It’s Barbie – but is it ART?

Seems like every examination session quite a few students feel that putting one or more Barbies in their DP Visual Arts final exhibition would be a good idea, and this examination is no exception.

In my experience its usually female students who do this and invariably it’s all about the pressure that society puts on women to conform to a body stereotype. It’s certainly true that in various parts of the world people are more or less constantly bombarded by media images of airbrushed and Photoshopped beautifully perfect bodies, and this pressure has contributed to feelings of inadequacy – and worse. And as an unattainable target, Barbie fits the bill. I’m not sure why anyone would want to actually look like Barbie (check out Valeria Lukyanova, the Ukranian so-called ‘human Barbie’ if you are interested in this) but either way Barbie is famous, and perhaps (?probably) still a kind of beauty standard for some young girls.

However, in most cases by herself Barbie is a little too familiar and a little too obvious to earn many marks. One of the visual arts assessment descriptors suggests that your work should show “thoughtful development of ideas and strategies for expression”.

Other descriptors ask to see works that “demonstrate confidence and inventiveness” and “show an informed, reflective judgment that challenges and extends personal boundaries”. I would suggest that unless something creative or adventurous or at least thoughtful is happening to your Barbie, she is unlikely to generate much achievement in these criteria.

If you want to say something about the pressure to conform to some perfect body image, go for it, but try to avoid the predictable!

Jeremy Freeny has used Barbies – check out a recent Guardian online article  (“New York-based artist Jason Freeny makes sculptures of Barbie that have their insides exposed to reveal – so goes the hype – the anatomic impossibility of this wasp-waisted doll. With her internal organs crushed together, Barbie is shown to be a dangerously impossible role modelIn today’s mass media, “art” is taken to mean any eye-catching nonsense, and once something gets that designation it is assumed to be cool, clever and in some sense beyond criticism. Even when it is nothing more than a tacky piece of woman-hating nonsense”).

Links to other Barbie sites

“Altered” Barbies

http://www.alteredbarbie.com/artwork/all_art

Barbie Art A Go Go

http://gb.pinterest.com/carolagogo/barbie-art-a-go-go/

10 Works of Subversive Barbie Art

http://flavorwire.com/402681/10-diverse-body-positive-artworks-about-women

1 Comment
  • Greg
    June 15, 2014

    One of my students is returning to my class after a first IB year spent in another school. There amongst her recent work was a Barbie vomiting coloured beads glued onto a canvas.

    I have a Pinterest board that I share with my students (semi) jokily entitled ‘Forbidden Art’ including silhouetted dolphins leaping across sunsets and my personal favourite – ‘half face half robot’.

    It is useful to discuss with students why these sort of perennial images might not be good examples of thoughtfully and thoroughly evolved and developed studio outcomes. I do have to restrain myself from using the justification: ‘ because it’s just so cheesey! ‘

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