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INTERVIEW: Cathy Fenner, on the Forthcoming Collection WOMEN OF WONDER: CELEBRATING WOMEN CREATORS OF FANTASTIC ART

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Cathy Fenner, in partnership with her husband Arnie Fenner, is a multiple-award-winning editor of numerous single-artist collections and multiple-artist anthologies showcasing genre art. Together they created Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, which they edited for its first twenty years of publication.

After two decades of publishing the award-winning art volume, the Fenners passed on the reigns of the book to John Fleskes of Flesk Publications. At that time they promised that they were not done with art-related projects, and that promise has now come to fruition with the upcoming release of Cathy Fenner’s book, Women of Wonder: Celebrating Women Creators of Fantastic Art.

Those who follow the genre scene in the media are aware of many cultural shifts that are taking place, shifts that are exposing fans of genre art and literature to a more diverse slate of work. Cathy Fenner’s book is a welcome celebration of art and I thought it would be fascinating to sit down with her to find out what inspired her to create this book and to get her insight into today’s cultural landscape in the realm of Fantastic Art.


Carl Anderson: What was your inspiration for putting together Women of Wonder: Celebrating Women Creators of Fantastic Art?

Cathy Fenner: The idea for this book has been rolling around in my head for quite some time. Part of what got me thinking about it was seeing all the work by women artists I was unfamiliar with while directing the Spectrum: The Best of Contemporary Fantastic Art competition. Some inspiration was derived from conversations with friends who are art directors in the publishing industry such as Orbit Books’ Lauren Panepinto and Wizard of the Coast’s Dawn Murin. When Winona Nelson did a “Women of Fantasy” panel at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention in Kansas City, the enormous interest made me feel like the right time had come for a project like this.

CA: Do you feel like we are in a Golden Age of fantastic art being created by women, or is it just that we are more aware of the work of women in the field because of the exposure the internet and social media affords creators?

CF: I feel like it’s a little of both. From the beginning of illustration to today there have always been and will always be influential women in the arts, from Rose O’Neill to Mary Blair to Diane Dillon to Karla Ortiz. Having worked as an artist for over 30 years I was always aware that there were many very talented female artists working beside me. Maybe male artists seemed to get the spotlight and accolades more often, but that didn’t mean we weren’t also creating equally worthwhile work at the same time. I’ve noticed in recent years the number of women artists has been increasing along with the attention their work receives; as Orbit Books’ Creative Director Lauren Panepinto mentions in her introduction, “…the gender ratio in the art world is shifting. Women are definitely no longer the exception.” Part of that is certainly attributable to art directors like Lauren and other women working in the publishing industry who hire artists without bias or preconceived ideas as to what type of illustration a female is suited for. Part is thanks to social media and the internet, which have made it possible for artists to promote themselves in ways that were not available in the past. Gallery shows help expand their audiences and blogs—and Etsy-type stores—help to nurture and sustain it. Women have stepped forward and are no longer content to work quietly in the background. They’re not asking for “permission” to take part in the arts world, they’re not content to follow someone else’s lead; they’re bravely forging new career paths for themselves. They are inspiring new generations of young women interested in the arts: I don’t believe we’re exactly in a “Golden Age” for women fantastic artists yet, but I think we’re at the beginning of one.

rovcai
(Illustration by Rovina Cai)

CA: As a follow-up, is it a fallacy to assert that we are “more aware”, considering our awareness has a great deal to do with being involved in and passionate about this field of artistic expression?

CF: Of course, because of what we do we are more aware of changing trends in the field. As I stated earlier, I noticed the shift several years ago when I started seeing more and more work by women artists in the entries for the Spectrum competition. Art directors, many who are friends of mine in the publishing field, have a unique view of the shift that is happening.

llbrom
(Illustration by Laurie Lee Brom)

CA: In this (sometimes slowly) shifting climate, do female creators have a responsibility for addressing long-standing injustices that they (you) may not have felt before? Does the shift in gender ratio bring with it a weight of responsibility that may not have previously been felt in what is by nature a very solitary activity/career, that of creating art?

CF: The short answer is no. I think women artists are simply using all the tools that social media has to offer to promote their work and advance their “brand” recognition. That is what I meant by women stepping forward and not being content to work quietly in the background. The quality of their work—any artist’s work—has to speak for itself. The fact that it is created from a female perspective or sensibility isn’t always apparent. If the viewer doesn’t know the gender of the creator, I don’t think anyone can look at a piece of artwork and automatically know if the artist is male or female. I don’t believe anyone who looks at the work of, say, L.D. Austin or Forest Rogers, for example, immediately assumes they’re women; you simply can’t tell they’re female, either from their styles or subject matter. Nor should it matter: it is the art that’s important, not the gender of the artist.

The current climate of social activism that has come forward recently in the art community—and unfortunately become a hot-button issue for many—can be both illuminating and confusing. There are certainly valid issues regarding pay equity and opportunities that should be discussed just as there are societal issues about the way women are viewed or treated, not only by men but by each other as well. But at the same time, not everything, not every perceived slight, not every smart-aleck comment, is worth a fight or an internet melt-down. It’s stupid to believe all men are misogynist villains; they’re not. It’s every bit as stupid to believe that all women who want equal pay or want to voice an opinion without being threatened are FemNazis: they’re not. Men and women have had their differences since creation and they’ll ALWAYS have their differences. This isn’t some sort of war between the sexes, at least any more than it’s ever been. It’s too easy to play some sort of blame game and they’re never constructive. We don’t all think the same way and we don’t all like the same things: that’s the way it should be. But our level of tolerance—of mutual courtesy— for those differences has been eroded somehow. The internet is an easy culprit to lambast, but there were dumb assholes (of both sexes) before it came along just as there will be dumb assholes when some new form of mass communication is invented.

But for an artist’s part, no, I don’t think they have some sort of responsibility to address society’s shortcomings or somehow “fix” past injustices—and, of course, sometimes an “injustice” is in the eye of the beholder and no one else. I think a woman artist’s only responsibility, like their male counterparts, is to their art, wherever it might go. I think creating honestly is the only obligation an artist has.

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(Illustration by Diane Dillon)

CA: You touched on the negative effects the internet appears to have had on the art/genre community. What are some of the positive things you have seen arise from the internet and how do you think artists can best marry current technology and social platforms to the creation of art? Are there any programs, materials, skill sets that you see as beneficial to the artist working in today’s world that may not have been necessary to have a few decades back?

CF: The internet provides virtually a limitless opportunity for self-promotion. It also is an invaluable tool for connecting with the art community at large. Artists can forge relationships and communities with peers all over the world at a minimal cost. There are many online art programs such as Rebecca Leveille-Guay’s SmArt School and John English’s BC Applied Arts program which are all taught by respected industry professionals. Who wouldn’t want to have Greg Manchess, Irene Gallo, Jon Foster, or Anita Kunz as instructors? If I was a student, I’d jump at the chance.

Another of the great things the internet makes possible is the growing number of art communities where artists can interact with each other on a daily basis. They can help freelance artists feel like part of a working community where they can bounce ideas and questions off of each other. Some of the sites like Every Day Original help artists sell their artwork. Another, Drawn & Drafted, is an in-depth service site which helps artists work with clients more effectively, teaching people the things rarely covered in art school. There are sharing communities like DeviantArt, CG Society, and Muddy Colors, which are inclusive and inviting to everyone regardless of their level of skill.

Many art directors use all the social media sites to find new talent and to keep up with new work by artists they already know. I would advise anyone interested in an art career to become familiar with all of these options to see and be seen. That said, everyone should remember that art is never created in a vacuum and that virtual experiences—or friendships, for that matter—should not be substitutions for real-world ones. There’s much to be gained from social face time with other artists and art directors that can’t be achieved via blogs, Facebook, or tweets—which is one of the reasons behind Spectrum Fantastic Art Live.

linlook
(Illustration by Lindsey Look)

CA: What can fans of Fantastic Art expect when they open up their copy of Women of Wonder?

CF: Besides a foreword by me explaining why I decided to do the book, there is a wonderfully thoughtful introduction by Orbit Books and Yen Press Creative Director Lauren Panepinto that covers some the background of and challenges faced by women genre artists. The rest of Women of Wonder spotlights 60 female fantasy and science fiction illustrators, sculptors, and painters; it provides historical recognition of the ground breakers as well as an acknowledgement of the growing profile of women creators in today’s marketplace. Each artist is showcased with a photo, a full page piece of artwork, a short bio or statement, and website info so that readers can easily access more of their works. The book is a celebration of the imagination and exemplary work of women creators around the world.

CA: When and where will Women of Wonder be available?

CF: The book will be premiered at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in Kansas City, May 22 – 24 this year. Following the show it will be available from fine booksellers everywhere. Women of Wonder is published by Underwood Books and distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West.

CA: Are there any Upcoming Projects that you are working on that you can tease for us?

CF: In the near future I will be working with my husband Arnie Fenner on a big art book, Spectrum Paradigm. There may be a sequel to Women of Wonder at some point if the first proves popular. I’ve already been making a list!


Thank you so much, Cathy Fenner. It was a pleasure to speak to you about your new project and to get your thoughts on the current state of Fantastic Art, particularly for female creators. We look forward to seeing the release of Women of Wonder and hope the interest it generates demands many subsequent volumes in the future.

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