Thursday, June 10, 2010

Work of Art: Watch Carefully and Learn

I hesitantly admit that I was looking forward to watching “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist,” Bravo’s new reality TV show about visual artists.  Whatever hopes I had for the show helping our country’s appreciation of visual artists or understand better their relevance in society were shrank quickly in the first episode.  Certainly the show follows the conventional storylines for reality shows and reinforces assorted stereotypes about artists (too many to detail). 

Despite the typecasting, I found the show’s value in the definitions of and arguments for the artwork.  As the artists’ defended their work and the judges (a strange grouping of commercial gallerists, an outspoken art critic and a collector) questioned the artists, I heard numerous types of arguments for the relevance of art. 

In addition, artists watching the show can learn from the career steps and missteps represented bluntly.  Some of the contestants are quite experienced in the art world.  They speak confidently about their work.  Others show the ordeals of emerging artists, with all the associated fears, audacity and mini triumphs. 

Judges focused on the artists’ intentions, in this case the challenge to make a portrait of one of their fellow contestants.  Artists defended their methods, talked about their objectives, and mused about what the viewer might experience in their art. 

Why Is That Art?: Aesthetics and Criticism of Contemporary ArtTwo books I have been reading echoed in my head as they spoke.  Judges questioned the quality of the work using arguments based in philosophy as ancient as Plato.  These philosophical viewpoints are outlined in “Why is That Art” by Terry Barrett, who examines ways of analyzing the quality and definitions of art.  Similarly, “The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History” by Eleonora Belfiore looks at reasoning on the importance of art.  Conversations from the show directly addressed questions about the effect of the artwork on the general public. I think to balance the banality of the show; I will give myself reading assignments to connect the attitudes to philosophy. Well, maybe I will just follow the sassy conversations about the show on Twitter.

I wonder whether the voice of the informed critic is really represented in the snippets actually quoted from the judges. And I wonder if the thumbs up-thumbs down judgments will deepen the perceptions of the general viewer. While the “Work of Art” may further trivialize visual artists (will Sarah Jessica Parker appear on each episode?), at least we can learn from the discussions, representations and myths. Watch carefully. 

Did you watch?  What do you think?  What story would you tell if you produced the show?


P. S. Reminder that contestant Jaimie Lynn Henderson is a native Oklahoman, University of Oklahoma grad and former Momentum artist.  Can't help but root!