Defining “Public Display” in the Best Fan Artist Hugo Category

[Editor’s Note: Third in a series. Dublin 2019 has posted the 2019 WSFS Business Meeting Agenda (July 25 update) [PDF file] containing all the business submitted by the July 17 deadline. File 770 will post about some of the proposals and invite discussion.]

2019 Best Fan Artist nominee Ariela Housman, and Terri Ash, respectively the artist and manager of Geek Calligraphy, didn’t like the feedback they got from the Hugo Administrators about their submissions to the Hugo Voter Packet. Their solution is a rules change proposal that radically redefines the Best Fan Artist’s “public display” requirement.


Proposed by:

Terri Ash & Ariela Housman

Commentary:

Public Display includes: art shows (SF/F convention or otherwise), Internet posts (including but not limited to: personal blog posts, twitter posts, tumblr posts, Facebook, someone else’s blog, etc), Etsy shops, print on demand shops (TeePublic, RedBubble, Threadless, etc), dealer tables, Artist Alley displays, the art hanging in a cafe somewhere, magazines, fanzines, online advertisements. Basically, if it exists in a way that doesn’t require you to pay to see the image in full resolution (not counting a watermark), it’s public.


Back in April, Ariela Housman’s Geek Calligraphy blog post “Hugo Eligibility Revisited” explained the grievance that is at the root of this proposal:

Voting will begin soon, and when the voter packet is distributed, you’ll see two of our pieces in there…

But where did “Lady Astronaut Nouveau” go?

So, funny story about that.

When we published our eligibility post in December, we included the above two works, plus “Lady Astronaut Nouveau” based on The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. The former two were created earlier in 2018 and shown in art shows at Confluence and ICON. We finished “Lady Astronaut Nouveau” late enough in the year that we didn’t have any more art shows booked in which we could show it. We put it all over the interwebs, though.

This is what the Hugo Awards Website gives as the criteria for the Best Fan Artist category (bolding ours):

The final category is also for people. Again note that the work by which artists should be judged is not limited to material published in fanzines. Material for semiprozines or material on public displays (such as in convention art shows) is also eligible. Fan artists can have work published in professional publications as well. You should not consider such professionally-published works when judging this award.

The internet is about as public as it gets, right? It was even included in Mary Robinette’s Pinterest Gallery for Lady Astronaut Fan Art.

Even I was surprised by the next development:

Apparently the Hugo Committee disagrees. Per the email I received from the committee member who contacted me prior to the announcement of the ballot:

The first two pieces clearly qualify, so that is fine. I’m afraid that the rules exclude pieces that have only been displayed online.

This, dear reader, is ridiculous.

Although the title of their rules proposal refers to “categories,” and it’s clear from the same blog post they were calling for people to support them “Because it is time and past to overhaul the Pro Artist / Fan Artist categories” – no corresponding proposal about the Pro Artist category is on the agenda.  

We have blogged before about why we think that restricting the Professional Artist category to “professional publications” is outdated in an age when it is possible to make most if not all of one’s artistic income from online sales directly to customers. But there’s something extra odd and gatekeeper-y in telling a fan that their fan work doesn’t count until someone else – a zine or an art show head – gives it their stamp of approval.

(Also, art shows cost money to enter, adding an economic barrier-to-entry that I find particularly distasteful.)

If authors who publish online are real authors, then artists who post their work online are real artists.

If fan writers who write online are real fans, the artists who art online are real fans, too.

For Housman and Ash it’s all about a simple and direct effort to overturn an injustice – if you can see it online without paying, they feel that’s as much of a “public display” as an art show.  There’s nothing wrong with that logic.

However, the rule as drafted will have other effects.

It will write into the black-letter rules that work shown online to advertise works which can be purchased – Housman’s calligraphy is just one item in that universe – is fan art.

And remarkably, the authors of this motion don’t even want to be locked into this category, as noted in a June blog post (“Asking Permission vs. Begging Forgiveness”)

Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons I’m working on a proposal to the WSFS Business committee about the art categories. I don’t think what we do is fan art. Even when the art is based from something we didn’t invent in our heads, it’s work produced for sale.

People at the Dublin 2019 business meeting need to look down the road and decide if free views of product offered for sale is the kind of thing they want this category to reward. If not, they shouldn’t vote for this proposal. If yes, then maybe all the category needs a new title that will correctly label the work it’s recognizing, which will encompass a whole realm of commercial art.

67 thoughts on “Defining “Public Display” in the Best Fan Artist Hugo Category

  1. I was trying, and failing, to make a distinction between people who are hired by someone else prior to the job and people who put their work out there with only a possibility that someone might kick in some money towards them.

    I’m not convinced this is a useful distinction. Plenty of full-time fine artists do the majority of their work on spec and then hope someone will buy it, rather than being hired to do illustrating work, but that doesn’t make them less than “professional” artists. At this point in his career Michael Whelan has stepped back from illustration to mostly paint whatever he wants to paint, but I’d still raise an eyebrow at anyone who nominated him as a fan artist–even though of course all his non-commissioned paintings are publicly displayed on his website, free of charge.

  2. bill: This attitude demeans buskers, promotes the “starving artist” trope, and is in many cases simply wrong. I have known, and known of, a number of magicians who were professional buskers, and for long periods of time made their entire professional income by busking.

    And this is why discussions of the Hugo Pro Artist and Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories are so contentious, and why reforming their definitions has been so difficult.

    Because people invariably assume that the labels “Professional” and “Fan” contain inherent value judgments about the quality of the work involved. As far as the Hugos go, they do not. The only purpose of the words “Professional” and “Fan” for the Hugos is to distinguish between work contributed for free to fandom and all other work.

    Work done as an employee, on-spec work, commissions, and freelance pieces sold to buyers are all Professional work. A writer or artist who provides writing or artwork for free to fandom is doing Fan work — even if they have a Patreon or a Ko-fi or some other type of tip jar.

    In terms of the Hugos, busking is Fan work, not Professional work — and these labels contain no assessment of the quality of that work.

  3. @ambyr and JJ: People reacting viscerally to the words Fan and Professional is very much one of the difficulties in defining these categories. Which is why I think the definition of professional/non-professional, as used in the wording of the category, should be more closely tied to section 3.2.11, which is the definition of a Professional Publication (albeit with some language regarding electronic media added). Because then it’s all about where an artwork was published/displayed and not whether an artist had some monetary component to the work.

    Ambyr’s example of Michael Whelan is perfect for what I’m trying to explain. He clearly has made at least a quarter of his income from selling his work, so therefore his website would be a professional publication by definition (if there was wording about electronic media). Art appearing in Clarkesworld would be professional. Art appearing on File 770 would not. Many artists can not or do not make their living solely by selling art and those artists could display their art for free on their websites and qualify for Fan Art, even if they had the means to sell a print of it by request. I would also change the title of the category to something like Best Artwork, Professional Venue and Best Artwork, Non-professional Venue to further remove the appearance of making a value judgement on the Artist or the artwork itself.

    The downside to this (and it could be enough of a downside to make it not worth considering) is that it requires the nominators to be familiar with whether a website or magazine or whatever meets the definition of Professional Publication. And that’s not always information a nominator might have. Of course, we’re currently have that same situation when it comes to Semiprozines so it’s not unsurmountable, but it can be discouraging to nominators.

  4. I was thinking of something along the lines of the following associated changes. Added language is in bold and deleted language is surrounded by :: (I couldn’t seem to manage strikethrough).

    3.2.11: A Professional Publication, including but not limited to physical print or electronic media, is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria: (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

    3.3.12: Best Artist, Professional Venue. ::Professional Artist::
    An artist ::illustrator:: whose work has appeared in a Professional Publication, including but not limited to physical print or electronic media, in the field of science fiction or fantasy during the previous calendar year.

    3.3.16: Best Fan Writer. Any person whose writing has appeared in generally available Non-professional Publications, including but not limited to physical print or electronic media, ::semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media:: during the previous calendar year.

    3.3.17: Best Artist, Non-professional Venue ::Fan Artist::. An artist ::or cartoonist:: whose work has appeared in generally available Non-professional Publications, including but not limited to physical print or electronic media (including at a convention or conventions) or ::through publication in semiprozines or fanzines:: through other ::public,:: Non-professional, public display ::(including at a convention or conventions),:: during the previous calendar year.

    These would accomplish (I hope) several things that seem useful to me.

    It opens up the type of public displays that qualify for Fan Art, which I hope will bring in more artists. I personally think sharing SFF related art online contributes to fandom.
    It maintains the ability for an artist to qualify for Fan or Pro Artist, depending on the venue their art appears in (much the way the current system does).
    It maintains the ability for artists to display their work in semiprozines while still being eligible for Fan Artist (which I personally think is a good thing).
    It would allow artists to display and sell their art on their own websites or at a convention while still qualifying for the Fan Art award, but only if they make less than a quarter of their income from their art. I think this will encourage up and coming artists to continue to produce art related to SFF and stay connected to fandom while they develop a professional career.
    It would bring all the fan categories more in line with each other, so there’s greater fairness between them.

    I’ve drawn this up just now so it is very much still in the thinking stage. I’m sure I’ve left loopholes/blind spots or caused unintended consequences. Any feedback would be appreciated.

  5. @JJ

    A writer or artist who provides writing or artwork for free to fandom is doing Fan work — even if they have a Patreon or a Ko-fi or some other type of tip jar.

    In terms of the Hugos, busking is Fan work, not Professional work — and these labels contain no assessment of the quality of that work.

    a. My comments did not assume you were saying anything about the quality of a busker’s work. They were a reaction to you misunderstanding how busking works.
    b. There is nothing about a busker’s work that is analogous to providing it “free to fandom”. Your hypothetical busker who does it because it is something “they love to do” and who might get $5 on one day and nothing the next won’t hack it on the street and will soon find another line of work. It is not unusual for a good busker to pull several hundred dollars on a good day in a good location (it won’t happen every day, but it will happen). Busking is done fully with the expectation of getting paid. And (just as if you eat at a restaurant without tipping, you are stealing time and service from your waiter/waitress) if you enjoy a busker’s show without putting some money into the hat, you are leeching from him. I don’t believe there is an expectation that every time you view a piece Fan artwork that you should send the artist some money.

  6. I think the definition of professional/non-professional, as used in the wording of the category, should be more closely tied to section 3.2.11, which is the definition of a Professional Publication (albeit with some language regarding electronic media added). Because then it’s all about where an artwork was published/displayed and not whether an artist had some monetary component to the work.
    — Lorien Gray

    The definition of Professional Publication is acknowledged by many members of the Hugo Award Study Committee (which has spent the last two years discussing potential changes to the category definitions) as being outdated and inappropriate at this point, and not suitable for use in distinguishing between Pro Art and Writing versus Fan Art and Writing. Any definition referring to income is unsuitable, as well as unverifiable and unenforceable by the Hugo Administrator.

    One example I’ve given is that a university student who lives with their parents and has no job, but makes $25 a month selling drawings and avatars, is getting more than 1/4 of their income from their art, and by the existing definition, is therefore a professional.

    The intent is that the definition of a Professional Publication will be removed from the WSFS Constitution (likely accompanied by a change of the Semiprozine category to Magazine, since it’s now believed that prozines and semiprozines can compete on a more equal level due to accessibility via the internet).

  7. @Jo Van Ekeren: What is intended for Fanzine? Will that also be swept together with semiprozines and prozines? If not, then there will probably be some mechanism to distinguish between a fanzine and any other type of magazine. Will that mechanism also be suitable to distinguish between pro and fan artist?

  8. bill: They were a reaction to you misunderstanding how busking works. There is nothing about a busker’s work that is analogous to providing it “free to fandom”.

    I don’t know where you live geographically, but your definition of busking is certainly not a universal one. Where I grew up (and as far as I know it’s still that way, there and a lot of other places), busking was one step up from begging, and it doesn’t come with an obligation to contribute to the performer.

    While some buskers may expect to get paid, there is no obligation on passersby to pay them, and when no contract-for-hire exists, there is no such thing as “leeching” off someone who is performing in a public space which has no admission fee.

    This is different from tipping wait staff in the U.S., because in the U.S., wait staff are paid at a low level under the assumption that customers will tip them, and the IRS taxes them based on an assumed tip level (something which needs to be stopped, and stopped hard, by the way).

    I’m not getting into definitions according to “custom” or “courtesy”. The definition you’re offering up relies on all people having one agreed standard on the thing, which is simply not the case with busking.

  9. @Lorien Gray, part of the reason that no changes to Hugo categories have yet been enacted is because the WSFS membership at last year’s meeting could not come to a consensus on whether to move forward with the changes proposed by the committee. (Some members in attendance seemed to have had the mistaken impression that the proposed changes had been arrived at without extensive consideration.) So there’s no way to say for sure what will be changed, when it will be changed, and how it will be changed.

    If it helps to understand the thinking thus far, you can read the substance of the committees’ discussions here:
    2018 Hugo Award Study Committee Report
    2019 Hugo Award Study Committee Report (pg 48 of the Agenda)

    I’m a bit frustrated with last year’s response, which amounted to “We’ll know what changes we want when we see them, and these aren’t it,” and which left this year’s committee with little in the way of helpful direction as to what and how to make changes the membership as a whole would be willing to approve.

    Right now, this is where I’m at: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I wish that I had something more concrete to offer.

  10. Right now the Professional Artist category is very narrowly defined as illustration in professional publications. In practice, this puts everything else in Fan Art: illustration for semiprozines and other “semi-pro” publications like self-published books (huge overlap here with pro artist), art primarily created for sale, and art shared without expectation of compensation.

    The main proposal from the Hugo Study committee last year essentially flipped this the other way. Narrowly define Fan Art as no direct compensation at all and nothing intended to promote the artist. Everything else is Pro Art.

    The alternative proposal from the Hugo Study committee attempted to split the difference. Open Pro Art beyond illustration only, and leave Fan Art the same.

    So the way things are is too lopsided one way. The main proposal was deemed too lopsided the other way. Attempts to split the difference are hard to nail down into clear definitions for nominators and administrators.

  11. @Jo Van Ekeren: Thanks for the links to the committee reports. I’d read them, as well as watched the videos from the last several years’ Worldcons. I do appreciate the amount of thought and work that the various committees have put into these issues.

    But I am seriously bothered by the recommendation to impose a more restrictive requirement on the Fan Artist category while at the same time considering lifting similar restrictions on Fancast (or Podcast as it may end up being). Especially since that more restrictive requirement does not currently apply to Fan Writer or Fanzine.

    The situation as it stands now and as recommended in the 2018 report (as I understand it and I could be wrong) is that Fan Writers and makers of Fancasts and Fanzines can all have a pay component as long as the works are generally available for free to the public. However, makers of Fan Art will be restricted to established Fanzines or convention brochures/displays.

    Under current recommendations, the example you provided in your previous comment of a university student who lives with their parents, with no job, making $25 a month selling drawings would have to compete with professional cover artists, etc. As would, for instance, any teen artist who also sells the occasional magnet/lapel button/poster of her work from her website. I find that profoundly unfair.

    Made even more unfair by allowing all other makers of Fan content to make at least some small amount of money off their work. Indeed, there’s no restriction at all on Fan Writer, who can be awarded for hired or fully compensated writing.

    I know that the Art category changes have been handed off to a separate committee and it’s out of your hands so I apologize if I seem to be hectoring you about something that’s not your responsibility.

    I suppose I should compose myself with patience and wait to see what this year’s Business Meeting brings but it’s very frustrating to want to be there and participate but not be able to do so.

  12. What are the qualities that people would want from a definition of fan works?
    * that it aligns with broad understandings (i.e. fit with an intuitive sense of what is and isn’t fan works)
    * that it can be easily understood (i.e. it is easy to communicate and people can grasp what the distinction is quickly)
    * that it can be applied consistently (i.e. there are few edge cases and few examples were very similar works/people fall either side of the definition)
    * that the space of works/people not included in any relevant category is small or non-existent (i.e. there are not many cases of works that fit neither the pro-definition or the fan-definition)
    * that it is a competitive space (i.e. it defines a space of works/people that will generate sufficient nominations without being so broad as to be intractable)
    * that is a fair classification (i.e. works that members would like to nominate don’t fall into an inappropriate classification e.g. a fan category being dominated by professional writers/artists or fan writers/artists having to compete in a professional space)

  13. The situation as it stands now and as recommended in the 2018 report (as I understand it and I could be wrong) is that Fan Writers and makers of Fancasts and Fanzines can all have a pay component as long as the works are generally available for free to the public. However, makers of Fan Art will be restricted to established Fanzines or convention brochures/displays.
    — Lorien Gray:

    That is not what the vast majority of the Committee recommended. Work which is displayed online is also eligible, if it has the “gifted to fandom” component of a Creative Commons license allowing other fans to use it.
    “Fan Artist: An artist who has produced work related to science fiction or fantasy which has appeared in fanzines or other public, nonprofessional display for the first time during the previous calendar year, and for which the rights to reproduce that artwork have been given without direct compensation to one or more noncommercial publications or for use at or by non-profit science fiction or fantasy conventions. Art which has been made available for reproduction only for the purpose of advertising the artist or their work, including art provided to a convention by a Guest of Honor, is not eligible as fan art.”

    there’s no restriction at all on Fan Writer, who can be awarded for hired or fully compensated writing.
    — Lorien Gray:

    Yes, and that’s a problem. Right now, professional writing such as for Tor.com is not actually supposed to be eligible in the Fan Writer category. This issue was introduced by the change to the category definition to allow online blogs to be eligible. At first it wasn’t a problem, because people weren’t nominating people for Fan Writer for paid work. Now they are doing so, and that loophole needs to be fixed.

    Part of the committee’s discussions involve aligning the definition of Fan Writer with that of Fan Artist. Removal of the income requirement associated with “Professional Publication” and changing the “Semiprozine” category to “Magazine” would be accompanied by removing the “or Semiprozines” eligibility from the Fan Writer category and making it solely for work which is not professional paid work.

    Anyone who wishes to participate in the Hugo Award Study Committee for the coming year, to help shape its recommendations for next year, is welcome to message me here, and I will ensure that your name is given to the Committee Chair to be added to the discussion forum.

  14. that is a fair classification … fan writers/artists having to compete in a professional space
    — Camestros Felapton

    Remember that “Fan” in the Hugo Award context is not synonymous with “Amateur” or “Non-Professional”. The Hugo Awards are not obligated to have categories which give special consideration to artists and writers who are not producing work which is gifted freely to fandom.

  15. Jo Van Ekeren: Remember that “Fan” in the Hugo Award context is not synonymous with “Amateur” or “Non-Professional”. The Hugo Awards are not obligated to have categories which give special consideration to artists and writers who are not producing work which is gifted freely to fandom.

    Not that you have to adopt any of these ideas yourself, however, the overall discussion shows there are constituencies that hold one or another of these synonyms to be true, or subdivide them even further, while others think fandom is a gift culture (an idea which inspired the convention Potlatch, as I understand it.) All these irreconcilable cultural paradigms manage to coexist in the Hugo-voting community right up to the moment where someone decrees that only one of them is right.

    By analogy, consider how many people think humans should go to the Moon, and how divided they are over what we should do once we get there. People may agree there should be fan Hugos, but what they are designed to reward….

  16. @Jo Van Ekeren: That is not what the vast majority of the Committee recommended. Work which is displayed online is also eligible, if it has the “gifted to fandom” component of a Creative Commons license allowing other fans to use it.

    I think in practice it will restrict Fan Art to primarily those two categories. Because publishing an artwork on your own website for free viewing is not the same as publishing it under a Creative Commons license. And not all artists will bother to include the necessary legal language, even if the intent is there. So, in practice, art given to an established Fanzine (whether online or not) or to a convention will be the majority of the art eligible for the award.

    And that may be what the majority of the Hugo nominators want (is it? I’m not convinced) but I still think it’s not fair because none of the other Fan categories have those types of severe restrictions on them. That’s confusing, especially for new or casual nominators.

    I’ll message you as I think I’d like to be included in future committee discussions.

  17. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much), my husband (an art photographer) is generally unimpressed with the Pro Artist offerings for the Hugos. I had to explain to him that “Best Pro Artist” basically boils down to “Best Cover Art For Books.” (I’m sure there are exceptions, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.) He’s generally much more enthusiastic about at least some of the Fan Artist offerings, which can include a wider variety of art such as sculpture or jewelry. He has suggested to me that “Best Graphic Design” might be a more apt name for the category….

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