Sunday, October 16, 2011

TV EYE: Mixed Media Emotions

Heave a heavy sigh! This past week Bravo, the fine people who taught us what it means to be a "Real" housewife, launched season two of WORK OF ART: The Next Great Artist. Yes, I watched. No, I'm not proud of it. In fact, I feel dirty, and abused watching it, but watch I will.

For the uninitiated, WORK OF ART is a show in which art gets the Top Chef/Survivor game-show treatment. A group of artists (in the case of this season, all annoyingly young), are thrown into a studio together, given limited resources,  a specific task, and a time limit to produce "art". Then they are judged, by a panel of snooty-poots and week by agonizing week, an artist is cast off the island until there is only one left standing, and that person is dubbed "The Next Great Artist", and is awarded a show at the world renowned Brooklyn Museum Of Art (and some cash).

There are so many things wrong with this idea, that it's hard to know where to begin.

How does the sound of artists competing against each other for prizes feel to you? Are artists not historians? Are they not the mad visual poets documenting a culture for future generations? The thought of a dozen artists working against each other, in the same confined space, within the same charted parameters, just makes me shudder! I mean, they don't even do that in art school, do they?

Then there's the time limit. In most cases, they are given 24 hours to complete  a task. Have you ever met an artist? We can stare at a blank canvas for a week before a solid idea runs through our head. Personally, I'd have trouble doing a decent sketch in 24 hours. So yeah, let's get a bunch of young artists and apply intense pressure to their already fragile mindsets, and see what they do. Lab rats, each and every one.

The cast of characters should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched one of these types of shows. Even though these are "unique individuals", with eccentric, artsy personalities, they have clearly been chosen to fit a proven mold. There's the loathsome villain, there's the innocent, naive one from the mid-west, there's the freaky weirdo, there's the shy quiet one, there's the angry one, there's one struggling with their sexual identity, there's the funny one, and of course there's the black one (because we aren't racist here in TV land). You know them all. It's a pretty generic template.

So, why do I watch something so clearly designed to insult my intelligence, and sell me product? Why implicate myself in something that makes a mockery of high-art? For a few reasons I guess. One, high-art needs to be mocked. We need to all get over ourselves, and get back to the business of actually creating something worth having. Second, there is a surreal aspect to this particular show that you don't get in others of it's ilk. There is a jaw-dropping, "are you kidding me" moment in every episode. Yes, that is indeed Mary Ellen Mark, standing next to Jerry Saltz, and Sarah Jessica Parker debating the merits of a Gandolf made of Sculpey! MARY ELLEN MARK!!! How do you NOT watch something like that?!

Ultimately, I guess I just can't help myself. As a struggling artist, it's undeniably compelling. A hundred thousand dollars would buy most artists enough time to create something truly worthwhile, and the Brooklyn Museum Of Art would be a stellar place to unveil it. I'd kill for that! I just wouldn't do TV for that. I'm kind of rooting for them all. It's not fair what they are taking part in, but they are taking a shot. One of them will be given one hell of a gift, but will then have to try to shake off the stigma of being associated with the show. Therein lies the modern tragedy. I haven't mentioned any of the "contestants" by name here intentionally. I don't think their names should be known because of this silly show. They are going to have a hard enough time getting past that without my help.

I often say that I don't want to be famous, but if I truly analyze my motives, I guess that's not true. More than anything I just want my art to sustain me, but I would like to be mentioned in the art history books. I hope that in a hundred years, at least one of my paintings hangs on a wall somewhere, and that someone knows my name. I imagine that's what these kids want too. So, I root for them.

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