by Phil Geusz
©2006 Phil Geusz
Furry is about different things to different people. To some, its about having a fun group to hang around and play video games with on Saturday afternoons. To others, its a deeply spiritual experience. For many, however, Furry is, more than anything else, a gateway to the arts. While there are many more art-forms represented in the furry fandom than can possibly be dealt with in any one article, for the most part furdoms creative types tend to specialize in one of four areas.
Furry visual art
I list drawing/painting first because, all by itself, visual art dominates furry-themed artistic endeavors. This is true by any standard one may care to set; dollar value, number of fans, etc. Indeed, for many furs, the highlight of any convention is prowling the dealers room, art gallery, and Artists Alley for new sketches and drawings. Those artists whose works are well-known attract a significant fan-base, and their better efforts can sell for hundreds or, Ive heard rumored, even thousands of dollars. Indeed, some artists are so blessed with fans that they actually have to hide themselves away part of the time at cons, or else theyd never get any sleep.
Furry visual art falls into many categories, from traditional drawings and paintings to comic books, sculpting and mask-making. And, like any other visual art, the family-friendly ratings range from G to X. Indeed, youll find as wide a range of styles and formats at a furcon as you will at most art museums. While furs in general dont seem to have a distinguishable favorite artistic style, one thing that stands out to me is that digital (i.e., computer-created) art is generally held in higher esteem among furs than in general society. This is probably because furs are, as a group, extraordinarily computer-friendly.
Furry art can be found all over the Internet; indeed, if I were to hazard a guess Id say that such art represents a good two-thirds of furrys total presence on the Web. Many furs spend countless hours drifting from site to site, comparing and admiring various compositions. Especially talented artists can expect to earn a tidy second income in commissions; many remain booked months in advance, year after year.
If I had to name the single art-form that most defines the furry fandom, Id select this one. Fursuiting is the art of performing in a costume that, to varying degrees, makes its wearer appear to be an anthropomorphic animal. Such suits can range in cost and complexity from simple, minimalist ears-and-tail accessories to a full-body-enclosing getup that features animatronics, tail-wagging-servos, and artificial ears and eyes. In extreme cases, these latter outfits can go for thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars. The best rival or exceed Hollywoods professional efforts; in many cases, they are put together by the same people.
Its not easy to wear a fursuit. Most are hot, confining, awkward, and hard to see and hear out of. Its even harder to behave believably or naturally in one. Few master the art of suiting, though many make the attempt. Yet, one has only to watch the more successful performers at work for a few minutes to recognize that this, too, is art. Ive seen suiters perform wonderfully in what must be absolutely hellish costumes to wear, such as thin-necked cranes and seven-foot-tall kangaroos with remotely operated heads. The performers come back from their rounds absolutely soaked in sweat and exhausted, yet all sparkly-eyed and eager to do it again. Perhaps most significantly, the panels given by successful suiters are usually the best-attended of any of the furry art tracks. It is telling indeed that such an expensive, difficult, demanding art-form has so many would-be devotees.
In many ways, an anthropomorphic puppet is just a fursuit one wears on ones hand. This is especially true given that most furry puppeteers make use of sock-type puppets that often look very much like miniatures of the fursuiters who usually appear on stage interacting with them. Furry puppeteers seem to delight in happy, upbeat productions (often, by tradition, featuring ferret-puppets), generally set to recorded music. Puppetry requires very much the same sorts of skills as suiting, but at lower cost and on a smaller, more livable scale. (For example, puppeteers rarely have to worry about heat exhaustion.) A major convention will usually feature only one dedicated puppet show, but the delightful little creatures will appear again and again during the con as humorous sidekicks during auctions, fursuit-centered shows, et cetera. Furry puppeteers generally share one characteristic in common; they are always smiling.
Literature is probably the least popular of the major furry arts. Yet, though the storytellers following is relatively small, its a highly dedicated one. Many of the better-known furry writers have successfully sold their material in the greater mainstream world of literature, which speaks well for their objective quality. While the furry fandom has produced no best-selling books or Broadway plays to date, its probably only a matter of time. You can always recognize a room full of writers at a convention by the intensity and seriousness with which they treat their artform. That, of course, and the sophistication of their puns
Perhaps the heart of furry literature is the shared universe story, in which many authors share a setting and even characters. The Sabrinaverse, TBP (Tails of the The Blind Pig), and the Tai-Pan Project are among the most widely-known of these multiple-author creations. The best of the stories in these settings deserve far more recognition than they have so far received. However, because of copyright issues and the nature of the publishing business itself, the most a furry author can reasonably expect is a sincere thank you from a fan.
It is my sincere belief that the quality and vibrancy of these four furry arts are a large part of the force behind the furry phenomenon. We can argue all day long about why anthropomorphic animals are so important to some people, and get nowhere. What we can say authoritatively, however, is that among such individuals the modern furry movement has unleashed a veritable Niagara Falls of art, much of it of surprisingly high quality. Search the net. Look at the pictures, and read the stories. Then come to a con and watch the fursuiters and puppeteers do their things. Once youre finished, youll be as amazed as I am at the flexibility and dynamism of the human artistic soul.