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Although, generally speaking, the work of Claire Fontaine does not match the archetype of the contemporary fan, there are a number of shared characteristics between the fan and the artist. Both take interest in their subjects as a method of shorthand identity; they are frequently invested in mastery, production, participation, and appropriation; and each, once ridiculed for their investment in idiosyncratic subject matter, now finds their efforts encouraged, even lauded. Certainly, butt plug champion and ketchup performance artist Paul McCarthy’s career arc demonstrates this; it wasn’t until the 1990s that his video installations and sculptures received recognition. Today, his outdoor Santa butt plug sculpture is one of Antwerp’s great attractions.
Despite the above similarities, though, artist and traditional fan-based production remain almost entirely separate. Meanwhile, the expanded definitions of both fields — a fan is now simply “engaged,” an artist yet to be objectively defined — create a murkiness that is difficult to negotiate. The difference between a fan and friend on MySpace and Facebook for example, are often one and the same, a situation paralleled in the art world, whereby the difference between the artist and curator is often indistinguishable. Brian Belott, Stephanie Diamond, and Steven Shearer are just a few artists who describe their obsessive collecting and curating projects as their art work.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in the case of both the artist and fan, the field in which one operates often comes down to how the individual chooses to identify him or herself. Increasingly, self-identification has become the norm. This may not be such a bad thing for art in particular — the expanded professional field has gained a much larger audience as a result. If we’re lucky, the long-term effect of this transition will be having to apologize a lot less to our parents for loving the things we do.