Monday, September 5, 2011

Barbies get bruises (yeah, right)


This photo by Tyler Shields, of Glee actress Heather Morris, caused a stir. An article in Shine makes this point:
Moral compass rule: You just shouldn't use deeply painful subjects like violence, abuse, or slavery (ahem, Vogue Italia) to sell your surface, expensive product. If that doesn't work, make-up artists, designers, photographers, and ad execs should consider this: bruises, burns, and scrapes don't make people want to buy things.
I agree, but are we not becoming too moralistic? In any case, I don't think moralists should worry. Here is why:

Tyler Shields is playing with heavy visual codes. I propose to define something as being x-"code" if it works in the context it is exported to. Clearly the code here is (domestic) abuse. Shields' photo above is not really code. Why not? He flirts with violence but he's out of context. He presents a mug-shot version of an attractive, white, young woman with a black eye. Heather Morris, the model, looks straight into the camera with an almost defiant expression. Though beaten, she remains coldly composed, as if to put beyond any doubt that she is in control. Which is why her face doesn't export.*

Either Shields is oblivious to abuse-code or he wasted Morris' time -you are not dumb to try code without some subversive idea. Had he used a black or a Latino female subject, his photo would've been fuzzier (momentarily, I defer to analyze whether fuzzier is better or worse). Shields should've couched Morris how to feel a bit under her skin the drag of existential humiliation that comes with brutality, falling to the unyielding pull of poverty & addiction, until there is little left of her self-esteem to even look straight at the camera.

Just to complicate things a bit. How about this one?

A gleeful Rhianna looks at the camera. She exhibits her -still visible- shiner under a bit of mascara. Whereas the received mark of violence is confined to police mug-shots, Rhianna turns it upside down: Bruise now becomes makeup, a redefinition -rather, incorporation- of code. Violence is met with a resoluteness of a different kind. Absorbed by beauty -not glamor- brutality is deprived of its ominous stigma. A long shot from Tyler Shields' bruised Barbie.
* Morris' self-conscious shot brings to mind actors' uncanny ability to feign emotions. How matter-of-factly an expression of credible hair-rising fear suddenly turns into a happy face.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Pedro Velez

Michael Wynne said...

I though this was a Pedro Velez. He's been showing work like this for years in Chicago, New York, Dallas and god knows where else.

Anonymous said...

Alfredo: Nice post! I think there are many ways to fight domestic abuse. Thanks for your take on Rhianna. I find her a very courageous person.


Anonymous said...

Any time Morality come next to the art, Arts are hit. I would like come back to the times art were look as it is, un objetc whitout all that meaning. Art could be the reflection ofthe dramatic way Nature build things, is a representation. Violence hapen to exist, so has its value in drama too; Why sould we don't represent it in its own (formal) way?

Sorry for my english, I know it's macarronic but i like it!

Oceanna Dawn said...

Art is an expression of life. Violence is a part of life. This was a part of Rihanna's life experience. It is a statement for her to choose to take her challenge and look it in the face and smile. The darkest moments in our lives bring the brightest moments. The whimsical Barbie and the 50's reference doesn't stir any emotion inside me and I see it as kind off tacky but to someone else it may express something important. It is another example of art and media pushing the limits because everything else has been done. I have been thinking about this allot because I love the show "Family guy" but it has been going too far to me with its violent and sexual references lately. I feel it is coming from a place of running out of creative ideas rather then sentiments or social issues that need to be expressed or discussed. Is it because the writers and photographers are running out of material that we need to see a father stabbing his daughter or a model with a black eye or are these things that we need to see and discuss?

Juliana said...

I don’t think that showing how brutally a woman is being abused is a way of showing art. If you want to show violence, show it in its natural way. Without covering with makeup or trying to show art through what it reflects a huge bruise from a “nice kiss”.

Anonymous said...

I partialy agree wiht Oceanna Dawn, but it's also true that violence happen to exist and has its own value. A big part of the artist are runing out of material and in a lack of imagination, but that happen in every part of life and it dosn't make fake the true part. Fake art could be also something romantic and sweet as violence can be true art.

The same macarronic

Romell McLeod said...

The world has experienced countless art movements since the artistic revolution of the Renaissance . It is no wonder that with all the competing mediums of this century that Tyler Shields uses shock art for social commentary. Themes like domestic violence require the kinds of imagery that shock us into discussion. Not so long ago such topics were swept under the kitchen rug.

TitOh said...

Triff. You said it: we're what they made us into. Violence is a vicious cycle.

Elizabeth Freda said...

I did not read nor am I familiar with Heather Morris tragedy mentioned in the article in reference, however; from the information provided I did not believe that violence is being exploited or marketed as a means to commercial success of make-up or make-up artist industry. To begin with, these are celebrities with personal tragedies and they are in constant scrutiny from the public eyes, and people should realize this instead of moralizing or demoralizing their actions. They are human subjects with celebrity status we will always find them in some kind of either adoration or humiliation. Celebrities are in the public eyes and no matter what happens to them, exposure is a means to their continues success and thus whatever means they need to look their best at their worst should not necessarily be thought of as glamorization of their own personal tragedies. These are people that cannot go into hiatus for long period of time; they must appear in public constantly. The usage of make-up to cover up their appearance is not marketing expensive products. I truly think that in this case of the Babies getting bruises and exploiting them for commercial success is foolish and not all true.
Elizabeth Freda.

A.T. said...

Thanks, Michael. I'm aware of Pedro's work.

Thanks, Milia, keep visiting.

Violence hapen to exist, so has its value in drama too

Very good point. I settle with brother MLKing, there is legitimate & illegitimate violence.

The darkest moments in our lives bring the brightest moments.

Oceanna: True.

Thanks, Juliana. Keep visiting.

Good point, Romell.

TitOh, nicely put.

These are people that cannot go into hiatus for long period of time; they must appear in public constantly.

Indeed. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

I've been reluctant to leave comments. After yesterday's lecture I feel a bit more assured.


Celia said...

Fortunately and unfortunatly morality and art will always go hand in hand. The pro to this is it makes one think about issues they normally wouldnt, the con is sometimes these peices might push it for some more conservative people. \ Art is about creating an attachment to a piece by also creating an emotion. Although I must say this picture does not have much creativity involved, it seems like the photographer wanted a striking picture but wasnt creative enough to think of another way to display the drama of abuse.

Rodrigocidad said...

Artists generally use a strong feeling that will make an impact on the audience for their works. In this case Shields is using violence, however on the other hand I think he is diminishing the power from the violence and powering the women. The woman he shows is beautiful, has a strong gaze, and wears the bruise as if it is not putting her down.

Alfredo Triff said...

Good point, Celia.

Thanks Rodrigocidad, true, Morris holds her own.