Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review - Exotique 5 by Ballistic Publishing

Hi Everyone!

Some of you may know I started this blog only about a year ago. It's just past the one year mark now, and as we head toward the New Year, I've been again re-thinking the direction of this blog as well as my online presence in general. This after a year of sourcing artwork for both my website and this blog and various shifts in perspective regarding art online, and art in general.
Exotique 5 cover
So it's really rather interesting timing for me that Ballistic Publishing has sent me a copy of Exotique 5 for review.

Obviously, there's a lot of art out there. Even after you filter out what you think is crap (and then, it's maybe only what you think is crap), there's still a lot of there. And by a lot, your concept may be "thousands" , and you would still be off by orders of magnitude. Just have a look at such art-stumbler profiles on StumbleUpon such as Renamski, BoyOfBow, Justjada, boo12998, SkylaRaine, Cheryl1109...
Even if you want to narrow things down to "good fantasy art", there is a glut of artwork to deaden the senses.

Once you have seen enough, it'll start to blur into same-ness. You know you've reached this point when you start to think "I've seen that before, or something very much like that". And you will. Not just for one or two pieces, but for every piece.
(That said some few artists will have an interesting enough twist to really stand out because their niche isn't (yet) popular. For example, "Gay art", like everything else with homosexual undertones, hasn't really hit the mainstream yet, so artists like David Kawena and Flondo can still be counted to have a niche while almost everyone else is doing a lot of the same thing just as, at a certain level, "all writing is re-writing": Rehashing the same ideas and plots but dressed differently. Jaded eyes need something really different--and if you do nothing but leaf through Exotique 5 idly, I promise it'll be worth your while to have a glance at pages 138 and 139.)

I think part of this blasé attitude comes from two things. First, art is "consumed" by merely looking it, and looking doesn't take a lot of time, so you can end up consuming a lot of art in a very short time. If you've ever had your favourite dessert one too many times, you'll know the feeling.

Second, with so much quality out there now, the difference between the top performers (of whatever style of art you happen to like) starts to narrow. Unless you are very anal about what you like and look for, some variance is merely stylistic difference, and you start to release your criteria for what we like and simply go with feeling (there's nothing wrong with that, of course -- art quality is an individual and subjective experience). When that happens, suddenly there's so much excellent art out there.
Too much.

Which leads to certain things. For example: Art, being visually consumed, becomes devalued all out of proportion compared to the time and skill it takes to produce it. And for the most part, consumers don't really care. You can see this from how often art is presented online without attributing the artist. On StumbleUpon, for example, very often Stumblers will favorite a picture, entirely out of context from the artist's website.

Also, the devaluation of art into dime-a-dozen status (unless you want to hold a decent copy in your hand, anyway--then it costs a heck of a lot more than a dime) means art blogs like mine really don't do artists any good whatsoever. Have you bought anything lately? That's one of the reasons I've mostly shifted to game art -- merely looking at the artwork won't give you the actual experience of playing the game, so in a way, nothing has been given away by showcasing game art.
(The remaining sourced art and artist spotlights already drafted will eventually be published, but I'm probably going to stop at some point, and focus on artists only in conjunction with something else, like the career artists in Character Modelling 3, which I recently reviewed here and mentioned on Examiner).

Exotique 5 limited editor cover
By now, I'd be surprised if you weren't thinking, "hey, doesn't this blog post say 'Book Review'?" Well, after that long preamble, here it comes: What does Exotique 5 offer in a over-saturated fantasy art environment? What can any art book possibly offer?

It's a book. And ultimately, this is the advantage and attraction. Sure, you can find tons of art online, but this you can hold in your hand. No need to haul out your computer. It's probably more for your coffee table, though, and because of that, I would have preferred a hard cover and a binding style that's more conducive to staying open when it's laid on the table (the Special Edition would probably fit the bill, but there'd be no way I'd expose it to boorish guests who might use it as a coaster).

The book contains a mix of artistic styles and subjects, so much so that if you like one narrow subject or a fairly narrow style of art, you might find yourself glossing over a lot of it. At the same time, it means there's a good chance of there being something for everyone, and hopefully there's more stuff that's liked (or at least not disliked) than stuff that's disappointing.

If you're more open to experiences, however, then the seeming chaos of the art mix is actually to your advantage. There are very small clumps of similar subjects, but from one such to the next, the artistic style or art subject often dramatically changes. When this happens, your eyes readjust and something in your mind or perspective is shaken out of complacency, and you are given the opportunity to look at the next pieces of artwork with more alertness and reception.

Don't get hung up by it being a collection of digital art. The range of styles suggest all sorts of art mediums. It's probably easier to just think of it as a collection of great art. What a mere art book and digital art still lacks, however, are any subtleties that may be achieved by actual dimension and texture (like impasto). And don't expect to understand what's particularly good about any one piece. It may be touted as "the world's most beautiful CG characters", but even there's still just no pleasing everybody.

So should you buy it? I'm not into collecting things myself, so my perspective will probably be a little different from the mainstream. I know, for example, friends who "love books" and have libraries of hundreds of books. Which they probably have read. Once. Then shelved. Forever.
My advice would be to buy it to share. No matter how beautiful the artwork, you'll probably get bored of it after a while, and then shelve it so long that the next one would have come out before you look at it again. As something to share, art, being consumed visually, talks to everyone and in that way a book like this is accessible to anyone of all cultures. (Some parts of it have nudity, however. Now that I've said that, all the underage readers of this blog are probably going to run out looking for it in their local bookstore...)
As a book to entertain guests while they idle around your home eating your cake and drinking your coffee, the wide range of artwork is a safer bet than an art book with a narrower focus.

At the time of writing this blog, Exotique 5 was on the verge of launching, but not quite. You can, however, preview their previous editions online with their book previewer. While you're there, their Exposé series is also definitely worth a look. If you're new to the series and want to collect, they offer up to 20% off.


Amy said...

I enjoy your commentary style, Simon. I absolutely get where you're coming in from in turns of art burn out. My tastes in fantasy art, in specific, have altered over the years.
I have never really enjoyed what I call cutesy fairy art. I do have some of that on my website, but it is to please others who do enjoy it. I think Amy Brown was the original cutesy fairy artist. Her art became very popular and brought fantasy art out of the closet, so to speak. But, the flip side of that, there are a lot of cutesy fairy artists now mimicking her art. The popularity is still there but with a strong sense of been-there-done-that.
I have always gravitated to fantasy art with a grander scope, a battle scene, a landscape, fantasy creatures interacting in some way, art that tells a story. I especially enjoy artists that have a more painterly quality like Justin Sweet ( or Richard Hubbard ( I also like to go back to the original fantasy artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and Warick Goble (
There are some very original fantasy artists out there. They are true visionaries in the field. I continue to enjoy your blog Simon. I can't wait to see where the future leads it.

Simon said...

Hi Amy! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- and thank you for continuing to visit this blog.
I've added the artists you mentioned to the (growing) list on this blog.

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