(art by John Alvin, who did movie poster art for Star Wars)
We’ve been in the thick of the Star Wars art world for quite some time…and that world is pretty convoluted. Here’s how it works
- There are artists who worked on the movies and are official artists with the Star Wars art licensee:
Those people have art they sell through the official LucasFilm licensee, but up until a few months ago, even when ordering a commission George Lucas got right of first refusal to buy the art. This became quite a drag when collectors and artists worked together and George took it. Yes it’s an honor, but still. Now those rules are changing, largely because George has largely gotten himself out of Star Wars. We always got the first chance to sell art George said no to if the art was made to create a limited edition. There have been more pieces available in the last few months, which is great for collectors!
(art by Bill Silvers, who did backgrounds for Star Wars)
- There are artists who worked on the movies or campaigns that weren’t “work for hire”:
When an artist is a “work for hire” it means nothing created can be sold and belongs solely to LucasFilm. There are some older artists who don’t have that contract but they are extremely rare. John Alvin is one of those guys, and that’s why we have his work from Star Wars and can sell it. It is official art but also he was able to keep it as part of his deal with the studio when he worked for them. Great for collectors as well, but the art is getting harder and harder to find, since like John so many artists are passing away, and so few new artists work outside the “work for hire” clause.
We only sell artists in these two categories.
- There are artists who are contracted to occasional work for LucasFilm:
Mostly these are the folks who sell their art at the Celebration shows. They may or may not be work for hire, (most are) but LucasFilm doesn’t seem to mind them selling their art directly to collectors. This is where the laws about original art vs. limited editions gets weird. While it’s true that any artwork that is transformative can be sold as long as it’s original and there aren’t any prints of them, some of the studios believe any art of any kind created using their images shouldn’t be sold without a licensing fee. This is why we don’t really sell those artists and we love supporting when they go to events like Celebration and are able to sell their work. Much of the work is from books, comics, or trading cards. We love these artists. They work hard and tend to create in a variety of genres, in addition to creating art for their own characters, worlds, and stories.
- There are fan artists:
You know these folks. They are on Etsy printing up $30 prints of their work, making it tough on the artists that actually work for LucasFilm. No one begrudges them making originals, even though even that would be frowned upon by LucasFilm. Imagine being at a Con and seeing 3 artists in artists’ alley doing original work with their own ideas and collectors skipping them for the fan artists who are churning out prints of Star Wars characters. We can’t really blame the collectors here, they have no idea about the rules. Here we should blame LucasFilm for not policing images. When so many artists applied for Star Wars Celebration (the artists for which must have officially worked for LucasFilm at some point) and killed themselves making new art, paying to go to the event, etc., LucasFilm should be more tenacious about limiting access online to only those who meet their criteria. Only artists who create official art should be allowed to sell prints, AFTER those prints have been approved by the studio. Yes it’s political, but welcome to the art world
Understand I have great love of fan artists and their expression, but they do know the rules and should follow them out of respect for the property and the artists that inspire them.
SO WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE NEW MOVIE COMES OUT??
We don’t really know the answer to that question yet.
In general, fan art vs. official art is a constant source of angst for me. I love the joyful expression of someone’s love for a fandom, but not the mixing and confusing of those artists for those who worked on the films or properties being represented. Why should anyone promote official art or pay a licensing fee if no one is policing people making prints and selling them on Etsy or Ebay? All this comes from a desire to make sure people who are making the movies we watch beautiful get the credit they deserve. They, in essence, are the reason the fan artists love the movies enough to create art.
Things are always changing. So hopefully there will be room for all the artists, all those who design and build the cinematic worlds we cherish, and those who get chances to add to those worlds, and those who just want to express their love of them. Will the new Star Wars be a part of that change?
Only time will tell. Let’s hope the force is with the official artists on this one.