Thursday, December 31, 2009

yadda yadda Elfwood yadda yadda yadda

An update on my previous post about Elfwood. You can get caught up by reading it here but in a nutshell my painting When Giants Attack...Cincinnati was rejected because the moderator deemed it fan art. So I responded by informing them of the difference between a fan artist and professional artist and by removing my art from the website. That email was sent on December 8.

On December 23 I got this email:
*Hello Billy

firstly an apology for taking such a long time to respond to your email.
Normally Elfwood moderation responses are more timely, but unfortunately
Elfwood Support had quite a "spam" attack over the last ten days.

I take onboard your succint arguements, and agree entirely that Elfwood is
predominantly geared towards the "amateur" artist, in that Elfwood
moderation does not take into account the "artistic skill" of submission
(although we do draw the line at 'stick-art').

Elfwood does however enjoy the presence of a few professional/commercial
artists, if only to provide another internet presence to showcase their

With regards to the disputed artwork. I agree that the moderator in
question was perhaps too hasty in dismissing "When Giants Attack" as fan
art. Having viewed the artwork, I think it falls into the "parody"
category, given that the monster depicted in no way resembles 
Godzilla, and
as such, shuld have been accepted.

At Elfwood we have approximately 90+ moderators, of which approximately 50+
are processing submissions at any one time. Usually when in doubt about a
submission on any basis, opinions of other moderators are sought. This,
unfortunately, was not so in this case.

Not all of our moderators are as widely skilled as could be desired, and
sometimes items will be rejected when they should not be. I hope you
appreciate that this is in no way a reflection upon your skill and
integrity as a professional artist.

kind regards - Maxine Cox - Elfwood Support*

Interestingly this reply came not from the Head-Mod as it normally does but from Elfwood Support. Which suits me just fine because as I've noted and Ms. Cox points out (n)ot all of our moderators are as widely skilled as could be desired. 

Just as I suspected this email shows that not everyone at Elfwood has their heads up their asses! Thanks to Ms. Cox for the professional response. Unfortunately this does not change my feelings towards Elfwood.

The problem does not lie with Elfwood itself. The problem is with the concept of a moderated art gallery. Moderated art galleries are very much like Communism, they both look good on paper but human nature manages to screw everything up. Let me explain: Simply put Communism is a system in which there are no rich people, no poor people and the government takes care of you in a worry-free Utopia. We all know how that turned out! Moderated art galleries are similar because when you visit one of them you can rest assured that the art you are viewing has been approved by a moderator that has been trained to only accept work that meets certain standards of quality...except that the moderators are humans. Flawed humans. 

Art is subjective. There are no hard, fast rules that apply. One person's art is another's garbage. Example: I don't think Andy Warhol was an artist, just a screenprinter that was a marketing genius. I'm sure there are those that would disagree! Another example: As mentioned in the previous post Epilogue has a rule that art on a plain white background will not be accepted. I recently met an artist that does work for major gaming companies. Work that is of the highest quality. Work that consists of characters on a white background because it is interior art with wrap-around text. Work that even though anyone that has glanced at a game would recognize it wouldn't be accepted because it is on a white background. 

And then there's the fact that humans tend to be a bit more lenient to their friends and a bit more strict on enemies. It's natural. Or fans of vampires may be more receptive to allowing lower quality vampire art. Or art that is predominantly blue will appeal to moderators whose favorite color is blue. I think you get the picture. That's why moderated art galleries will fail. 

I have a simple solution to the moderated art gallery. Moderate the artists not the art. Have artists submit a body of work and if they are accepted they can put whatever the hell they want after that. Or stop moderating all together! 

And as I said before, if you're an artist a moderated art gallery will do nothing for your career. They will only cause you stress. Set up your own gallery. Learn to moderate yourself. And keep track of what images get views. The public will tell you what you're doing right. 

Happy New Year everyone!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you feel this way about Elfwood, although I do partially understand your frustration.

I'm also sorry you've taken down your art, because I think most of it is bloody brilliant.

I guess it's not always very easy to tell the difference between 'Fan Art' - something based on pre-existing visual concepts - and parody (when you play with existing concepts, but actually make them into an original image). The latter may resemble the former quite closely which can make things difficult.

Your parallel with communism interesting, but not one I can quite agree with. Should by this logic any organisation or system be avoided because human nature is flawed?

In Elfwood moderation happens so that
- a minimal quality of presentation is kept
- no stolen work is published
- no explicit/offensive material is published
- no copied work is published (although you may argue for the value of copying an existing image for a beginning artist and from this point of view, who knows, perhaps this is something that could change in the future, as long as people give proper credit and dont try to pass off the direct copy as their own work...)

- proper credit/permissions are given (for photos especially, including permissions from models , something I really appreciate in a time when people take photos of you and post them all over facebook without even asking)

- to separate original art from fan art (which, as you can appreciate is not always straight forward).

I'm not sure what you mean by 'moderating the artist' - what do you do if they start posting content which is unacceptable - or do you mean that ANY content should be published?

You do have a point about subjectivity/objectivity in moderation, but perhaps the problem is not as severe as you think (although there is plenty of room for improvement). Just look at the Moderator's choices - there is a very healthy degree of variety both in content and style. I know for a fact that many get picked not just (or even mainly) on the basis of 'do I subjectively like this picture', but on originality of content and presentation, the general feel, level of technical skill and, not least, level of artistic progress expressed by the artist in the new work.

Lastly (before this becomes too long), I'd like to say I'm really sorry that any of this has caused you any stress or stifled your artistic inspiration and hope that you would feel more positive about this sometime and re-publish your stuff on Elfwood. :)

Peace and best wishes to you in the New Year.

///Not as widely skilled as could be desired///

billy tackett said...

First thank you for the compliments. They are appreciated. Now I would like to address some of the points you brought up:

1. Actually it is easy to tell the difference between fan art and parody most of the time. Fan art is always done for shits and giggles.

If money is made from it it's not fan art.

A parody pokes fun at something.

Completely different. Although both are at times difficult to differentiate from copyright infringement. Fan art can be a parody. Mad Magazine, Scary Movie and Weird Al are good examples of parodies.

2. I feel my point on Communism is pretty clear. And no, we should not avoid organisation because of the defects of human nature. In most systems there are checks an balances, rules and laws, things are black and white, right or wrong. But in areas such as art there is no way to do this. Art is personal. A persons tastes are fluid and ever changing, sometimes on a daily basis depending on their mood or what movie they just watched. Again I feel my point was made in the blog but let me show an example: I hate Andy Warhol's work. I hate Picasso's work. I hate DuChamp's work. But these are some of the most revered artists of the 20th century. Am I wrong? Is everybody else wrong? This is why a group cannot moderate a gallery. Even if you take out the flaws of human nature differences in taste and style cause way too many problems.

H.R. Giger once said "I was always astonished that so many people appreciated my work," he says ruefully. "When I was young, I entered so many art competitions. I never won. I was always shut out, isolated." This statement hits too close to home for many successful artists.

One more example: I attempted to join an online gallery that was for spooky artists. I was rejected. My work wasn't scary enough! Most would disagree but their rules, their decision.


billy tackett said...


3. Your intentions are noble but the moderated galley is a flawed system. Even the part about not allowing offensive material. The same argument I made previously applies. I'll bet I can say some stuff that would offend a nun but you wouldn't cause you to bat an eye. Who decides what's offensive? And what makes their idea of offensive any more valid than mine or yours?

4. An artist submits a body of work. if you feel that a majority of it would fit into your idea of a gallery let 'em in. If the artist starts submitting work that is "unacceptable" (by your standards) get rid of 'em. Personally I think if you approve an artist you are approving their vision for better or for worse.

5. Here's the thing, I have seen a lot of mod choices that I thought was crap on Elfwood. I saw a lot of work I thought should be mod choices. Again, is my opinion better than the moderators? I've done over 200 book covers and illustrations. I have sold countless prints. I have been Artist Guest of Honor at numerous shows. I have had some very well known and influential people tell me they are fans of my work. I make my living creating art. Is my opinion better than that of any of Elfwoods moderators?

No. One likes what one likes. All the criteria you mentioned for Mod's choices are debatable with no right or wrong answers.

The phenomena can be observed this way: A famous artist was once art director for a famous game company. All of the art was spot on. High quality. Very diverse. He left the position and was replaced. Two years later the art is all different. It's still spot on. It's still of the highest quality. It's still very diverse. But it's different. It has a different feel. No matter how objective one tries to be style and taste will always show through. Always.

I appreciate you taking the time to express your side of this issue. My stance didn't come about entirely from the problems I've had with Elfwood but from other galleries as well. I am done with moderated galleries. Not just Elfwood but all of them. I am at a point in my career that I don't need them nor do I have the time to keep them all updated. I don't get much traffic from them. I don't get any business from them. Just isn't worth the time or effort. And I really don't want to support a system that I disagree with. Nothing personal.
Good luck to all at Elfwood.

Not as widely skilled as could be desired either,

Anonymous said...


I get your point about moderated art galleries and if they don’t do much for you - it's your time and it's your artwork and you have to go with what feels right.

I am on several art galleries and I know -exactly- what you mean about subjectivity in the moderation process. Part of the reason I like Elfwood is that once you get over poor presentation/copyright/'not for the eyes of anyone older than 16/18' issues they’re actually fairly 'unfussy'. Even non-fantasy art now gets accepted there under the 'Other Works' tab. Speaking from the 'admin' side I have let through countless pictures that severely disagreed with my taste on every level, I'm sure it is the same for the others. The rules (still not all-perfect, but trying) have been repeatedly re-worked to minimise the potential for variance in acceptance based on subjective interpretation of any particular moderator. I’m also fairly generous with the Modpicks, so much so that if I see a skillfully drawn image I don’t like I leave it for another moderator to do in case they may like it more and pick it. I enjoy people getting encouragement and constructive feedback from the exposure more even than I enjoy getting it myself, mainly because I have a fairly sharp eye for the many flaws in my own work.

All that aside, I envy you in the best possible way, not so much for your skill and talent, but because you are able immerse yourself more fully in doing stuff you love. I have a background in fine art and academic art studies. I gave up on the fine art pretty much because... well possibly for similar reasons you don't like Andy Warhol - conceptual art didn’t really quite do it for me and we were given the impression that that's how it is now in the 'art world', there’s no other way. So 2 years studying fine art killed all desire in me to be a professional artist. It wasn’t until I studied art history that I actually understood that you just 'do your own thing' - that if you know what you want to say and if you observe people and the world around you carefully enough you will find a way of saying it that is effective.

Incidentally, having flicked through your gallery with all the lovely zombification of the 20th century American culture icons, have you thought about going a little older into American history? I’m thinking ‘pre-columbian’, ancient American civilizations. Don’t know zombie-friendly those settings are, but much of it is pretty gory supernatural-infused stuff – from playing ball with human heads in central America to stone carved reliefs made up mainly of teeth and claws (with a few bulging eyes thrown in) in continent to the South.

Anyway, best stop, before this gets too long and your blog mistakes it for a virus.
Thanks & good luck with your art!