Note: This text also appears as a forum post for the BYOND Pixel Art Society.
Staff members at Deviant Art recently posted a news article describing how any image containing partial transparencies (alpha channel), or which looks as though it was made using transparency effects, will be removed from the pixel art category. This follows a similar ruling from the folks over at Pixel Joint.
Now, what is Pixel Joint, you wonder? I most certainly did the first time I heard about them. Pixel Joint is an internet community which believes itself to be God's gift to pixel art, and the definitive voice concerning pixel art. Unfortunately, people all over the internet have been duped into believing this is true. Personally, I'm not familiar with their art, and don't care about what they say. How many video games has Pixel Joint ever produced?
This is an important point. Pixel art is defined by it's restrictions, in palette size, color choice, canvas size, and many other ways. But these restrictions aren't arbitrary, like the ones Deviant Art and Pixel Joint are forcing on the art. These restrictions stem from the functional nature of pixel art: Pixel art was born from the restrictions of computers, and had to perform it's function in that environment. Without a function for their output to perform, the folks at Pixel Joint (and now Deviant Art) are grasping at straws trying to keep cohesion. This is fine if a single website wants to say "These are the rules for this website", that's their prerogative. However, when anyone starts saying "These are the rules of pixel art", that's when I get pissed.
The greatest pixel art ever seen (arguably, of course) comes from the SNES era, which made alpha transparencies available as part of the platform. To rule out games like Final Fantasy 6 for it's use of alpha transparencies is a great way to undermine your own credibility. I don't think I'd be here were it not for the wonderfully moody wisps of steam rising above the town of Narshe; these were the first images I ever tried to reproduce as a game (and ran into Internet Explorer's inability to display alpha transparencies).
Now, what is the problem with transparency? The ruling from Deviant Art is that "the only tools used should be the pencil tool, the eye dropper and the eraser". Should I really spend any time going into how ignorant this statement is? God gave me a special finger for these cases, and I choose to use it. Digging into the comments unearths the feeling that transparency dilutes or cheapens the art... I guess this is the same way that I feel about unrestricted dithering, anti-aliasing, or color palettes. However, no one at Deviant Art or Pixel Joint ever says "unrestricted use", and that's really the heart of the matter.
A 1024x768px image using 400 colors certainly doesn't look very much like pixel art, and there's a good reason for that: there was no restriction in either canvas or palette. In the same way, unrestricted use of alpha transparency can cause an image to lose it's identity as pixel art. And that's all that alpha transparency really is, it's an entry in the color palette. If I have one color that's rgb(0,0,0,128), and another color that's rgb(0,0,0,64), these are two unique colors in my palette, not one color with two transparencies. If I use enough of these colors, I'm going to start reaching the grey areas of palette sizes vastly beyond 32 colors (which, by the way, the two sites mentioned above have no problems with; you can find images in the pixel art galleries with over a hundred colors).
We members of the BYOND community are enjoying a new revival of pixel art, in part because of the expanded functionality of the BYOND software, functionality that includes alpha transparency. While we are enjoying this Renaissance, pixel art elsewhere is suffering under new and arbitrary rules designed to stunt its growth, and keep it confined to the tastes of certain communities... communities that are not based in gaming, computing, or, hell, I'd even accept mosaic production at this point!
We at BYOND must never go that way, we must never loose sight of the identity of pixel art. We can't stop there, though. We must resist this trend in all communities of which we are members, for the sake of our art. I will not post another piece of pixel art to Deviant Art until this ruling is reversed, and I would call on every other member here (who is also a member there) to do the same. I will do the same in any other community I belong to which follows Pixel Joint's lead, and I exhort you to do the same.
Even if you aren't a fan of the yea/nay system, please vote here to show your support of pixel art.