Thursday, July 8, 2010

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist: A Review

If you can create a reality TV show where people compete over who makes the best plate of food, the best outfit, and the best room decor, why not create a show where people compete over who makes the best work of art? Because a work of art is not the same as a plate of pasta or a pair of pants? Says who? Sarah Jessica Parker, the producer of the new Bravo show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, believes that great artists churn out their creations like pancakes.

I know that an artist's life is hard, but why anybody with any artistic pretensions would agree to participate in this utter indignity of a show is mind-boggling. Just like in any show of the Top Chef / Project Runway variety, artists in Work of Art: The Next Great Artist are expected to produce a new work of art each week. They are given a challenge to create something that shows their "range" (huh?). The tasks go from painting a portrait to making an installation. Of course, the assignments are formulated in a very "Sarah Jessica Parker meets Jessica Simpson" kind of way. To give just one example, before the artists proceed to create a portrait the show's hostess announces self-importantly that a good portrait "reflects the inner essence of the subject." Yeah, and I guess good literature is supposed to provide a moral lesson and/or reflect reality. Evidently, for some people even the twentieth century hasn't begun yet, let alone the twenty-first.

The judges have a daunting task, indeed. To decide which work is "better" while obviously having no criteria that would facilitate such a judgement isn't easy. That's why they end up making completely inane statements like “There’s no excuse for a bad painting.” What does that even mean, exactly? To make the show even more like Project Runway (which is a show I like quite a bit), there is a person who is supposed to walk by the artists while they are working and offer advice (check the show out yourselves if you don't believe me.) This person makes statements like "My approach to art is purely physical. I normally know within the first split second whether it’s a great work or not.” Whether the show will end up discovering a decent artist remain to be seen. What is already obvious, however, is that it will have no trouble producing droves of self-important and pompous judges of art.

In his The Man Without Content, Giorgio Agamben talks about the changes
that took place in the way we see art and artists. Creating art is now seen as just another occupation, where one is expected to demonstrate wonders of unstoppable productivity. If a used car salesperson works a 40-hour week and is expected to sell a certain number of cars per month, why shouldn't an artist's creative labor be structured in the same way? If a chef should be equally comfortable with making poached eggs, short rib, or a dessert, why shouldn't an artist demonstrate a similar versatility? 

Of course, the artists who agree to submit themselves a show based on these ideas are either so browbeaten by the hardships of artistic existence that they have no personality left, or are simply no artists at all. This is why the show turned out to be excruciatingly boring.


Melissa said...

Oh wow. That is sooooo not how it works.

I wonder who they have judging this shit?

Joy-Mari Cloete said...

Consider this bit I read on Copyblogger's site last week:

Bach spent his career as an employee, composing music to order on a punishing schedule. One such appointment was as Cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, a prestigious but demanding role, where he produced a cantata (a musical setting for sacred texts) every week of the year and extra ones for holidays — a total of 60 every year. He held that position for five years.

So perhaps it is not as far fetched as it seems to be.

eric said...

Harvey Pekar, who just died yesterday, spent his life as a VA file clerk, writing Jazz reviews and autobiographical comics on the side, and has been compared to Chekhov. Inspiration cannot be broken down into 30-minute segments.