Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Cathartic Creative Outlet"

I was never one of those girls who sat around playing with dolls... especially not Barbies. It wasn't necessarily because of what she did or didn't represent (the definition of unattainable beauty, the perfect woman, all that a woman should and shouldn't be, what a woman should and shouldn't do); it was more because dolls often seemed creepy to me (maybe I watched too many scary movies growing up). Creepy is definitely a feeling you get when looking at Mariel Clayton's photography- it may even be an understatement. When I first came across some of her work, I was slightly taken aback to say the least. I had seen  some doll photography before: dolls used as muses for paintings or dolls set up in simple expected miniature scenes (such as the one below); but nothing quite like this.

Over the years, Barbie has been a part of much social commentary in terms of the image critics say she creates for young girls- an unattainable form of beauty and perfection. Most often, these criticisms have been in forms of articles and blogs. There's a few examples here and there where a Barbie is used to portray an anorexic woman in short artistic films and artwork. I have never come across any social commentary more complex involving Barbie than that...until I came across Mariel Clayton's work.

Mariel Clayton is a self taught photographer who features Barbie in a variety of scenes that are in stark contrast from "traditional" forms of artwork with Barbie- from scenes of Barbie representing strong historical women who inspire Mariel to Mariel's perception of children's fables to various morally questionable scenes of sex, murder, and societal issues. She says she's not sure why these ideas come to her, but all of this started out with a "camera and major interest in travel photography." She said, "A sublime encounter in a Tokyo toy shop led me into the surreal world of Japanese miniatures, and ultimately to the stories that could be told with them."
Barbie Happily Ever After

Like many of the artists we've studied in class (the architect in particular came to mind), Mariel's creative process depends on a gut feeling and a quick moment of inspiration. When it comes to her, it comes to her. "Sometimes I see a complete picture in my head, down to the last detail and all I have to do is recreate it with the props, other times it might just be a particular piece of a picture that I will then build on." In an interview, she tried to explain it by saying that her mind thinks things up quicker than she can consciously comprehend. (Perhaps, she would be a subject that portrays a certain degree of conscious creativity.)

Many of the scenes portray Barbie in situations that greatly contrast what she is meant to represent and completely skew society's traditional gender roles. Mariel hates Barbie and every stereotype that she represents. Ironically enough, Mariel does not consider herself part of the feminist movement in any way. She believes that "the message feminism is trying to convey has escalated to a ridiculous and unfair demonization of men." It seems to me that she is creating an image that is somewhat demonizing women. It's interesting that she believes the media is demasulanating men when many of her sexual scenes portray men in positions that are no where near what people would consider "masuline" in those cases. She says, however, that she is not out to send a message; she actually just finds this "funny." "I think it finally makes the doll interesting, and I like that contrast between saccharine sweet and pure malevolence."

Mariel also criticizes the way children are raised these days (as seen in the 3rd picture in the blog and the picture below) and the values that are instilled in them from a very young age. She feels children are not challenged enough with their schoolwork, but instead get caught up in the world of materialism and surreal scenes that can be found in television and video games- much like her photography, I guess.

I can't say that I particularly enjoy this art. For me, it was more like a car crash: I just couldn't look away. I do, however, find it to be quite a creative way to vent anxieties about society and whatever emotions she may be encountering on a personal level. It acts as an outlet, as does artwork for many others- artists and the patrons. People may have brushed on these concepts using America's favorite doll, but no one took it to the level she did. She's been quoted to say "some [immoral] things just need to be processed in a different way." If she did anything, she has definitely accomplished that much. Some of them take a little bit longer to process than others, but nearly every single one of them encompasses some type of social commentary.

To check out more information on Mariel Clayton or to buy some of her artwork, check out these websites at your own risk.!


  1. I think this is super interesting and never would have thought to create art using scenes you make with a Barbie. I would agree with the creepy factor, but I also would agree with the fact although its somewhat unsettling it is still creative. This artist is using a certainly novel idea to solve the issue of expressing her feelings about society. This is an important outlet for everyone to discover and she just happens to have found the very creative avenue of photographing Barbies. This is by no means going to change the world, but it helped this artist to understand and deal with the world in a healthy (maybe questionable) way. Therefore this would be a good example of a little c.

  2. I think Mariel's stance on feminism is extremely interesting; one would think that anyone using Barbie as a media for art would be a feminist. Instead, her goal seems to be making social commentary about society in a clever and twistedly amusing way. This aspect is where I think Mariel's creativity can best be seen. Many people create art that comments on the pitfalls of society, but her use of such a beloved childhood toy commands people's attention and truly makes them think. No one is going to listen to what you have to say if you don't say it in a stimulating way. Her dioramas certainly stimulate the viewer, and thus her artistic creativity holds potential for real thought to take place.

  3. This completely fascinates me and I totally agree, its kindof like a car crash, you definitely want to keep looking and know more. Using Barbie in a sick and twisted way to comment on society is pretty genius, especially when think about how sick and twisted Barbie and her makers actually are. Creating this image of a skinny girl that is so-called perfect for little girls to idolize is one of the major problems in our society. This also reminds me of the campaign done that shows Barbie in lifesize proportions to show girls how far off the Matel company is in creating her perfect image.


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