Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Messiah Impulse

Of all the pearls of wisdom my mother has taught me, perhaps one more than all others has influenced my interactions with other people throughout my life. It was profound in its simplicity and, I find, unerring in its accuracy. "You cannot change people," she said. She was referring specifically to one's spouse and wanted me to understand that it's pointless to assume you'll find that almost perfect person and be able to urge them into your ideal of perfection.

At a very young age, I took that message to heart and, indeed, although I've had many friends and, well, more than two lovers over the years, I have never once (as far as I can recall) ever tried to get someone to change. I accept people as they are and use that assessment alone to decide whether or not I wish to hang around them. I will not meddle, let alone insist upon alterations. Even if I see someone is heading over a metaphorical cliff in life, unless they request my help, the most they'll get from me is some cheerful recommendations or selfish complaints. (If they're heading over a more literal cliff, I will, of course do what I can to intercede.)

I guess I just don't have a messiah impulse. I don't think you can change people, and I
certainly don't think you can save people. Either they save themselves or they make mistakes. And to be honest, to me, mistakes are an important part of living. They make us all more interesting, and certainly more humble, as people.

This is partly why, I suspect, despite its flaws, I can't quite understand the folks who feel compelled to change the TV show everyone in the art world seemingly loves to hate: Bravo's "Work of Art." More than just change it, the impulse seems to be to "save" it from itself.

First came the very funny, but still somewhat messianic, suggestions from Art Fag City's Paddy Johnson and C-Monster's Carolina A. Miranda on how to craft "Better Challenges" for the show's next round of contestants. Among the ones the made me laugh the hardest:
Artistic Inspiration: Dash Snow.
Sponsor: GlaxoSmithKline.
Two teams of artists are each sealed into rooms stocked with a Polaroid camera, 1000 issues of Artforum, a kiddie pool full of malt liquor, a skateboard and a buffet full of tranquilizers. Using these tools, each team must produce a 30-minute video set to music by an unsigned Brooklyn band. Immunity goes to whoever wakes up naked in Berlin.
Then today comes a round-table discussion by three of the sharpest wits in the New York art world (all three of whom just so happen to currently write for the Village Voice): R.C. Baker, Martha Schwendener, and Christian Viveros-Fauné. What starts as an admittedly "intemperate introduction" (but again, very funny) then steers into a surprisingly earnest appraisal of the show:
Baker: I'm enjoying this show, in a bread-and-circus kind of way. Like everything else in our Internet age, it's not thought out. It's built for TV speed. It's prurient, it's voyeuristic, it's sensational. But for all that, it's entertaining. There's certainly no great art on the program. The art is in the conceptualizing, editing, and cutting of the show.
The assessments are very interesting. But then, bang, there it is again, that messiah impulse:

Baker: But here's a question: Bravo calls you and says, "Christian, you know the art world—help me put together this show." What do you do?

Schwendener: Let's back up, because I thought the question you were going to ask was: "Would you go on?"

Viveros-Fauné: And the answer is, yes, I would have. The real reason I hate the show is that I think they cocked it up.

Baker: Well, one thing you can say is that TV and art are pretty much antithetical. The contemplation, the time you need, the nimbus that is art doesn't play on TV.

Schwendener: Not with this format. Again, Christian, remind me what you hate about the show?

Viveros-Fauné: I hate wasted opportunities.

Schwendener: Got it.

Seriously, though, I don't get this.

I wouldn't meddle with the show at all. If it's going to be a glorious mess, I say let it. If it's going to be the quintessential evidence that McLuhan was right (as Martha notes, and I entirely agree "It's not about art, it's about TV"), then let it be that.

I mean, here's the thing. It's all gravy. It's not like the world needs this TV show. It's not as if it performs some vital function within the cultural nurturing system (and it's certainly not like I had expectations from the early descriptions that it would). Its greatest potential, as far as I can see, is to be a fabulous train wreck, and as such, simply magnificent to watch in slow motion.

Let it be what it will be, I say.

Labels: art reality tv show, village voice, Work of Art


Blogger Tim McFarlane said...

I'm with you all the way on this. I knew from the first that I heard that WOA was going to happen, that the art world was finally going to have it's 'reality trainwreck'. I waited and that's what has happened.

It's the art of television being portrayed in art's clothing-manipulative editing, extreme situations, and a pressure-cooker atmosphere designed to bring out the worst of personalities with the garnish of art thrown on top. Why even bother with wasting brain cells trying to make it 'better'? Why bother? WOA is first and foremost a tv show, it's entertainment and nothing more. It's a waste of time wishing that it were otherwise because it would truly suck as a tv show if there were an attempt to portray the artists or art world in a more high-minded manner. That's why there's PBS (Art: 21), books, and art documentaries. Better yet, Better yet, there's us, the artists! Ask, and we'll tell and/or show you what it takes to make art.

WOA, with all of it's faults, is fine as it is. It will survive or it won't and I won't care either way. I've got work to do.

8/04/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...


btw, my money's on Miles. Even though the 'winner' should prolly be Peregrine, and Nicole does have the cutest hair.

I imagine the Bkyn Museum opening will be televised? ;)

8/04/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger annell said...

Back to the beginning of your post. Your Mother was right, I often think how hard it is to make changes in ourselves, making it really impossible to change someone else.

And as far as the TV show, I can't speak intelligently to this issue, as I have not seen this show. I guess I really wasn't interested, and didn't think it could be about art. Perhaps just borrowed the tools, and some use of the language?

8/04/2010 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Totally. Except it's not *quite* awful enough to be pure trash entertainment. It has just a pinch of sincerity, mostly embodied in some of the artists themselves, so it doesn't quite have that complete train wreck abandon. It should be pushed more to one side or the other. And since we do have PBS, etc., as Tim said above, why not go a little farther into Wife Swap/Survivor/Dr. Phil territory?

8/04/2010 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie T. said...

Thank you for the post. I don't know why otherwise intelligent and overeducated art world peeps are wasting their grey matter and their breath over this ad-selling vehicle [TV programs are basically created to deliver viewers to commercials]. I suspect the realisation of the possibility of garnering a bit of WOA's peripheral limelight has motivated more highbrow bloggers, writers, and would-be-pundit artists to play the 'hey, look at me too!' card, whipping up something that is pretty insignificant into a critical souffle worthy of Zizek. Top Chef does aesthetics.

and g-d forbid if a wanna-be player doesn't partake of this crap. they would have nothing to talk about at openings!

I haven't watched WOA. I just don't understand why anyone would get worked up about it.

8/04/2010 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's really fascinating about the show is how it captures the psychological aspect of an artist's pursuit to be recognized and realized. Francis Bacon's remark that he made art "to be loved" comes to mind. There is somthing interesting and engaging about the desires of these artists to be appreciated for their work. The show does have many flaws but flaws can reveal hidden depths beneath the surface. I too will take the show for what it is, an entertainingly flawed allegory.

8/05/2010 01:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You cannot change people."

At least not their personalities- we're born with our personalities, and we cannot change them. People can change their behavior.

And EDUCATION can change people's thinking.

8/10/2010 09:11:00 AM  

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