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, one laser-focused on traditional academic success, and the college version of myself, a mystery bursting with the potential to do and cabinet outside the box that I had formed around myself.

It started with a simple DM – something like “this looks like fun; you should join too!” When I clicked on the link, I saw a dizzying array of character designs laid out in neat rows filling the site’s home page.It was overwhelming not only 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 long backstories included in their images. There was so much passion and I was invited to join.

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 their own stories 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 game’s parlance. 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 page showing that they have won. There is no reward beyond the badge and no one is too strict about the teams. Individuals can change teams several times during the month. The real incentive is not to win, but rather to draw for others and be 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 that I could draw for others and know that they would be excited to draw back. Something about this space was welcoming to people of all abilities and meant I wasn’t lost in the digital noise.

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

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

Back in the summer of 2017, I didn’t realize how special it was. Amidst my career aspirations and life goals, my art often feels pushed to the background, something that cannot 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 exciting.

For the artists I know, sharing online can be a mixed blessing. Platforms offer reach, but they can feel actively hostile, subjecting artists to the whims of algorithms and mainstream attention. Few platforms are actively devoted to art, and even fewer are designed to make artists feel more comfortable. The result can feel alienating, forcing creators to constantly write to stay relevant instead of following their own inspiration.

Art Fight is, for me, a balm for that. Even for a hobbyist like me, there’s something exciting about individuals making art for each other without the caveats of platforms or the frantic battle to be seen. It’s a challenge that only asks for what you want to give 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 perhaps be special to some of them.

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

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