[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.
Terri Ash & Ariela Housman
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.