Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ugly Doll Mentality

I used to really like watching Boston Legal. I was sad when they cancelled it because it was a clever, witty show that employed talented actors of all age ranges. I didn't always agree with the statement they were trying to make, but usually the story lines made me think.

They already knew the show had been cancelled when they did one episode involving suing network TV for age discrimination in it's shows. At one point John Laroquette's character was having lunch with a judge and he says that TV shows have been dumbed down due to the fact that people split their focus between TV and doing other things like texting and working on the computer so they have to make shows less complicated because people don't focus on them. I have noticed this is true, especially with sitcoms. Most of them aren't as funny or well written as they used to be and they resort to very base humor. I don't understand why some of the most popular ones are as popular as they are. I can't even watch The Office. I watched it twice and it made my brain want to bleed just trying to process how inane it was.

But I don't think this proverbial dumbing down is limited to TV. I have noticed a lot of this in the art world lately as well. I know that trends in everything come and go and that this too shall pass, but I am not sure this is a positive direction. Particularly for collectible toys.

I have labeled it Ugly Doll Mentality. If you have never seen Ugly Dolls, they are actually pretty cute, well made and worth the roughly $20.00 price point. They are basically pillow type creatures made of fleece with blanket stitched felt facial features and shapes so ugly they are cute. I confess I have Jeero and Ice Bat. Although, Rizzo has claimed Ice Bat as her own and likes to sleep on him.

While I think this is fine for a manufactured product, I am not sure it's the best trend in handmade. I keep seeing this style crop up, quite often for the same price point you could purchase a traditional mohair bear or animal. It's not the style I have a problem with, as it is that I have been noticing how poorly so many of these things are made in order to achieve this look. In fact I have been noticing that some long term artists are jumping on the bandwagon. I would never presume to tell anyone what to make or buy, and I do think homespun, folk artsy animals do have a certain charm as long as they are well made. What I worry about is that if someone purchases one of the ones I have seen that look as if they have been literally thrown together they will fall apart in a very short amount of time. If this happens, how will that effect their future purchases? What if they would have graduated up to more traditional collectibles but won't because they received a low quality item for their money? I realize that there are traditional style bears and animals out there that are assembled poorly as well, but not in such large quantities.

I am afraid this may be a side effect of our hurry up world. Are we so anxious to get something done that we don't take time to put a lot of effort into it's creation? Are we so busy that we can't put our best effort forth, or...are some of the newer artists not taking time to properly learn their craft?

From the other side of the fence, as a consumer I have been very nervous about purchasing soft sculpture lately from people I don't know. Certain venues are getting a reputation for having sellers that don't create a lasting quality product, and it shows in the their close up pictures. Sadly the venues keep promoting these items over quality items. I think this creates the perception that people will be getting a nice item when that may not be true. I recently saw one item that had sold for $200.00 that was made from a lopsided basic two piece pattern out of muslin. I was appalled to see in the close up pictures that there were raw edges sticking out of the seams that had been poorly whip stitched together and that the artist referred to it as an "animal thingy" as if she didn't even know what she had made. It had a face drawn on with a sharpie.

I urge you as buyers to really look at the big picture,(pun intended) look at the stitching, quality of materials, and how an item is assembled as opposed to just the overall look of it. Think about what you're getting for your dollars. Is this something you want to have in your home to display for years to come or is it something that you thought was cute in the moment and bought on an impulse?

As artists, there is nothing wrong with making any style you want as long as you are using good supplies and figuring out a way to get the look you want without having to sacrifice quality. Artists are smart, we should never "dumb it down."

(Oddly enough after posting this earlier, there is a treasury on the front page of Etsy featuring several of this very type of thing. It's a shame they never promote traditional soft sculpture.)


Amanda said...

Interesting this. I tried a bit back to make a more primitive, grungy, simpler type bear, I failed badly. Why? Because it takes major talent to make something look, old, primitive, but still be of good quality and design. There are people out there that can, I really admire them as it was beyond me. My attempt just looked rubbish and I would not have even dared to show it, never mind sell it! LOL

Kelly said...

Those aren't really the people and items I was referring to though. I was referring more to people who aren't really that talented and are producing poor quality items because they don't know any better, but still are charging high prices for them.

I just worry that it will scare off future collectors if they get something that is made very badly. This particular genre promotes the idea that anyone can make a collectible toy and you don't have to know what you're doing or try to improve.

There are people who can get the look and not suffer the quality and that's great!

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