Why Prismatic Art?

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 08 March 2012

For those who missed Monday's announcement, I'm working on a new project, Prismatic Art Collection, with Daniel Solis. Our hope is to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to commission artists to create works of art that push the boundaries of what a fantasy hero is and can be. We want to pay the artists reasonable rates for the work and then turn the art over to the Creative Commons, using a license that allows the work to be used in personal as well as commercial projects.

Our hopes are the following:

  • Artists will respond to the economic incentive to create inclusive fantasy artwork that can be used in role-playing games.
  • Increase awareness of the diversity within the artist community with the hopes of getting artists from traditionally underrepresented groups more exposure.
  • Publishers will have a list of artists eager to create this type of art.
  • Publishers, blogs, and other efforts will have stock art images for women and people of color that aren't cheesecake or caricatures.
  • The RPG fan community will have more art that they love and feel embraced by.

I came up with these goals after talking with people publicly and privately about this topic for going on three years now. I've listened to a lot of people from many different circles within the fantasy role-playing games community. Most people recognized the issues while a few served as stark examples of what the issues are. Some have told me for a while now to stop complaining and do something so with Daniel's help, that's what I'm trying to do.

Tackling the issue of lack of diversity in the art isn't that controversial. With more and more stories like the teenage girl who convinced EA Sports to include a female avatar in the NHL video game, the need for diversity and artwork becomes apparent. That doesn't include the large number of messages I get from parents who want game books they can share with their children, especially their daughters. While some people, including commenters on this site, will try to say that we can't change the art, the truth is they are just incorrect. Fantasy literature and tales appear across cultures, ethnicities, and genders. The hero's tale knows no limit. The only limit is our own desires and imaginations.

The other issue, the lack of diversity in the artists on projects, is much harder to tackle. There's no easy answer. The overall landscape is one that is tilted in a direction against diversity. There are lots of reasons for that, some understandable, some not. The problem could be approached in two ways, one excluding the other. I could make this project an example of egalitarian hiring and hope a diverse group of artists contact me, or I could say specifically that I'm interested in having a diverse group of artists working on this project. I went with the latter and I stand by that decision.

One of the issues with a general call to artists is that the artists I most want to work on this project will often self-select out of the project for a number of reasons.

  • One reason for the lack of diversity is because parts of the community (and sometimes people who seem like leaders within it) tell them that they are not really wanted. I've lost count of the number of times I have been told that D&D is a game for men, particularly those of European descent, and that I should just accept that. These artists have been told that too. For many of them to respond to a call for artists, they need to know that it's ok, that this project is a safe space that embraces their ideas of what fantasy is and can be too.
  • Another reason is a fear of a lack of talent. Now I realize this isn't just limited to these groups, but when combined with the above, it means it's harder for me to find and recruit a diverse artist pool. If I didn't put the limit on the first round, my notoriety would likely elicit a strong response from established artists, many of whom are white men. In fact, a fair number of these artists approached me individually to see if there was something they could do to help. Their gender isn't a problem, but I wouldn't be surprised if their responses made the people who are traditionally underrepresented feel like they were not good enough. I mean, it wouldn't be surprising for some of them to think if I get well-known artists wanting to do work for me, why would I want to work with someone lesser known. Even with wording it the way that I did, I had women reply with "well, I'm not really professional, I mean, I did some work for a few RPG books, but..." It's heart breaking and is a result of how we socialize women and think about their contributions to society. I want to change that.
  • Without specifically noting my desire to hear from artists from those groups, people might not remember to recommend members of those groups or ask them to participate. I learned this lesson from the tech conference scene. We tend to think of our friends and the people who get the most attention first. I'll be honest, I have a pretty decent list of artists I could go to for this project already, but I really want this project to expand the diversity and knowledge of diversity not only in the art, but in the artist community as well.
  • Many of the people in these groups have either been brought up that it's proper to wait to be asked or have heard no so often they are afraid to put themselves out again. Without knowing each individual artist, this was the best way for me to invite them in a way that was as clear as possible that I was interested in them.

These are the main reasons I made the decision I made. Another one is that I want this to be a safe space led by people we don't normally see in positions of leadership. I use the word "partnership" in describing the relationship with the community and the artists and I really mean that. This is going to be as much their project as it is Daniel's and mine. So while I decided to call specifically to certain groups during the initial call for artists, I'm not excluding anyone from the project, but diversity in the artist pool is going to be just as important to me as diversity in the art itself.

I created a twitter account for this project, @PrismaticArt. Feel free to follow it to stay up to date on news and announcements. I'm hard at work on getting the business backend set up as well as recruiting artists. More soon.

You're right; hearing someone say, "Well, I'm not really professional, I mean, I did some work for a few RPG books, but..." really is heartbreaking. Yes, that means you're a professional! You should introduce yourself as such! I can totally understand why that's a major psychological leap to make, though. Great work, Tracy!

I'm glad you've stuck to your guns and explained your reasoning here. Even a niche community of people who can see themselves as "outsiders" like the RPG community can definitely have people who feel like outsiders among outsiders. Specifically inviting them in like this is a cool move. I hope you get lots of lesser-known, talented folks for the project!

And of course, I look forward to backing the thing and using the output in my own games. Best wishes for the Kickstarter!

Looking forward to hearing about the artists and seeing the resulting art! :D

A very worthwhile project, one I look forward to supporting.

I opened a Twitter account last year, and up to this point I haven't found anything worth following. Now I have.

How would an artist go about being considered for with with the Prismatic project?

This is such a worthy cause! Bravo for moving forward so stalwartly. I'm very glad I read about it today. I've always felt excluded from sci-fi/fantasy games and books that I loved because there wasn't a diverse enough cast to choose from, or that the representations of women or minorities were stereotypical or shallow.

This is awesome, and you are awesome for starting it. Kudos.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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