the political underpinnings of his paintings, relate to them by their personal experience of Anime, or even enjoy them purely aesthetically. They are a new form of Pop, more interested in the “stock image” shapes that construct Anime than the content itself. Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki collective also explores multiple reinterpretations of the base of the Anime aesthetic, resulting in the style/philosophy that they term 'Superflat.'

My reply to Alexander (it's not fair for me to re-post this reply to just excerpts--you really need to read Alexander's whole essay):

Belatedly catching up to your "Big Picture" essay. I mostly agree with it. It's relevant to the Boris Groys discussion at AFC [Alexander posted a link to it there - ed.] but only tangentially. My guess is Groys doesn't know beans about fan culture (I'm reading "Art Power" now and can report later on his knowledge level.)
The problem of trying to put something like deviantart or 4chan into a grand timeline of art history movements is there is no cause and effect. Artists can be interested in these subcultures but the reverse isn't true. This is where the Groys lecture "Everyone is an artist" perhaps comes in - he's saying it doesn't matter if the people with the cat websites are schooled or not - it's enough that they're drifting away from the dominant culture, thereby weakening its foundations. "Professional" artists can similarly drift away into areas of niche expertise or semi-private activities.
My biggest quibble with your essay is your choice of some artists. I've written about Takashi Murakami--I don't trust his motives or like his work--he's cynically exploiting western curatorial anxiety about being "too Western." His ambitions are too large and too capitalistic. Martin Denker is an interesting choice--I didn't know that work.
I would say, forget the historical narrative at this point. The painters hanging out at Paddy's (see Amy Sillman threads) aren't interested in where technology might take us--why should we help them by retroactively validating them as links to present practices? I am more interested in developing a way of talking about the present subcultures you are interested in without always referring back to the story of movements and countermovements. Arguably postmodernism is broad enough to capture all Balkanized, post-historical practices, including deviantart, and I'm happy to leave it at that.

Rhizome Surf Club vs 4Chan discussion

Rhizome Surf Club vs Rhizome discussion

Creepy Clown vs New Media (my post wrestling with this topic eight years ago: the concern was more with fan subcultures vs institutional "new media" than fan cultures vs the institutional art world and its history).

Deviantart mentions on my old blog

Update: Changed an erroneous link to an Amy Sillman AFC thread. The angry painter threads are here and here.

Update 2: My conversation with Duncan Alexander is continuing here.