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Flora, Fauna, Persona
the art & writing of Desirée Isphording
The Art of Faery {book review} 
5th-Jul-2006 07:11 pm
Some people experience Faerie at the level of of art and story, at the level of wonder. Historically, there has been a 'Faery Faith,' and references to it appear in the folklore of rural people all over the world. These beliefs have very little to do with the frivolity and fashion that embodies some of today's interest. The early Faery Faith had a lot to do with safely traversing your local landscapes, and the folklore was filed with warnings, instructions and suggestions for living in harmony with the land on which your people lived.[. . .] Many people today who are interested in faeries enjoy the artistry, the mirth, the costumes, the sparkly-bits (if you will). No problem, faeries have never minded a bit of fun and game. But under all that glitter, something wild and ancient may yet be seen...if you care to look.
- Ari Berk in Faerie Magazine Spring 2007 issue, pages 75-76
Update 7/16/07: Although many of my opinions regarding much of popular fairy art (aptly represented by the volume in question) are still quite intact, my views and overall approach to the contemporary fairy craze and changed and softened somewhat. My earlier, more asinine reflections on the craze were not, as some might suggest 1, due to jealousy borne of the commercial success of some of the artists who are at the vanguard of the genre. Rather my initial fervor has entirely to do with the fact that something very near and dear to me is being cheapened and deprived of its integral mystery and ambiguity largely for the purposes of financial gain and popularity.

If contemporary fairy artists derive joy from their art, then it is hardly my place to attempt to intervene. I also completely understand that artists have to eat, and if fairy art is the vehicle though which they obtain the funds to do so, then more power to them. I still feel that there is a great deal more to Faery than what is displayed in virtually all of their work, and to the extent that what they do contributes to the growing superficiality and watering-down of a deep, profound tradition (sometimes this is born from the artist's genuine lack of knowledge of the subject, other times it is a blithe, arrogant disregard for viewpoints contrary to their own) I cannot fully endorse it.

My new approach has been to seek to initiate change from the inside of the craze rather than by shunning and trying to disassociate from it entirely. An apt phrase comes to mind: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Instead of focusing on what I believe to be detrimental, I am working to encourage that which reveals the depth and potency of Faery, hopefully by planting some seeds in the vast soil of the fairy movement with my own art and writing. I want to make peace with the contemporary fairy craze so I can more readily focus on my own work, and it is much more valuable to me to work on establishing and strengthening an alternative path for those genuinely interested in Faery than to waste precious time with too much criticism. Thankfully, I am not the only one seeking towards this end.

In keeping with this more tolerant, progressive approach, I have voluntarily removed the following review on the Amazon 2 website where it had the most exposure, and I have also deleted or disabled numerous other entries in my blogs. The review contains what I still believe to be valid points, which is why I am allowing it to be viewable here, but most of them were stated in a more harsh manner than I would now prefer, and so I have heavily edited even the currently viewable versions. I think my central ideas are still very present in this newer version, however the segments which I deem as too brash and truthfully distracting from those ideas have been deleted.



,div class="text2">There's nothing wrong with a compendium of fantasy fairy art when it is presented as such. The problem occurs when people mistakenly equate the cutesy, whimsical, winged little creatures fabricated in the past few hundred years with the same sphere of Faery that is documented in genuine world mythology and folklore. Unfortunately, only one or two pieces in this book really seem to hint at the true Faery of legend and myth.

Brian Froud's keynote introduction and the opening statement on the back cover lead the reader to anticipate a deeper, more sensitive visual response to the challenge of representing Faery beings than is actually supplied by the book. One anticipates that the artwork will, in the words of Froud, "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it." Despite this book's ardent desire and claim to promote Faery as an "individual connection to nature," it really has a great deal more to do with an obsession with the insipid legacy left to us by the Victorians - faeries as spritely creatures of fantasy, drained of their original power, wildness, menace, and expressive potency. Froud makes another telling comment in his foreword which more accurately relates to the book's true content: he writes of the perception of faeries over time as being "reduced to the tritest and gaudiest products of the human mind, washed up on the shorelines of nurseries." Taking into consideration the many saccarine, winged toddlers and preteens; elfin babies; and the horde of vapid supermodels-turned-fey vixens within these pages, I believe this collection of imagery is far closer to the "trite and gaudy" end of the spectrum. This would not be such a jarring issue if the book claimed to be a collection of fantasy fairy art.

I find it strange that many of the artists within this book list Alan Lee and Brian Froud's seminal book Faeries as a major influence, yet their own work doesn't seem to indicate that they actually read it and/or seriously investigated the illustrations therein. On the contrary, it seems like they may have skimmed the book, taking note only of the petite creatures that suited their pre-conditioned notions of Faery while ignoring the vast majority of information presented. The denizens of Faery are linked not only to the spiritual heart of the landscape, but also to the realm of the dead and the mysterious weavings of fate. Faeries of old were not merely acknowledged by humans, but greatly respected, and, in some cases, feared. Despite the attempts of artists to depict so-called "dark faeries" in this volume, the figures they paint are simply the same fairy characters as in their other pieces playing dress-up; there's nothing inherently menacing, disturbing, or powerful about them other than the fact that these particular fairies apparently shop at Hot Topic instead of at the typical Renaissance Faire or hippie clothing store at which they normally purchase their garments.

The website of one artist included in this work hailed The Art of Faery as a compendium of "the best faery artists in the world." While this book does contain the work of a handful of skilled individuals who have a decent handle on human proportions, shading, perspective, color, etc. (as well as containing the work of a number of those at the other end of the spectrum who definitely do not have a good understanding of the human form or a sensitivity to their chosen medium) nearly every example of the faery art in this book suffers from an extremely limited visual vocabulary. Virtually every single image in The Art of Faery, regardless of the talent and skill of the artist in question, is hidebound by convention and stereotype. With scarcely any exceptions, all of the supposed faeries these artists depict embody a cookie-cutter mentality: they are either cutsey children with wings and clothing of petals and foliage, or they are winged Victoria's Secret models with similar botanical decorations.

As previously mentioned, the skill level of the artists included in this book varies widely. Some of the more technically proficient, stylistically refined artists include Marja Lee Kruÿt, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, John Arthur, Maxine Gadd, and James Browne. Although Linda Ravenscroft possesses obvious talent as well, particularly in decoration and costume design, I was really put-off by her tireless recycling of the same exact facial features in every image. A lot of individual character is built up in her lavishly detailed backdrops and interesting ornamentations, but so much is subsequently lost when one reaches the faces of her figures. Unfortunately, Ravenscroft was not the only artist included who tended to constantly recycle portions of their previous works: a number of artists do not simply create images of fairies, they manufacture them using their own established stock of poses, clothing design, faces, motifs, etc.

There is a certain watercolor piece dated to the year 2002 in this book that, for me, is a cause for concern. What is so distressing about this image? Do a Google image search for Jennifer Lopez's perfume Glow, and compare the popular 2002 ad campaign photograph of nude J.Lo holding a bright point of light to the piece in question. The striking resemblance indicates to me that this is no mere coincidence. If an artist really requires reference, there are plenty of more honorable options available to him or her: hiring live models to pose, utilizing his/her own photography, taking life drawing classes in order to familiarize oneself with the human form in the first place, referencing copyright-free photography, and of course grabbing a mirror and becoming one's own model. There is no excuse for blatant plagiarism, and these artists should be held accountable regardless of how popular their artwork happens to be.

Undoubtedly, this book will be (and already has) become a cherished addition to the libraries of many fantasy fairy enthusiasts. It is pleasant, pretty, and whimsical volume sure to provide inspiration for many mental flights of fancy. However, for those interested in genuine, mythic Faery art this collection will largely prove to be disappointing. To find artwork that earnestly seeks to "illuminate the dark inner recesses of nature and our relationship with it," one needs to look elsewhere. There is so much more to the fey than the pleasant, pretty, and whimsical modern veneer many assume is the totality of Faery. Don't be fooled into confusing fantastical fairies with the real thing; enjoy these fantasy fairies for what they are - creatures of fantasy.</div>
· originally posted to sphinxmuse

1) Galbreth, Jessica. "Advice from Jessica." Enchanted Art. http://enchanted-art.com/pages/advice.php.
I'm referring specifically to the following statements: "Of course with the huge amount of artists springing up, there is bound to be a bit of negativity as well. I've heard that those of us who did it first have often become targets of hateful bashing on forums. While this is sad, we must remember that this is just like any other industry. And, some people react to other's successes by trying to tear them down, maybe with the hopes that if they do, there will be more room for them."
2) I honestly thought this review had been removed from Amazon months ago. When I looked in my collection of Amazon reviews it only stated that I had a total of six, not seven reviews, and I did not see my review when I checked under The Art of Faery's Amazon page. Strangely though, I seemed to be registering helpful/unhelpful votes which were not accounted for by the six reviews I could see from my profile. I just discovered today, November 18, 2007 that somehow I could still access it. I sincerely apologize for unintentionally misleading people with the statement that I had removed the review from Amazon - I truly believed that I had. I have deleted it, hopefully once and for all.

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