Work of Art!?

Thursday, August 5, 2010
Have you seen Bravo's latest reality series, Work of Art? The show is produced by Sarah Jessica Parker's Pretty Matches company and the Magical Elves behind Top Chef and Project Runway, and is basically supposed to be Project Runway for the art world. So, it seems like it should be a really great show. Right!? Well, I've been watching the show for the past couple of weeks now and I really wanted to like it because:

a) I love Project Runway b) I went to art school (and graduated with a B.A. in art and minor in art history) c) I like watching others create and make art.

But, no matter how many times I watch the show, it just falls flat.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the idea of the show is just like Project Runway. 14 contestants compete in challenges where they create unique works of art in their medium of choice (drawing, painting, sculpture, performance art, yadda, yadda yadda) and try to be the last person standing in order to win $100,000 and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. At the end of each episode, contestants present their art in a gallery where their art is judged by a panel of "art stars" and one (or more) is eliminated.

The show's cast of judges include host China Chow, daughter of Michael Chow (famed restaurateur and art connessour) and Tina Chow (style icon);
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, a gallerist, art

advisor, independent curator, collector, and tastemaker; Bill Powers, co-owner of Half Gallery in New York and the editor-at-large for Purple Fashion magazine; Jerry Salz, Senior Art Critic for New York Magazine and two time Pulitzer Prize finalist; and Simon de Pury, Chairman and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company, as the show's Tim Gunn character.

And here are the contestants:

Top: Nao (hardheaded, sassy, performance artist), Judith (the oldest contestant), Nicole (sculptor with a future in Urban Outfitters modeling :P ) , Peregrine (the one that grew up on a hippie commune).Middle: Erik (the untrained artist), Amanda (abstract painter).Bottom: Ryan (emo, realistic painter), John (the gay guy), Mark (the graphic designer), Miles (OCD, recent college grad), Jaclyn (the one that gets naked alot), Abdi (art education teacher), Trong (veteran artist and curator) , and Jaime Lynn (the southern Christian girl).As you can see, the cast includes most of your art school cliches.

To me, the key reasons the show falls flat are that the structure of the reality show stifles artist's creativity, art is subjective, the gallery presentations are lacking a certain
"Je ne sais quoi", and the cliched cast of contestants. Allow me to elaborate.

Problem 1: The show stifles creativity.At the beginning of each episode, the contestants are told the guidelines of their challenge (for example: create a portrait of one of your competitors, create a work of art from trash, or create cover art for a classic novel), are allotted a sum of money for additional art materials ( usually $100 at Utrecht art supply), and given about 48 hours to complete their work of art.

Now, unless they're in art school, work for an artistic sweatshop, or are artistic miracle workers, most artists are not used to creating works of art under such conditions. Most artists create art in an environment where they have the freedom to choose their subject matter, how much money they want to spent on materials, and how much time they want to spend on a piece. I feel that artists need that freedom in order for their creativity to thrive and for great works of art to be created. Plus, the time constraint is not conducive to working with media that take a long time to dry (such as oil painting and some clays). Even Ryan hinted in his exit interview that the show didn't allow him to utilize his signature techniques (in oil painting) and that he wasn't 100% proud of the work he produced on the show (Work of Art Finishing Touches | Bravo TV Official Site).

Problem 2:
Art is subjective

This show brings together a variety of artists such as sculptors, painters, performance artist, photographers, illustrators and to me, judging and comparing a work of sculpture to a performance piece is like comparing apples to oranges.
Problem 3: the gallery presentations are lacking a certain "Je ne sais quoi"

Here's a suggestion: I wonder if the gallery show scenes would be more exiting if the cameras didn't show the artworks as they were nearing completion and then the artists hid their artworks behind a curtain in the gallery and revealed them one-by-one to the judges and audience (like in an auction) for critique to add the element of surprise. Just a thought.

Problem 4: The cast of characters are too cliched.
Namely (and this is my own personal opinion) I am sick of watching Miles, the OCD guy! Miles reminds me of the stereotypical art school douche-bag (if you took an art class, you know what I mean). He's the guy who doesn't follow directions, sleeps through class lectures, thinks his art is the best in the class, always has a critical opinion about everyone else's work, recites quotes from famous artists, and the art teachers (or judges in this case) just eat it up like he can do no wrong. And he frustrates and annoys me! I will, however, admit that Miles has produced some decent pieces and watching his artistic process has been interesting at times and in the art world maybe that is enough, but on reality TV you not only need to be the best at your craft, but you need to be a likable, relatable, and charismatic person and he's lacking at that.

If you're still interested in checking out the show, Work of Art is gearing up for the finale which will air on Wednesday, August 11 at 9PM (CDT) on Bravo. The final 3 are Miles, Abdi and Peregrine.

My final pick for the win: Abdi.

Who will probably win: Miles.
What do you think about the show? Have you seen it? Do you think the artwork produced on the show is art? Is the artwork produced on the show fine art, or worth of $100,000 and a solo show in a museum? Who do you want to win? Let me know in the comments below.

For more articles about the show see:

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