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art vs toys

by Sayraphim on September 15, 2008

Another question the Age reporter asked me, as she sat in my studio surrounded by dolls, was “Where is the line between Art and Toy?”

That’s another hard one to answer. The ends of the scale are easily defined, but it’s the middle that’s fuzzy and gray.

Art Dolls are often the exquisitely carved or sculptured dolls of hard faces and hands/feet with detailed costuming, and usually One Of A Kind (OOAK) to boot. They’re clearly not playthings, but they do echo the porcelain dolls you can purchase from stores. I remember reading somewhere of a woman who had grown up with a glass display case of porcelain dolls that her mother had given her over the years. It was a locked cupboard, and was only opened once a year – to put the new doll in. It’s a weird idea, to give a child a doll that they’re not allowed to play with. But so that’s one end of the scale.

On the other end are toys, dolls built specifically for children to play with. I was speaking to one of the Totem artists yesterday, and she was telling me that her doll was a little delicate. “Not fragile,” she said, “but it’s not a rag doll either.”

Looking at most of the Totem dolls, it’s hard to know which end of the scale someone would place them at. There’s Claires doll, which is a cute plushie but with a fag hanging out her mouth, so the form is more a toy, but the content is more adult, or Carisa‘s, which is a cute rabbit but is unmovable with a solid head, arms and feet, so the content could be veiwed as more toylike, but the form is back towards Art.

Veiwing any of these toys in a pile of other dolls in a toybox would make them seem toys, but placing any of my childhood toys in a gallery would lend each one of them an Art context that they might not otherwise have. We are taking all these dolls and hanging them carefully in a gallery, but it is an unconventional gallery without white walls or a library-like silence.

I also think that people place their own understanding on things they veiw. If a parent and a child come to see the show, they’re both going to have different understandings of what they’re seeing.

So context, content, form and viewer all collaborate on the answer to this question. But with so many variables, the answer is going to constantly be different.

Then, there’s also figureines, those movie, comic and tv show characters that come in special boxes and seem to be everywhere at the moment? Do they enter into this debate, blurring the lines of art and mass produced figures even further, or do you sweep them aside into the box maked Collectables and jsut wrestle with the Art vs Toys question?

Maybe the question “So where is the line between Art and Toy?” is as unanswerable as Why is a raven like a writing desk?

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