Wow, dA's been around for 14 years, eh? I haven't been around here for all of that... but I have been here a pretty long time myself-- just about 10 years now-- so I guess now's as good a time as any for some introspection on my development as an artist through dA.
Admittedly, over the past decade, I've had a bit of a love-hate relationship with deviantArt-- in the realm of theory, I think the concept of bringing together a community of budding artists from all over the world and allowing them to interact and display their work is a truly brilliant and revolutionary one. Art has an immense power, to alter the way we see the world; giving everyone access to that power seems like a real game-changer. The idea
of dA is undeniably awesome. In real-world practice, though... I haven't always like the way it has played out. But I guess that's true of a lot of things, particularly where the Internet is concerned. Sometimes it has been dA's administration with which I have found fault, and sometimes it has been the users-- but in the end, I still recognize dA for the positive effect it has had on my life.
Back in 2004, when I first came here, I was a teenager, just finishing up high school in a small town in northern Georgia. Like other teens, I was angsty, and my visual art and writing certainly reflected it:
Who I Am
I am a ghost, a shell, a hollow figure in black, made of steel
Inside there is no soul, no emotions, nothing
Nothing but an endless bottomless abyss
A black hole into which all my inner light has been sucked
Leaving me numb and colorless
I am a dark spectre, only an illusion of flesh and blood
Evanescing like a nighttime fog
Or the creeping God-sent toxin of the tenth plague
Bringing misery to all and killing all happiness in my wake
Putting into painful sleep the world around me
Down the hall
You will feel my presence as I hover past
You will feel the air grow colder
Feel the absolute lack of feelings
Feel me, devoid of life
Feel the disappearance of comfort and security
And then you will see me
More a vacuum than a person
A phantom, a great dark hole, comprised of nothingness
I am the icy malignant king of automatons
The frowning misanthrope
The poisonous vapors of disillusionment and fear
The strangling weed of hatred
I am everything negative
I am oblivion
I am the end
Yeah, kinda cringe-worthy, in retrospect. XP It isn't that I didn't take my art seriously; on the contrary, it was very serious for me. I recognized early on that art was my jam-- art afforded me a whole other language, a whole other way of interfacing with the world, something that was so very hard for me at a young age. I felt that art could even provide some sort of therapeutic influence on my life. At that point, I was in a very rough place, emotionally-- isolated, angry, lonely for other like minds, still traumatized from an entire childhood of being constantly bullied and ostracized. Art gave me the voice I needed. So my senior year, I was the guy who sat in the back of the art class, in the AP section, listening to Metallica and Korn and Tool with my portable CD player and pretty much left to my own devices.
Then two things happened, right at around the same time: I graduated high school with an acceptance letter to Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and I found dA.
At the time, I had also been recently introduced to the Happy Tree Friends forum. A lot of my buddies from that place kept pushing me toward this thing called "deviantArt". At the time I was a little hesitant to open myself up to new places and people, but they kept putting pressure on me and saying I'd enjoy it, so I finally caved. I didn't really want to post very much of my HTF art, though-- I figured I was already posting that on the HTF forum itself, so dA could afford me an opportunity to show off more of my other material, and maybe even prove that my other work was just as good or better. Occasionally, though, as popular as she was, my HTF fan character Shelly the armadillo inevitably did make some appearances here:
My dA gallery really began to develop, though, when I moved to Florida and started at Ringling. Suddenly having all sorts of classes where I was producing charcoal figure studies, still life paintings, graphic design projects, and 3D models and concept development material for my computer animation major really added some sense of growth.
I got into Ringling hoping to become a computer animator. Ironically, Ringling made me realize I enjoyed painting so much more. The computer animation curriculum was just... not for me. My animations were always seen as sub-par, no matter how hard I worked on them, and my schedule was SO dominated by work that I wasn't eating or sleeping enough, and my social needs weren't being met. It was just a soul-crushingly busy life, and I realized it was an industry where I'd never be happy. Those days were rough for me; I was extremely depressed, and there wasn't a lot that actually did
make me happy. There was one thing, though:
A group of friends who lived in Canada, near Vancouver. They were the only people in my life who truly seemed to understand what I needed at that point. While my colleagues at Ringling pretty much ignored me, they were the ones who cared about me. So in 2007, I ended my time in Ringling, I moved to British Columbia to be closer to them, and I enrolled at Emily Carr University of Art and Design as a fine art major. One of the best decisions I ever made.
Again, my dA gallery experienced a surge of new work, as my studies and my new nurturing environment in Canada resulted in an explosion of creative productivity:
Over the course of the six years I spent in Vancouver, I finally obtained my Bachelors in Fine Art, and I developed into a much more mature artist. dA has been witness to all of it. dA has been an almost perfect format for me to exhibit my work, because of the manner in which it allows artists to add in-depth descriptions. A large portion of my professional self-directed practice has been based on heavily concept driven artwork:
So far, dA is the only
exhibition format I've found that gives artists the ability to easily post work, to add commentary to each individual work, and
access to a large number of viewers. For that reason, dA has become a stable of my daily internet activity. The one thing about dA that continues to work counter to my own development as an artist is that its chief demographic, in general, tends to be much more interested in fan art and pornography than serious fine art. There are exceptions, but they obviously aren't the majority. I suppose my own personal feeling is that art ought to be more of a meritocracy, where recognition is based more on conceptual soundness and effort than on whether the content of the work satisfies someone's lust. But I know that's not how the world (or dA) works.
I have made a few ill-advised attempts at consolidating my popularity on dA. I could see that anime characters and chibis were well-received, so I devised my US gijinkas:
I've occasionally participated in perpetuating some memes:
And I've dabbled in shameless self-promotion. It didn't matter. Nothing I ever did-- not bringing my intellectual and artistic A-game, not pandering, not selling out-- nothing ever got me noticed to the extent I wanted. Even my most popular deviation, which isn't even based on something original of mine (which drives me freaking nuts
), hasn't pulled in the numbers of viewers and comments I can only wish I had:
These days, I'm not showing much fine art on dA. Part of that is that I've had other issues in my life-- chief among them financial issues, and legal issues concerning my status in Canada-- and I haven't really been creating fine art to the extent that I once did. Maybe, out of cynicism, I've stopped expecting dA to provide me with the respect I desire as a fine artist. It's been a hard lesson to learn-- you can say what you're going to say, but you can't force other people to listen if they don't want to. But it's not all bad. Over the course of my time at dA, I've been learning to let go of the idea that popularity = artistic respect. There's been some consolation in the past several months, as I've been slowly brought into the Sonic fandom by my friends, the Absconders, that I can still satisfy my need to create and make others happy with my work by posting fan art:
I don't get to take myself quite as seriously as an artist as I wish I could, but at least I'm making people smile. The important thing is that my friends and I
are happy with what I create, not how many other people see it.
So I guess, in ten years of being on dA, I've sort of come full circle, swapping out one animated anthropomorphic animal fandom for another. XP I still sort of hope I can someday be the kind of serious artist I always looked up to when I was just starting out, but for now, I guess I'm pretty satisfied with how far I've come in ten years-- and I've got to admit, dA played a big role in that.