The chaotic joy of Art Fight

The chaotic joy of Art Fight

In the summer of 2017, I was stuck between high school and college and stuck between two versions of myself. There was the high school version of me, someone with a laser focus on traditional academic success, and the college version of myself, a mystery that burst with the potential to do and create outside of the box that I had formed around myself.

It started with a simple DM — something along the lines of “this seems fun; you should join it also!” When I clicked the link, I saw a dizzying array of character designs laid out in tidy rows, filling the homepage of the site. It was overwhelming, not just because so many people had joined this site but also because they had shared so many stories and characters. The characters were technicolor and sparkling, with lengthy backstories included with their pictures. There was so much passion, and I was being invited to join them.

Art Fight is a fairly simple concept. For the month of July, artists register on the site and are divided into teams. Once registered and sorted, they upload examples of their art along with personal characters and stories of their own that they would be interested in other people drawing. Then, the games begin.

You score points in Art Fight by drawing another team’s requests, called an “attack” in the lingo of the game. The more complex the request, the higher the score, and at the end of the month, the team with the most points gets a special badge on the site showing they’ve won. There’s no reward beyond the badge, and nobody is too strict about the teams. Individuals can change teams multiple times over the course of the month. The real incentive isn’t winning but, rather, drawing for others and being drawn in turn.

I was an amateur artist at the time and had spent very little time creating a social media profile and promoting my art. But even then, it was exciting to know I could draw for others and know they would be excited to draw back. Something about this space was welcoming to people of all skill levels and meant that I wasn’t lost in the digital noise.

In the following years, the time that I spent on Art Fight waxed and waned based on the business of my own summers. But each year, I made sure to draw at least one piece for it, taking the lovingly rendered illustration that another artist had made of their character and granting it life in my own art style. It remained a constant, this act of creating for someone else that I likely did not know.

The other constant was the range of other artists that used the platform. Some were students or hobby artists, drawing in the free time that they had on weekends or after work. Others were professional artists, pulling together attacks as breaks from their own work. What remained true was the range of people that Art Fight encompassed, with individuals from almost any walk of life with an interest in character design and storytelling coming together to share their creations.

Back in the summer of 2017, I hadn’t realized quite how special that was. Wedged in among my career aspirations and life goals, my art often feels pushed to the background, something that can’t be properly pursued unless it has a “purpose” (usually involving money). Having a space where that creation is encouraged and given a community, for any skill level and with few caveats, still feels exhilarating.

For the artists I know, sharing online can be a mixed blessing. Platforms offer reach but they can feel actively hostile, putting artists at the whims of algorithms and mainstream attention. There are few platforms actively devoted to art and even fewer constructed to make artists feel more comfortable. The result can feel alienating, forcing creators to post constantly to stay relevant rather than follow their own inspiration.

Art Fight, for me, is a balm to that. Even for a hobbyist artist like me, there is something exciting about individuals making art for each other without the caveats of platforms or the frantic scramble to be seen. It is a challenge that asks only for what you want to give to it rather than what the platform wants. For that reason, the month of July is a sanctuary — a place to create on my terms with the knowledge that it will still be seen by others and maybe be special to some of them.

Camille Butera is a Master of Science student at Oxford University and a recent graduate of Smith College. Outside of that, you can find her drawing and catching up on TV shows about five years after everyone else.

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