Legitimate art that makes me UNCOMFORTABLE

Kinokuniya Books is an independent bookstore located on 6th Avenue across from Bryant Park. [Remember independent bookstores? May Jeff Bezos rot in Hades for slaughtering them.] There’s a healthy dose of mainstream literature on the ground floor but the basement and second floor are devoted to Japanese books, Manga and Anime—their specialty.

On the second floor, there’s a glass case that contains delicate porcelain statuettes of characters, mainly female, culled from anime books and films. They’re priced at around $80-$100 each. They are, in my humble opinion, beautiful works of art. But there’s something disconcerting about them.

statue5To my aged eyes, they look to be very young girls who are highly sexualized. The common threads that run through each piece are large, oversized eyes, flowing, windswept hair, young, cherubic faces and robust, mature bodies. With 0% body fat, I might add.

statue4You have to see these in person to appreciate the artistry. These photos don’t do them justice. They don’t capture the soft, almost blurry texture of the skin, the vibrant colors and dramatic flow and movement.

statue1Some of the figures are warriors, but some of them have hints of bondage and girls in peril. I don’t mind admitting that when I’m standing there looking at these (not to mention snapping pictures with my iPhone) I feel a bit like the dirty old office drone looking for a cheap lunchtime thrill.

statue3What’s the appropriate age for a girl to wear knee-highs and garters? Does she seem a bit young to you guys for that? I’m conflicted because I think it’s beautiful.

statue7Does finding artistic merit in these make me a lecherous old fool? Because I feel like one. Is there, in fact, NO artistic merit whatsoever? Am I just using high-minded art and design concepts to rationalize my discomfort away? Can someone please let me off the hook here? Or am I stuck with this thorny crown?


SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s a government program for low-income individuals that focuses on proper eating. Putting healthy food within reach!

SNAP1So what am I to think when the deli on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue displays the ‘we accept SNAP’ tag here?

SNAP2Does this mean you can use your SNAP benefits to buy a York Peppermint Patty? Or are they trying to send a message? That there are healthier choices than this crap? Honestly, I can’t decide what the intent is here.

Bluetooth hands free New York City style, bitches.

hands free

81 thoughts on “Legitimate art that makes me UNCOMFORTABLE

  1. Do you want someone to tell you you’re a dirty old man? I don’t think you are, but if those slightly creepy little girlie-dolls make you uncomfortable, don’t look!
    I know that bookstore, but I was there looking for art books and don’t recall the dolls.

    • I can’t NOT look! They’re beautiful! And to deny their eroticism is just dumb. Hence, the conflict.

      That place has a GREAT selection of art books. You can get lost in it for hours. They way I used to when there were so many more of them.

  2. Discomfort is probably a healthy reaction. It’s like any kind of art where you can admire technique, skill and still find the subject matter unsettling. My reaction would be quite the opposite – I’d likely fail to notice the artistry because I find the subject matter irritating (childlike faces with bosoms that could eat Manhattan – Disney and Mattel have been doing it for years).

    • First and foremost, welcome. Glad to have you here.

      I suppose the fact that I’m a little put-out by my admiration is a healthy sign. At least I know I’m tiptoeing the line of acceptable social morality. They’re children! There’s no denying it.

      That’s an astute observation you made about Disney and Mattel. It’s accurate and I didn’t make the connection.

      • Thanks – I found your blog through Ross Murray’s.

        I remember years ago seeing an exhibition by a painter who had been discovered after he died. They found hundreds of paintings in his attic. As I walked through the gallery, I enjoyed looking at the paintings, but it soon became clear that nearly all the paintings were of children – not sexualized per se, but they were all these blond, angelic looking kids.
        It started to seem creepy – this was even before I had my own child. It was unsettling and I couldn’t figure out why. I suppose one could say that’s one of the purposes of art – to make us think about our own values.

      • Ross is a good dude. A fine Canadian.

        Not only our values but the values and intent of the artist! And what I see here makes me squirm in my seat just a bit, even though I find merit in the work. That can work both ways, right?

  3. That type of art is nothing new to us females who have walked the earth for several decades now. Females are so often sexualized in society that one can almost become numb to it. Perhaps as a father to daughters, you’re now more in tuned to it. (And kudos to you for that.) I try to make my sons understand the concept–my oldest loves anime–so that hopefully they’ll see women as more than the sum of their parts. I suspect this comment sounds jaded, and that’s not my intention. Rather I’m just speaking through a weary vantage point I experience daily. 🙂

  4. They do seem young and also creepy looking as well. Having said that, I would need to know more about the artist. Art is meant to make you feel. I just can’t quite tell what the artists intentions and mindset were/are.

  5. We received SNAP benefits for about three months last year (after I had been unemployed for nearly a year and we were getting desperate), and I can vouch for the fact that, yes, one may indeed use them to purchase a York Peppermint Patty or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. In fact, SNAP may be used to purchase any food item of a person’s choosing (other than pre-cooked foods). The idea is to allow the poorest among us to buy whatever groceries we like for our families, from fresh produce to pure junk food. Passing value judgments is not the purpose of the program. As a government worker, I find this more than a bit odd, as just about every other social service program passes value judgement in spades and has rules that would make your head spin.

    • But I honestly thought there might be an intent here to educate the end user. It seems the core of the program is to assist but also to educate. And since they went through the trouble of creating a logo, they’re cognizant of branding the program. And the brand carries a message. And that message is: eat healthy. And if people connect the logo with the message, maybe they’ll be more mindful about their choices.

  6. They are sexualized children, yes. And perhaps they make you uncomfortable because they are intended to do so, to shock. As Ross says, they aren’t really art, but they scream “look at me,” and when you do, you feel like a dirty old man. Anything that does that isn’t really artistic, just manipulative.

    • I wonder if these artists are so well thought-out that they’re intention is to manipulate? My gut tells me it’s more base and visceral than that. That their main goal is titillation. They might even do it more for themselves than an audience. Who knows?

  7. Hi Mark! I don’t know much about anime other than I’m familiar with Pokémon from when my son was little – maybe that’s anime, maybe not! It’s a problem for sure to see what looks like children being over sexualized – don’t get that or agree with it. Maybe it’s a cultural thing in Japan? Just make sure to use descriptors like healthy, strong, energetic etc with your daughters more than words that describe their appearance so they learn to value what they can achieve more than the way they look. And you’re not a dirty old man, just visually helpless 🙂

  8. Mark, you are a riot. Of course you can look and admire. Of course the poses are, in my opinion, meant to look erotic. No harm in that. These items are meant to sell. I’m just wondering what sort of people buys this stuff. Are you dirty minded? I don’t thinks so. 🙂

    • Thankfully, I haven’t crossed over into the realm of wanting to own one of these, although I don’t see $100 as an exorbitant price as compared to a lot of art I see on the market, I couldn’t actually bring one into my house. Nor would I want to. My Bride would probably smash it over my head. Can’t blame her for that.

  9. They are quite sexy, aren’t they? My son watches a lot of anime. He loves it. I see this a lot. For one thing, Ithis sexy anime is a type of anime, but I don’t know the name. And then there’s “fan boy service” where fans are given a bit of a reward with some sexiness on the screen. This is really no worse than the Marvel or DC comics with their super sexy heroines drawn with huge breasts, typically for the male reader. The difference here is the youth factor. However, if you consider that the audience can be very young, it’s for their own age group. I think a lot of females like this, too. That may be a weird way to look at it. In terms of art, I don’t think it’s strange that you like it. Comic books, too, can be quite an artistic achievement. Can you tell I’m married to a geeky gamer guy? Well, he doesn’t game any more, but he still loves comic books.

    • They are very sexy, aren’t they? Especially, as I mentioned above, when you see them in person. Va-voom. I’m not so sure I’d want my daughters exposed to this stuff, though. Aren’t there a lot of bad body image seeds that can be planted in their tiny, impressionable heads? That might work across both genders, actually.

      Once a game geek, always a game geek. It’s part of your husband’s DNA. It might be dormant all these years but there’s no purging it. Nothing wrong with that, as far as I can tell.

  10. I think it’s a Japanese thing. A lot of men there like very slender women who dress up and behave in a submissive girly way. The find vulnerable females sexy, as do male chimpanzees. I don’t think those statuettes would look like underage girls in Japan, but Western women normally have a lot more meat on them. So it’s okay to admire them as long as you think they’re Japanese!

    • I don’t know about the submissive part but I certainly enjoy a slender woman in a dressy-dress. That’s not just our Japanese friends. I’m going to go with pretending they’re Japanese and, hence, okay for me to enjoy without the guilt. That line of reasoning defies logic but if it will allow me to remove my thorny crown, then I’m going with it.

  11. Yes, I totally understand, they do look young and they do look sexualised, and it is uncomfortable but also beautiful. I think acknowledging the discomfort is all part of it. Art sometimes is unsettling isn’t it, and assessing our own reactions to something, and what that makes us feel and consider about ourselves is part of appreciating art of any kind.

    • Sometimes you look at a piece of art and you end up finding out something about yourself that you might not be particularly comfortable with. Art is a mirror. While I certainly don’t think I’m capable of tawdry behavior, it still makes me feel a bit weird. But… yeah… I think they’re hot. I don’t mind admitting it.

  12. Art has been making dirty old men feel uncomfortable for centuries. So long as you don’t give way to the wild urge to apply fig leaves, I’d say you’re doing fine.

    On a more serious note … yes, these are “beautiful” and I suppose could be viewed as works of art. But they’re also mass-produced for the commercial market – as are the magazines. And, like you, I find the elements of bondage, highly sexualized YOUNG girls, victimization of women, etc very disturbing. I don’t know what I want us to do about it … but I choose to avoid that genre, and I would never under any circumstance make a gift of it to a child or adolescent.

    • Lol! That’s true! I’m not the first ‘old’ codger to be discomforted by titillating artwork. I’ll bet there may be some painted in a cave wall somewhere. Probably France.

      You have to wonder if there are any long-term adverse effects from constant exposure to this? Isn’t THAT the oldest question in the book?! Or is it just innocent fantasy? Probably differs per the individual.

      • I think the damage is done to young girls, in terms of how they perceive themselves, and how they think they must present themselves, and how they understand what “sexy” means and why it’s desirable to be sexy. In other words, all the same things that people have been saying for years about Barbie, and the same things you can say about supermarket bodice-rippers. We’re in danger of raising our daughters with a very skew and sick idea of what it means to be female.

      • I was thinking more about the damage done to a boy’s perception of what s real girl is but you make an excellent observation. These dolls might be even more harmful to a girl’s self image.

  13. It appears to be Lolita sent to revisit this generation, Mark. Yes, they are artistic. Hell, yes, they look young to be that suggestively posed and attired. I suppose your daughters are seeing these anime figures in popular culture elsewhere, so the forms are better addressed by you and your bride than ignored.

    • I can assure you that my daughters are not seeing the likes of these! At least, I hope not. I suppose they could be. You’re the first to make the Lolita reference. I must be Humbert Humbert. That’s one of my favorite books. I might feel different about it the next time I read it.

      • The trouble is, you simply can’t monitor what the ever-present media is feeding to the eyeballs of your two growing girls, Mark.

        Yes, this anime character onslaught may color your next read-through. Today’s world can raise or lower the shelves that hold our lifelong measuring sticks, depending.

  14. If you listen to your daughters and enjoy their company you are a stellar dad. Just enjoy your kids, that’s all you need to do. This is 35 years as a parent talking. Everything else is just a bunch of BS. Truly. And as far as loving to look at these girls, well the fact that your torn makes you aces in my book.

  15. Hmmm…reminds me of the dad in A Christmas Story with that leg-lamp of his, clutching it in the corner and cooing over it. “Art,” huh. Chuckling at you with my double IPA here, from Pennsylvania. “Dirt Wolf” IPA no less.

  16. I find this whole art form … disturbing …. I took time thinking over the right word to use. The sexualisation of what are clearly supposed to be young girls is just that to me. The facial features, big eyes, freckles, small noses and ears etc. are all “young” if not “childlike” but the bodies, clothing and poses clearly… NOT.

    I have seen artwork that disturbs me similarly in other settings. I’m reading (on and off) a book of poetry that is highly sexual in nature and the relationship it catalogues borders on abusive at points. I’m similarly intrigued by the subject, admire the open frank writing but also worry I’m only here as a voyeur and can’t justify my reading any other way.

    • They are disturbing but I also find a real beauty in them. Hence, my discomfort, I suppose. They appeal to my most base but persuasive biological desires. Shameful, but hard to look away from. I think everyone has their tipping point where artwork morphs into something dark and disconcerting. That’s a moveable line that depends on the audience.

  17. That is the Japanese attempting to take over. Resist! I know, it’s like a train wreck, or a car accident. You KNOW you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help it. Ok, maybe that’s the really fat girl who’s wearing tight thin pants over her thong…..(that should take those maybe bad thoughts right out of your head)

  18. We hyper-sexualize our daughters and then recoil in horror when they become victims. We subject ourselves to ridiculous standards of beauty, emphasizing youth, and wonder why our young adult daughters are susceptible to emotional abuse from their partners, why they never feel beautiful, or even ‘good enough’. Think about those doe-eyed dolls – in JAPANESE culture, what message does that send to Japanese women about standards of beauty?

    Art has always been about capturing beauty – i’m sure small, under-fed women in the era of Ruebens felt quite inadequate for their lack of curves. Sexual attractiveness always devolves to biological urges – and like it or not, males are drawn to youth because YOUTH = FERTILITY and THAT means a male can have better odds of seeing genetic products result from coupling with young women.

    i’m going out on a limb here, but i’m calling total bullshit that the purpose of these dolls is artistic. it is commercial, feeding off the male human limbic system, and the exact urges you describe. /rant

  19. I would agree with Daisyfae’s comment above. In what universe would these be considered art? They’re dolls. Highly eroticized dolls. The purpose is not artistic in the least.

    I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me on this position, and I also don’t understand the whole Anime thing, so that could be coloring my judgment here. But you asked, so….that’s my take 🙂

  20. I think I’m beyond conflicted on those images. Having young girls myself (as I know you do), I just don’t know. I appreciate art in many forms, and I want hard to appreciate these – and I may just if I saw them in person. But I’m not sure. I think you’ve helped create a nice wellspring of uncertainty in me. I usually deal with that by writing it out.

    On that note, I used to feel terribly ashamed when I was a kid and flipped by Sailor Moon and felt kind of weird…

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