In 2017 Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, sold for $450 million, setting a new record for the highest price paid for a piece of art. In 2018 Young Girl with a Flower Basket by Pablo Picasso sold for $115 million dollars. just this month Jeff Koons’ Rabbit sculpture sold for $91 million, setting a record for the sale of work by a still living artist. All 3 pieces were sold at Christie’s a british auction house. These sales grab the spotlight and it is easy for those numbers to skew people's perceptions of how much artwork sells for and how the art markets work.
I feel like there are a bajillion formats to play in Magic now. When I started playing you pretty much had only a few ways to play to choose from. Eventually Type 2 became Standard, and Type 1 became Vintage, and Type 1.5 became Legacy. Then came Elder Dragon Highlander, which got re-branded as Commander, and Modern, and Archenemy, and Planar Magic, and Brawl, and etc… there are so many choices now on how to play the game. I couldn’t even try to name them all so I took a quick trip to Wikipedia and it tells us that there are over 40 separate formats.
If I asked someone what their favorite piece of Magic Art was I imagine most would say the art of this card or that card. I think it would surprise most to know that probably my favorite piece of Magic Art isn’t on a card at all. Magic Art is more than just the art on the cards; it’s any piece of art commissioned by Wizards of the Coast and done in the setting of Magic: The Gathering.
There’s a saying that goes, “You should never meet your heroes.” I have been lucky to meet a lot of the heroes of my youth, and meeting some of them hasn’t gone well I have never regretted it. Several of them were artists for Magic: The Gathering. Their art was a major part of my childhood and my growing love of fantasy art that led to me going to art school. One of those heroes was William "Bill" O'Connor, who is no longer with us, having passed away this time last year. He was an accomplished fantasy artist, working on games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Most important to me though, he was a great person.
Have you ever played the Telephone game? Where one person picks a phrase and then whispers it to another person in the chain and so forth down a row a of people until you ask the last person in the chain what was said? Often times the phrase barely resembles what was said at the beginning of the chain. Now imagine asking an artist to draw a subject and then ask another artist to draw the same thing based on the first artists rendition. Then a third artist off the second’s work. Then a fourth off the third’s, and so on. With each artist putting their own spin and style on the subject, you’ll find that changes will start to happen pretty quickly.
It’s part of the human condition to want to assign importance to things and the easiest way to do this is to give it a name; not just any name, but a proper name. There’s a difference between a waiter and John Doe who served you dinner. John Doe has a backstory, a unique sequence of events that led to him being the person who brought you your meal.
“That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Those are the words immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet. Honestly, I’m not a fan of that play, but I am a very big fan of that line; it makes you think. Is something the same even if you change the name? Magic has some of the most iconic names in the gaming industry. If I say the words “Black” and “Lotus” together that immediately brings to mind a Magic card for a lot of people. But what if it had a different name? Would that change the way you look at the card, or the art itself?
If you are a Magic player you have probably looked at thousands maybe even tens of thousands of cards. On those cards dozens of worlds and thousands of characters and creatures lay depicted on the little rectangles we throw down on the table. The art of Magic: The Gathering is arguably some of the best in the gaming industry, but have you ever considered the journey the art on the cards take to get from an original idea to finally being printed on the card itself?
Could you imagine a world where you couldn’t see famous works of art in a museum anymore? The Mona Lisa, Starry Night, The Sistine Chapel, privately owned and in a random living room somewhere. That would be pretty hard in The Sistine Chapel’s case, but I think you get the point. The art of Magic: The Gathering has been an integral part of the game since the early conversations between Magic’s founder Richard Garfield and Peter Atkinson, founder of Wizards of the Coast 25 years ago, and has helped shape the very game itself. Wizards of the Coast commissions hundreds of pieces of art a year for the game, thousands if you count promotional and concept materials that never make it onto a printed card.