Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hurried Thoughts on "Work of Art"

Didn't make it to the "Work of Art" viewing party we had been so generously invited to last night...almost did, but then came down with a touch of food poisoning (not pretty). Anyway, did manage to watch the show at home and wanted to join in the fun of playing amateur TV critic.

Long story short, the show was better than a touch of food poisoning, but Bambino nailed what's fundamentally flawed about it. The contestants are being judged on their rapid-response creativity, and that's not the same thing as making art. A work of art is completed when the artist says it is, not when the buzzer goes off. Time to fail, to make mistakes, and to correct them is built into the process. You wouldn't judge Michelangelo's David after only 12 hours of carving it, and in that respect the show needs to toss words like "great" or "masterpiece" (really?) around a bit more carefully in my opinion.

Having said that, as Reality TV goes, I'd give it fairly high marks, especially for moving it along as efficiently and effectively as they managed to do. I'll note, with not just a little silly pride, that I had guessed correctly both the winning work and the work that ultimately "didn't work" for the judges. Basically, I used as my ultimate criteria for judging that what the instructions were: "create a portrait." The OCD kid's work succeeded on just about every level in that regard and was much more compelling than the other final two artists' approaches. The photo-shopped portrait was solid as "portraiture," but not as good as "art." The red painting struck me as a bit cheesy (sorry, it did).

On the bottom three artists, I agreed with just about everything the judges (who were overall impressive in not talking down to the contestants or the audience, I thought) said about that work. Neither the minimalist painting nor the abstract painting conveyed "portrait" to anyone other than their creators. The clown was simply embarrassing. I don't necessarily disagree with the artist who chastised the judges saying she was not responsible for their experience of her work, but that cuts both ways...they are not required to experience her work as a "portrait" if they're not compelled to either. Saying they could walk around and see the little photo was ridiculous.

Before heading to bed (glad the regular time slot will be earlier), I asked Bambino what I think is the ultimate measure of the show's success: Will you watch it again? He answered what I would answer. Yes, if only to know what it is people are talking about. The producers should be proud...the participants on the other hand, well...we'll have more time for that.

Labels: art reality tv show, Work of Art


Anonymous Larry said...

"The contestants are being judged on their rapid-response creativity, and that's not the same thing as making art."

That is certainly true (why not give contestants a few days to produce something rather than just an hour or two?), and one of my other main complaints is the sudden-death elimination approach, instead of keeping everyone for maybe a few weeks and seeing whose overall portfolios seem to be leading the pack or not.

But instead of re-thinking this competition for the sake of art, the producers have clearly just modelled the show on previous reality formulas like Top Chef, Next Food Network Star, Survivor, etc. That said, I hope someone emerges worth seeing at the Brooklyn. But I didn't think the person sent home produced the weakest piece on this episode. In fact I thought her painting was fairly good; it just didn't "do the assignment."

6/10/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..and in that respect the show needs to toss words like "great" or "masterpiece" (really?) around a bit more carefully in my opinion.

LOL, so much for a chance to de-mystifying art or artists! But then, it wouldn't be TV without a little over-dramatization.


6/10/2010 10:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kind of competition makes sense for fields (such as design) where a defined program and deadlines are important. Next Great Artist, so far, reminds me of an undergrad intermeadiate art assignment. At least in art school the final evaluation is typically based on a body of work with chances to edit and time to develop and revise. I'm guessing this show may not be so much about the art, but if this follows other reality masterworks, we could enjoy catty infighting and all out drunken brawls.

6/10/2010 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Julian said...

Thank you! Creating an obstruction for the artists to carry out doesn't demand art from the same place as creating and thoughtful, personal artwork.
Most of the blog-like chatter is happening on Jerry's facebook page and in lue of his own follow up to the premier which can be viewed here:

I wish there was a way to channel this blog entry and those responses, together would make for some good dialog.

I really enjoyed the part about the art contestent Erik Jerry Saltz:
"Although I ended up really liking him, I got into a long fight with him in the first week. (It was cut.) I squawked that he needed to stop falling back on the excuse that he was “untrained.” I told him no one cares and that I’m “untrained,” too — I have no degrees and never went to writing school. Like most people in the art world, I’m basically making this up as I go."

I thought this was a very funny comment about credentialism. There is a good book about it that by Elliott Freidson.

From his article I enjoyed:
Jerry Saltz:
"for artists, “above average” is the definition of mediocrity — akin to spiritual-aesthetic death."

I am still curious about if this show will bring about any changes to the art world and if they do, on who's terms will they be? the art worlds, or those of the television producers?
People have and will continue to say this is just TV but Fox News is TV and they have a significant impact on people.

6/10/2010 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Julian said...

sorry spelling error - the book is by Eliot Freidson and is called: Professionalism, the Third Logic

6/10/2010 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

This show is wrong in so many ways, but it is ALWAYS enjoyable for EVERYONE to see artists at work and their process, that is what makes the show fun to watch. It is also very interesting to hear the critique, and each one of us, the viewers, gets to do their own critique and compare it to the judges.

I have a hunch about who is pre-destined to win the museum show, in a way I feel this was almost predetermined.

To Julian's comment - will this bring any changes to the artworld, I don't think so, this show is nothing but another commodification of art and artists, just another flicker/flap in the whole big journey of art in the beginning of the 21st century/end of 20th.

6/10/2010 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger bastinptc said...

If upcoming episodes are anything like this first one (the format is similar to a host of similar x-off shows), I'll be happy to skip the production part of the weekly assignments, as well as the machinations between the players, which leaves no more than the last half hour for the guilty pleasure of heavily edited critique and out-of-context facial expressions. Why else would anyone want to watch this crap except to see some serious dishing?

Will I watch it again? If I remember it's on.

6/10/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

I had big problems with Whatsername's lazy and dismissive comment about not being responsible for the viewer's response. While it's fundamentally true, on the other hand, aesthetic choices generally are carefully made to elicit some kind of viewer response. Otherwise, why show work at all? She simply wasn't interested in creating a "portrait," so she didn't. She could have been more assertive about asking her subject to fulfill his portion of the challenge and sit still long enough to get more material, or she could have found a way to use her "Family Circus Tracks" idea and still make it readable portraiture. But I do love Jerry Saltz and will certainly watch next week.

6/10/2010 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

P.S. Some of y'all clearly haven't been watching the other series in the "line": Project Runway, Top Chef, et al. At least this one is slightly better in some ways than Top Design; as much as I like Jonathan Adler's work, every time he'd say, "See you later, decorator," I wanted to shoot my t.v.

6/10/2010 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Julian said...

"To Julian's comment - will this bring any changes to the artworld, I don't think so, this show is nothing but another commodification of art and artists, just another flicker/flap in the whole big journey of art in the beginning of the 21st century/end of 20th."

Woof!! sigh of relief. I thought someone who worked with this show was actually plotting behind the scenes to open up a new market to the entertainment industry.
(Orson Welles radio voice ends here)

I know of a few dealers that really want this as a way to open doors to new marketing avenues for their artists even though it is a fashionable, glitzy, meaningless outlet for their art, it's about the money. I think Jerry's time was worth more than what he received, under $1000 per episode as I understand, woof! However he can say now he didn't do it for the money.

"Some of y'all clearly haven't been watching the other series"

I think most of us know all about them. They are not about art btw.. None of us are critiquing the formula for how this kind of entertainment is laid out. Most people with half a brain knew what it was going to be like, hence the instant skepticism when the show was announced. It's about the lack of justice if you will, that this first attempt by reality tv to present contemporary art. Just because Bravo sucks doesn't mean it has to. It can get better right??

When this show first was announced I wrote on the LA TIMES comment page, and I was the only one that didn't like the concept. I argued with 20 people about it that were stating it was "about time" and "the producer SJP is a genius" and "this will give unknown artists a chance to shine!". Since I didn't agree, they erased my comments which tells you something about the press coverage and the control of public image. ... that ... and I'm a snob.

6/10/2010 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous J.V. said...

Maybe I can provide a counter-argument to the idea that time limits and soundbite projects are detrimental, either to art or artists.

First, an artist needs to know their self. If they are going to produce art and make a living at it, they will need a deep, deep understanding of who they are, and what they can do. Forcing them to produce under pressure will allow them to curate their thoughts whether they want them curated or not. The artist who knows their self the best will respond most deeply and fully to such stimuli.

There is an obvious downside, of course, which is that an artist may choose to descend into their comfort zone and produce derivative work based on previous work -- either their own or others' -- but then this is a contest designed to select out such artists.

Second, pressure and external limitations are excellent for art. It's been said numerous times that "artists in restrictive cultures produce better art." Either this is true or it isn't -- I offer no proof either way -- but I do feel that it is very focusing to have something to react against.

Third, these types of challenges force an artist to focus, which will, again, be important if an artist wishes to survive on their art. In the earliest days of this blog there was a hurricane-generating meme that I might paraphrase like this: "One can't take artists seriously who work on their kitchen tables." (See this comment for what may have been the earliest example). If an artist is going to go all the way, and work somewhere other than their kitchen table, pressure is going to be a big part of their life.

Anyway, long story short, I'm actually interested to see whether this format -- as monitored by judges like Saltz and De Pury -- won't actually produce an interesting result.

6/10/2010 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My cringe moment was during the 'this season on 'work of art' segment when Andre Serrano talks to them about making "shocking art". I can only imagine that an assignment to make shocking art under a deadline will lead to lots of bad artwork with shock value but little merit. This ejaculatory creative process certainly isn't kosher, but I'm sure it will be entertaining.

6/10/2010 05:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Papa Warhol would be so proud of Jerry:"Very good, go on boy, you get it, and ask for a raise next season. Why stick to NY when you can have the whole world."

6/10/2010 08:19:00 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

I'm with Julian.

6/11/2010 12:44:00 AM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

Wow, I'm naive. It just didn't occur to me that anyone would believe this show had anything to do with art or that anyone in the art world would think it could have any impact whatever! My hope, however, is that, like Little House on the Prairie, there's a moral at the end of every story, and the moral in this case is that substantive art requires rigorous intellectual discipline and a willingness to learn and work hard. I'm not counting on it though.

6/11/2010 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Ian Aleksander Adams said...

Sounds more like "Work Of Art School" - the circumstances seem to be much closer to the assignment/deadline structure of a classroom environment than a studio artist creation style.

6/11/2010 09:01:00 PM  
Anonymous JP said...

It's a fun distraction. Worth a laugh for sure.

6/11/2010 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Creedance said...

I agree with your statement about what making substantive art takes, I am slightly itching to argue the word substantive but it would be beside the point.
Most of the artists on the show have gone through some of the rigors you described. They are not unskilled. They clearly are able to work hard, but in one season of reality competitions it's not about reaching an epiphany, it's about the prize. That's one underlying concern. It's linked to fame, money, survival of their dreams etc..
It's a cartoon in a way because we get to tune in and see them in one light, which is, even though they are making art, (which it is) aimed at the prize = fame.
This change wouldn't happen over night but could potentially morph artists of the upcoming generations into sycophants. They will get cooler and faster at pin pointing how to reach the prize and nobody will work hard anymore. It will become more and more about illustration and conveying information as fast as possible to the viewer in the most effective way. Remind you of something? YEA?Advertising, America's golden calf since WWII.
"oh don't be so dramatic, this could never catch on, artists will always work hard"
Work hard yes, but at what? Andy Warhol waged a winning fight against abstract expressionists and out did the other more talented pop artists through - advertising. "The Leonardo da Vinci of Madison Avenue", Women's Wear Daily called him. I do consider the fact that when I'm speaking with art students or young artists around NY I am in AW's city with more stories about fame and art than all the other urban art centers put together. I truly believe the dialog is totally different outside of NYC, and art history prior to 1962 should be a requirement before offering something to the world of art today. In most of America, success is seen through recognition, not what you are being recognized for.
Someone built the A-Bomb but it's the F-bomb that gets the kids off.

6/12/2010 12:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Julian said...

Creedance did you read The Warhol Economy? You come off a little bitter and to champion an anti-warhol campaign based on this show would be a misinterpretation or an internalization of art history. Are you an artist by chance?

You are right and you are wrong. While I can go along with some of what you mentioned about American ad-version your messages are convoluted. Perhaps flush out the ideas your are tossing around a little more. Please don't bash an artist that has contributed to art history, just simply further the dialog and do something to take it somewhere deeper. Isn't that what they say: when you are in too deep and there is no way out, go deeper. Not sure on that quote btw.
I think we can attribute all of these new happenings to a type of visual aphasia, or that we missed the monorail... it was a nice walk in any case.

6/14/2010 03:05:00 AM  
Anonymous RS said...

Well said Julian. Love the visual aphasia line, brilliant. I'm missing Ed on this blog though...

6/14/2010 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

what do you mean, missing Ed...I'm right here, writing the posts.

6/14/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Creedance said...

Up yours Julian...
"further the dialog". Who says shit like that? Jerry Saltz isn't furthering the dialog, he just took the persona of bully and elbowed his way through the better more educated art writers using his: we the people crap because he impresses the masses because this country is infested with idiots. Should they all get to be artists as Warhol and this tv show are asking? Warhol made it all pointless and it's been a steady down-hill decline in the real foundations of art making ever since. Gagosian is the dealer version of Warhol and a couple of his artists are the artistic embodiment of the decline of art. DeKooning told Warhol he was a killer of art, beauty and laughter publicly and he was a real artist from a time that warhol decided was too stuffy and not hip or faggy enough. Warhol's whole world stunk of hipster entitlement. He came from an advertising world. If one of the characters from Madman became an artist would that appeal to you? I bet they would do rather well.

6/14/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...


Love your phrase "In most of America, success is seen through recognition, not what you are being recognized for."
Dead on.

And I largely agree with what you're saying about Warhol. Not sure if it makes it a lesser form of art though, because that route hints ever so slightly to a kind of fundamentalism. Art changes over time and Warhol was wise to use advertising to his advantage, and I think the open-ended dialogue within some of his work (like the car crashes) gives it an objectivity that is not exactly condoning his own methods; their not just pretty pictures but have a psychological substance.

In a world over-saturated with gimmicks and flashy attention-getting crap it is difficult for a more subtle, more existential and thought provoking type of work to be noticed.

6/14/2010 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

the OCD kid did again... sleeping between to butt holes made like pillows during the gallery opening.
This show is a riot.

Ole' to Bambino, he really nailed

6/17/2010 11:50:00 PM  
Anonymous ejaz14357 said...

it is difficult for a more subtle, more existential and thought provoking type of work to be noticed.

7/03/2010 08:05:00 AM  

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