Thursday, December 27, 2012

This is Representational Art. I Think.

Is this one of those Magic Eye things?  Because I've always been really bad at those...

I'm pretty sure this actually belongs on Cake Wrecks.

I see flowers.  I can get the flowers...  And then there's that thing in the middle...

After staring at this for a while, we decided that it was supposed to be a girl smelling a flower.  But there's some weirdness going on with the head, like the fact that it's shaped like a kidney bean, and half of the face is missing (zoom in -- it's creepy!), and there's no lower torso -- she (it?) is just floating there like a ghost, splotchy red fabric rippling in the breeze.  Maybe that explains the watery bloodstains around the outer edge.

I'm desperately hoping that this is a handmade home project, though, which would allow us to cut it some slack for being amateur work instead of commercially-produced.  It's on a commercial saucer, but it's just possible that the decor was added after-market.  I wouldn't have a problem with this being a kid's art project in school; but I would be pretty astonished by someone paying money for it in a store.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Spheriform Santa

Okay... I know Santa Claus is supposed to be plump and jolly, but representing him as an actual sphere is a bit much:

"Ho Ho Hoooo... whoooaa!" *rolls away*
Yep, that's an actual ball-shaped body. Note that it's not a Christmas tree ornament, which might make sense given traditional blown-glass Christmas balls... it's a figurine, meant to sit around on tables and terrify small children with its rolypolyosity.

Or perhaps this is in the off season, and Santa just puts on weight as he rests up from all that hard gift-delivering. After all, Saint Nick is clad only in green long johns here, instead of his usual fur-lined coat and pants.  Maybe that's what he wears (along with his ruffled red hat) when he goes fishing in the tropics.

Speaking of fish -- in my quest to bring you the most accurate blog post possible, I engaged in meticulous research (read: a quick Google search) and discovered that there is actually a reason for Santa to be carrying a fish here.  There's apparently an Irish folk tale about Saint Nicholas bringing magic fish to a widow.

...Yeah. It's pretty weird.  I prefer the one where he stuffs people's socks full of cash.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Undead Christmas Deer

The holidays are a time when tradition reigns supreme.  Growing up, my Christmas experience was no exception to this rule -- though in my family, it was as much for reasons of frugality as for love of tradition.  My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and those conservative fiscal habits were deeply ingrained in us at an early age (meaning I come by my thrift-store shopping honestly!).

Because we tended to reuse and recycle rather than buying new things, much of our holiday decor hailed from previous decades.  One house rule was that we didn't buy new gift wrap until we finished off what we already had, including the stockpile we'd inherited when my grandfather died.  This meant that we were still wrapping gifts in paper from the 1960s -- hot pink and lime green and very mod -- until I was in college.  (Around the year 2000 my mother rebelled and started buying gift bags, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were still some 1960s gift wrap in the attic.)  We also have an aluminum Christmas tree (the kind Charlie Brown refused to buy in A Charlie Brown Christmas), ornaments dating back to the 1940s, and loads of vintage decor items around the house.  I attribute much of my fondness for midcentury kitsch to being surrounded by it during the holidays growing up.

So imagine my delight when I happened across these cute deer at Goodwill a couple of months ago!  They're rather shabby and badly-painted, but I quite liked them; they reminded me of the miniature deer I used to tie to Scotch tape dispensers and cram into the branches of our tree.  (Hey, when you're five years old, a tape dispenser looks kind of like a sleigh from the side.)

Christmas kitsch at its kitschiest.

But I noticed something odd -- that seam around the neck.  At first I thought they were containers of some kind, but on closer inspection I decided that it was just easier for the manufacturer to line up the hollow molds there than to do a side-by-side mold with the skinny antlers and legs.

A major problem with vintage items is that some of the materials don't age well.  In this case, it was the adhesive that failed.  Because when I tried to pick up one of the deer...

Well, that was disturbing.  So much so that (after taking the photo) I initially walked away without buying them... and when I went back later to pick them up, they'd been snatched up by some other lover of kitsch.  A week later, I saw someone selling a similar pair of deer for ten dollars, and there were at least five people fighting over them.  Apparently I'm not the only one who's nostalgic about Christmas decor.

Lesson learned: Always buy your undead headless zombie Christmas deer the first time around.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Attack of the One-Eyed Snowmen

There is a horror creeping among us -- a rash of ghostly one-eyed beings of ice, who, with their mocking smiles and curving orange noses, are attempting to infiltrate our homes and spy upon us with their 50% vision.  They masquerade as rosy-cheeked holiday decorations.  Some wear seasonal earmuffs and scarves:

I seeeeee you... but not well.

Others dress more plainly, their features fading in and out of view:

Lumpy snow is the creepiest snow!

(Or perhaps snowmen, like daruma dolls, need to have their second eye filled in by the person who buys them.)

But as scary as these one-eyed snowmen might be, above all, beware the fearsome two-eyed snowmen -- for if you look directly into their icy eyes, you could become... mesmerized.

(And if you have ever attended the Historic Artcraft Theatre, I guarantee you just heard that in Rob Shilts's voice.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ginger Jesus, and a (Long) Rant

(Not kidding about the rant. You've been warned.)

If you live in the same hemisphere that I do, you've undoubtedly noticed that it's nearing Christmas.  (The stores have been stocking holiday items since July -- they don't let you forget.)  Whether you celebrate it as a religious or secular holiday (or not at all), you probably already know that Christmas is named after somebody.

Just so we're clear, this isn't him:

I'm not sure who this is, but I've read the Bible, and I don't recall any mention of Jesus wearing a mop of wilted lettuce as a hat, or having measles, or wearing Adam Lambert-quantities of eyeliner.  And while we're counting offenses, let's mention the color scheme: I don't think "lily of the valleys" was referring to his skin color.  Nor was there a plethora of ginger-headed Jews running around in the first century, as far as I know.  Adding to the insult is the fact that this torso-less head is perched on an iridescent-glazed pedestal that is finished much more nicely than anything above it, as if the whole bust is no different than a souvenir piggy-bank head of Thomas Jefferson from the gift shop at Monticello.*

I know, I know; that's supposed to be a crown of thorns and blood. But thorns aren't green and leafy; and even if they were, the punctures are nowhere near them -- there's even one down on his cheekbone. It's not an unrecognizable representation; it's just bad.  Really, really bad.  This piece is supposed to represent anguish and suffering -- the passion of the Christ -- but it looks more like someone tried to craft Jesus as a cute anime character with a silly hat.

Admittedly, this is a particular hot button with me.  Bad devotional art (of any variety, or any religion for that matter) has always offended me more than bad generic art.  Anyone making art (/music/literature/etc.) to express their beliefs should be pouring all their effort into their creation; if this is meant to be a symbol of devotion, honoring what is most important to you personally, TRY HARDER. I mean, not every religious work has to be on par with the Sistine Chapel or the Mosque of C√≥rdoba -- but if it's representing what you believe is responsible for your eternal soul, you should at least be able to look at it without flinching.

And I'm equally offended by bad mass-produced commercial devotional merchandise (like the above example), because the fact that it exists means consumers bought it, just because of its religious nature, with little or no consideration for the quality (or accuracy, or intent) of the work.  Just because something is religious does not automatically grant it artistic merit, any more than a book shelved in the Romance section of the bookstore must have intrinsically good story structure.  In fact, I'd argue that "religious" works (by which I mean things relating to or inspired by a belief system, since I think the word religion can be very misleading) should be held to a higher standard of quality than secular works.

I liken it to those engraved name souvenirs you see in tourist traps and gas stations.  Most of them are pretty ugly or trashy -- how many people would really pay $5.99 for a plastic cutout of a flip-flop with a magnet hot-glued to the back?  But when someone sees their grandchild's name, they say, "How cute! Let's buy one of these for little Sarah! It has her name on it."

But really, they don't mean it's cute.  Sarah may be cute, but the magnet is still ugly -- only now it's ugly with Sarah's name on it.  Frankly, if I'm going to own something with my name on it, I'd rather it be something nice that I enjoy looking at -- not a plastic flip-flop.  The considerate thought (gift-giving) is there, but it falls short of full consideration (taste or functionality of the gift).

Merchandising to religious groups works much the same way.  A company can produce something mediocre at the lowest price possible, because they know they can sell it to people of that group without putting in the extra effort to make it good, simply because it's "spiritual" or "religious" or "devotional" or whatever they want to call it this week.  That's how we end up with Ginger Jesus up there, and the Last Supper Canister Set (referenced in my first post), and creepy concrete Buddha garden statues, and chintzy pot-metal necklaces of pagan symbols at the discount store.  Anyone who believes strongly enough in their chosen system to use/wear/read/meditate/decorate with images from it has the right to demand that what they buy is not insulting to their God and/or beliefs!  But often, unfortunately, they don't.

TL;DR: If you're making something on a subject you truly care about, make it good. If you're buying merchandise related to something you care about, make sure it's good. Don't settle for trash just because they slapped your particular label on it.

Whew.  Okay, done ranting for the week.  (Until something else pushes a button.)

* Which, by the way, I would also find kind of demeaning -- though at least Jefferson has the topical connection of a coin with his head on it.  Which you could... put inside his head.  "Yo, dawg, I heard you liked nickels, so I put a bank in your Jefferson so you can put Jefferson's head in Jefferson's head."  Nope; doesn't quite work.  Maybe a heads/tails pun?  Or maybe I should quit while I'm... ahead.



Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nightmare Nutcracker

Holidays always bring out the most... interesting... seasonal merchandise.  In addition to the artfully crafted and expensive holiday wares, stores are flooded with cheap kitschy decorations and do-it-yourself kits.

Some of these decorations are fine for one-time use, or make good inexpensive substitutes for those of us trying to save a little money on our holiday celebrations.  But others can make you question not only the sanity, but the sheer humanity of the manufacturers responsible for them.

Take, for example, this nutcracker figurine:

This nutcracker has been cracking too many coffee beans.

My eyes jump around all over the place when looking at this, almost like it's vibrating.  I can't tell if he's trembling in homicidal rage or just overcaffeinated, but either way, I can tell you that I wouldn't want him in my house, grimacing at me in ochre-faced fury all day long.

UPDATE:  I thought at first that this might have been an unfortunate case of hand-painting, like those kids' craft projects that people buy to keep the little ones occupied while they wrap Christmas gifts in the other room.  But in the past few weeks, I've seen *three* of these at various different thrift stores, all with equally bad paint jobs.  So apparently they're not only mass-produced, but universally donated.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Poor Placement

I'm not sure this comes across clearly in the photograph, so you'll just have to take my word for it... but when I was walking down the aisle at the thrift store, I did a neck-injuring double-take when I saw this candle on the shelf:


Up close, it's obviously a little girl bending over a couple of ducks or geese who are looking up at her.  It's a common motif; here's a less-questionable variant of the same thing:

G-rated version.

From a short distance away, though, my first impression was that those birds were, um, something else (normally associated with owls, rather than waterfowl, thanks to a certain chain restaurant).  My second reaction, once I realized they were ducks and not something requiring censorship, was to wonder if the birds were, uh...  Well, this is an all-ages blog, so let's just say it was a really bad idea to put their beaks pointing that direction, okay?

Once you see what it really is, you can't imagine it's anything else.  But from five feet away, it looks more than a little odd.

Now, you're probably saying, "Come on, that's such a ridiculous stretch that only someone with a dirty mind would even consider something like that!"  Well, possibly you're right.  So to make it up to all you naysayers, I present to you this cute, fluffy, innocent bunny:



...Is it just me, or is that...

NOPE! Not saying a word. *whistles innocently*