The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

Mosaics of Imagination: Exploring Jiayi Yang’s Fusion of Fandom and Fine Art

Jiayi Yang

Where would one find a common thread between “The Hobbit”, The French Revolution, and “Genshin Impact”?

The answer lies in the artwork of Jiayi Yang ‘25, who has found a way to weave these starkly different worlds together; the elements of these universes coming together in a mosaic within her illustrations—striking, and pleasantly complimentary. 

I find that Jiayi’s art has always struck me as being uniquely and unmistakably her own.  Although her pieces are heavily inspired by different forms of media—typically known as fanart—she successfully merges the seemingly clashing stylistic elements of each world to create a wholly unique picture. Scrolling through her Instagram reveals an impressive archive of pieces—ranging from playful, scratchy doodles to meticulously detailed finished pieces, completed with a deep, saturated color palette. 

Through each piece and its story,  Jiayi manages to reveal a little bit of herself.

Nevertheless, the topic of fanart is a somewhat controversial one in the art world, as it is often regarded as not being “real art”. This argument is often paired with the claim that fanart is unoriginal, as it takes quite explicit inspiration from pre-existing forms of media. There is a constant, looming expectation to imprint a novel, never-before-seen flair on one’s artistic endeavors—recently further exacerbated through social media, which has not only created a platform to celebrate artists, but intensified the need to stand out, and create “deep” art amongst a vast ocean of competing pieces.

Considering this debate within the art community, I wanted to know more about Jiayi’s journey to reach her current point in her art, specifically as someone who enjoys creating fanart and sharing her work on social media—and how she managed to construct her own narrative in her art through putting together these seemingly mismatched puzzle pieces she picked up along the way. 

Can you tell me about your background in art, and what kind of art inspired you as a kid?

I feel like it was really impacted by what I was most interested in during a certain phase [of my life]. In elementary school, my art was super 2-D and in an anime-style, because that’s what I was exposed to through things like notebook covers, magazine illustrations, and book-wraps—things marketed for girls all had these anime, 2-D art-ish things on them. That was the first type of content and style that I started to develop my art with. 

How did your focus shift as you got older?

During middle school, my interests and focus shifted a lot toward more realistic settings and worlds that involved real people. I got into “The Hobbit”, “Lord of the Rings”, “Silmarillion” and the whole Tolkein universe. I also started with watching the movies, so I was really drawn to the actors and characters,  and I was like, “Oh, I want to draw them”. So I started there, trying my best to go for realism, because it didn’t really go through my mind how I would use my own style to draw it, at the time. 

Also, another phase in middle school was that I was super, super, super into history, specifically the French revolution, and the American independence war. It was super random, but I was really getting  into musicals as well, like “Les Miserables” and “Hamilton” which might explain why. Around that time, I was also starting to get into oil paintings and classical art, so sometimes when I try to draw characters or historical figures, I would try to reference these paintings. 

And then, recently, I started to get into more [anime-style media] like “Bungou Stray Dogs”, “Demon Slayer” and “Genshin Impact”. But, things are different because now—I already had an art style, and I was more familiar with the way I drew. It’s a big shift going from history, musicals and fantasy straight to anime and 2-D art games. I just couldn’t find the balance I wanted—you know? 

How did you navigate this shift, what was your solution?

I started getting into the habit of messing around with art on my own. I also began my instagram account around that time too, and that was where I was also able to find a lot more references from artists with the style I like, which was a hugely helpful aspect as well. I would say, right now I’m at a really comfortable place [with my art]. If not completely, I would say I’ve somewhat found the spot that I really want to be in, which is my own style in-between semi-realism and anime, but more towards that really nice, semi-realistic style.

I was thinking about how you get a lot of inspiration from the types of media you consume, so I’ve been curious to know what drove you to express your love towards something through art specifically.

I feel like when I was little and I did art—it was just for fun, and I developed that as a hobby. Back then, art was just the same as going outside and playing with friends after school. But I think I started to develop feelings attached to art around middle school, because that’s when I started to learn more about the story, the characters and the narratives [surrounding art]. I started getting into [books and musicals] that included a lot of interactions and complicated feelings—there were just a lot more layers that I was attracted to. 

How do you reveal yourself through your art?

Ah, For example in “Hamilton”, there’s a song called “It’s Quiet Uptown”, and I still tend to cry every single time I hear that song. I remember drawing Hamilton and Eliza leaning on each other in that scene after listening to it, and, it’s not like I had any original idea, but it’s just because I felt so much from listening to that music, and feeling all these strong emotions, that I felt the need to draw it out. I feel like I was able to let my own thoughts and feelings come out and into the art.  For those drawings, it’s more than just practice, and it’s more than just wanting to refine my skills. I genuinely have feelings, emotions, thoughts, and opinions about the characters and the story. So by drawing that, it is a form of self-expression. 

I feel like in the art community, there’s an expectation—from an audience’s point of view—that your art absolutely has to be deep and nuanced and have all kinds of symbolism. Do you feel like those types of stigmas weigh down on you when you draw fanart?

I will say, especially when your art has an audience, it really makes things even more complicated and hard on the artist. There are some people who say “anime art is not real art” or “fan art is not real art”—There’s a kind of stereotypical thought that art has to be super deep and museum-level; you take a look and you should be able to analyze ten , twenty different things from it. I think people’s different perceptions of what art is, and what the value of art is, already make the process of creating art hard, and now on social media where everyone can express their opinions and thoughts about things, it makes it even harder. As for if it weighs down on me,  I only get that type of pressure and anxiety when I see other artists’ [work]. I’ll be like, “oh wow they can make fan-art, and it’s still really deep and has all these meanings, they put so much thought into it” and I’ll just be like, man, I’m just literally just over here drawing portraits with my own feelings—but not making a whole piece with all this symbolism and hidden meanings. When I see other artists doing that, yes it’s hard to stay out of it and not compare yourself to them. 

I was thinking about this concept of “high art” and “low art”, which is, for instance, applied a lot to music, where people think pop music is low art and classical music is high art, and people often tend to rank these pieces based on this scale. I think within the artist community, particularly on social media, certain types of art, including fanart, are considered low art. How do you reconcile yourself with these opinions, if you ever feel like they affect you?

I would say I’m lucky enough to not feel that type of anxiety on a daily basis or super often, but when I do feel something like that, I would first stay away from social media. Sometimes the more you look at it, the more anxious you get. Also, I do the same thing when I’m art-blocked, but I just draw random things. I don’t think about if they’re completely original, I don’t care if they’re weird or don’t make any sense, I just draw. They don’t really have a meaning, but it’s a culmination of what I have gathered by living in this world. When I do this, I feel way less pressure to make things look good, or make things feel “meaningful”. I just draw random shit, I don’t even know what they mean. 

I feel like there is a certain level of depth to that kind of exercise as well because you’re pulling stuff from your head and putting it on paper. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to an audience, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less deep than something that is super symbolic and full of things to analyze, at least outwardly.

Absolutely, because when you really think about it, it’s a way of showing what’s in my head—what I have seen, what I have consumed, and what I have learned as a person. I think that’s essentially what the meaning of art is. It’s almost the same as talking, because a lot of the time, when we’re talking, we don’t necessarily mean anything deep, but it’s still enjoyable! Yes, I enjoy doing fanart, and of course I would love to create pieces that have a deeper meaning, but that’s not the purpose of doing art. I don’t want to always push myself to achieve something, and then feel like my art is valueless or meaningless if I don’t. That’s just not how I see art, or how I think art should be. 

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