Naive Art and Fantasy Fiction

Simplistic But Not Simple

naive artwork by Cui Mingda

Naïve art is a term used for a visual art style created by a person without formal training. In short, non-professionals.

Naïve art tends to be confused with other art styles such as primitivism, folk art, and outsider art. And yet, those styles are similar but not like naïve art.

Naïve art is self-taught or spontaneously created by an untrained person.

And before you ask, yes, cavemen were probably the first practitioners of naïve art since they did not go to art school but painted caves.

Have you ever gone to a museum and seen some artwork on display and wanted to scream, “my kid can paint that?”

No, that is not naïve art. It was most likely created by a trained professional breaking the rules–but it gives you an idea.

naive artwork by José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca

Naïve art looks like the kind of artwork a five-year-old would create: lacking proportion, balance, and refinement.

Indeed, childlike and simple.

Nonetheless, if anyone can create art, what is the point of art education? Why go to art school?

To learn perspective, orientation, the balance of visual elements, shapes, and proportions, landscape, as well as the socio-cultural foundations of art, and many other skills.

Therefore, do not dismiss the value of art education.

Meanwhile, the creators of naïve art do not study those skills. And yet, their artwork is stunning despite the lack of formal training. Its rawness is part of its appeal.

Simplistic art style does not mean simple. Believe it or not, there are museums dedicated to this art style.

Naïve Art and Fantasy Fiction

naive artwork by Antonio Santos Lloro

Fantasy fiction is about magic, fantastic creatures, enchanted swords, secondary worlds… In short, about make-believe and fanciful.

Naïve art seems immature, unfinished, and unprofessional–as in the “my kid can do that” type of way.

However, simple and untrained does not mean any artistic value. Specifically for fantasy fiction. Especially a certain kind of fantasy.

Because, in fairness, this type of art style would not work for high fantasy, urban fantasy, or epic fantasy.

Can you imagine A Song of Fire and Ice illustrated using naive art? Or Lord of the Rings? What about The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue? Elantris? The Broken Earth trilogy?

No, it would not work at all. The grimness and grittiness of it would get lost inside the cutesy artwork. No fan would take those books seriously.

naive artwork by Alejandro Costas

So, which type of fantasy art will this style work for?

If you are thinking of folk tales and fairy tales, you are correct. If you are thinking weird fiction, you will be also correct.

There is this other side of fantasy fiction that is about whimsical, playful, and allegorical.

Because neither weird fiction nor fairy tales need to be realistic. It is not a slave to symmetry and proportion or perspective.

So what if the coloring does not reflect nature? What if the characters look like an exaggeration of human anatomy?

Naïve art was born as a response to photography and its rigidness and realism. Hence, what makes naïve art so special?

Childhood Visions, Dreams, and Nightmares

Muchacha que se siente observada. Art painted by Disifredo Garita from Costa Rica

Naïve art has specific rules. And yet, like all art, once you know the rules, you break them. Moreover, artists always seek ways to push boundaries.

Naïve art is meant to be limitless. Decreased perspective? Geometrically enormous? Muted colors? Too colorful? Not enough details? Weird shapes?

Who cares? Art is about provoking emotion in the viewer.

What emotion does naïve art create? Does it upset you? Does it make you nostalgic for a more innocent time? Or does it make you smile?

Does it make you dream about the impossible? Or does it unnerves you and give you nightmares?

naive artwork by Carolina Cuadrillero

I look at naïve art and think, my child, can draw that. I also experience the joy and charm behind it. There is raw, childlike energy that is contagious and lovable.

Even when it is meant to be scary, the visual style makes the shock bearable.

For example, look at the banner image of this post, artist Benicio Nuñez‘s El Fausto Criollo. When have you seen a Faust less scary? That demon won’t scare even a child. And that is the point.

Innocence and enchantment in service of fantasy.

naive artwork by Ayako Rokkaku

Because not all fantasy needs to be about knights and dragons fighting over a pseudo-Medieval kingdom. Fantasy can also be about talking animals and friendly ghosts.

So what is about naïve art and fantasy?

Naïve artwork reminds us to be kids again. You know, as we were when we first read fantasy for the first time. And that is not a bad thing.

Reader, are you a fan of naïve art? Do you like it? Would you buy it and collect it? Share in the comments.


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January 2023