People love to be able to relate to things. They tend to feel more connected to art and artists, if they feel like they understand the art, and the artist's thoughts behind it. Maybe you wish to bond with other artists via mutual interests, and discussing their artwork with them is a great way of doing so. But don't assume you understand what an art piece means, don't try too hard to interpret your own feelings in someone elses art, or claim to know what the artists original thoughts when making it were. Also, don't assume people's drawings are fanart of things you like.
So, I'll explain.
Say I've spent hours on creating a painting, of a unique, new character I've come up with which I feel happy about. It feels personal to me, my artstyle, and I for once feel great about my art and ideas. Then I go online and post it, or publish it in a paper, maybe hang it at a gallery, then someone sees my art and comments "OMG IS IT THE CHARACTER BLABLA FROM BLABLA THEY'RE MY FAVOURITE I LOVE IT". No. No it's not. At all. It wasn't intended to in any way. I've never seen the show/movie/game you compared my art to, and the character doesn't look like it anywhere besides oh, they have similar haircuts, and it's surely not unique for that character. But now, I as an artist likely son't feel as good about my drawing anymore. "If people mistake my unique artwork, for fanart, I guess I'm not so creative at all." Is not an uncommon thought.
This happens A lot especially it the digital world of artists. Let me give you some recent examples I've been met with:
- I made a videogame character concept, a marine, mermaid-like creature with fangs and swords as arms/hands. Because one of it's 6 colour variations happened to be yellow with dark purple hair, someone instantly asked if it's fanart of Fluttershy from My Little Pony, a show that I've never watched or liked and have literally no connection to mermaids or fighter games. Why would you make that assumption.
- Almost every time I draw a horse, someone asks if it's fanart from Spirit. Horses are pretty common animals, in fact there's estimated to be about 58 million of them on earth. A bunch of them happens to have to same colours as those featured in the Disney movie. That doesn't make it fanart.
- I painted a bunch of serpents/dragons in lots of different varieties, and immediately one person asked if it's "that character with 7 snake heads" from some show. No. They're just a bunch of dragons, nothing implies that they're connected, belongs to any show or is a reference to something. And that's that.
And, such assumptions are pretty harmless, yes.
But again. Many artists struggle with their self esteem. There's a lot of competition in the different art fields, and having new, creative, unique ideas is really important for artists to stick out among the crowd. Most strive to be innovative, and do art that prooves they "think outside the box". Hence, many artists feel bummed out when this happens. Maybe it's an original character of theirs which they've spent a lot of time and thought on, maybe they're really happy with the concept of this unique drawing, perhaps it's their best work so far. Maybe you happen to want to want to bond with them over some mutual interest, and therefore interpret it in what they do and/or ask if their painting somehow relates to something you like.
But, I believe you shouldn't assume things. If an artist wants to describe their work, they likely will with a proper description. Others find their art to speak for itself, and a few does enjoy having people guess and interpret things in it. Maybe, in most of these cases, you don't need ask. Some artists don't want to explain their art. Som state clear that it's fanart or inspired by something specific. A lot of the time it's not the case, and it's both awkward to have to clearify it (with a "uh no, actually not..."), and annoying for the artist because it can make the painting feel terrible and uncreative afterwards.
Like I said, most artists specify clearly if it's fanart, or it shows very obviously that it's heavily inspired by something (maybe they've included a logo, quote, or specific item that hints at it). Many artists do fanart and are super happy to bond with you over it and have it recognized as such! The point of this post is, don't assume things, about art. It's not only about fanart.
Many artists put their own feelings into their paintings. Maybe they're going through a rough time, and they express it and their thoughts on it through their art. I do this a lot. And often I leave those paintings without explanations. Some tend to go "OH I sense there's a story in this painting, I believe blabla is happening and it means blablabla...". Please. Don't do that. Again, I know people work that way. People love, to feel like they relate and understand things. But, you see how this can be a bit problematic and even disrespectful in such situations? Art doesn't need to be explained. Go to any art gallery, people can only guess what the artist ment with it. You can guess and ponder. But don't assume, and don't claim to know it. Be respectful towards other artists. Always.