If you’re not familiar, ‘Work of Art’ is a reality TV show on Bravo about artists, in the same vein as Project Runway. Artists with different styles and backgrounds compete against each other toward one last battle, the prize being money and an official show in a fancy art place, displaying all the crap they made over the course of the season.
Each episode presents a new “challenge,” or theme, to inspire the artists to make a piece of art that will be judged against all the rest, after a time limit of one day in which to conceptualize, create, and finish their art. It has to be unique, innovative, something that passes the approval of “qualified” judges, and must never be too reminiscent of their own style or in any way similar to what they made last week.
It’s not much different than pulling in ten random people off the street, throwing them into a craft store for 20 minutes, and then demanding they produce genius art in a day.
This is not a venue in which these artists are allowed to display their lifetime of creativity, the progress in their own careers, or their unique fingerprint of inspiration. It’s a pressure-filled war zone where they are emotionally blindfolded, dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and told to build epic cathedrals out of popsicle sticks. Their reward is a harsh critique from some dude who owns a gallery in New York and the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Sarah Jessica Parker will grace them with her presence.
Given these strict confinements, the artists are generally left at a creative loss. Understandably. Which is probably why they often resort to taking pictures of themselves naked. Poof! Instant Art. (Unless you were the poor guy from last season, who photographed his overweight body in a desperate attempt to express his inner turmoil in life. He got voted off for it. But naked chicks? ART!!!)
This is the art world at its worst. Yet… I watch. I’m intrigued. Maybe I want to know my enemy.
There are moments, few and far between, where we get to see an artist creating really fantastic art. I also enjoy watching how they react to the limited circumstances they’re forced to work with. I’m glad I’m able to sit back and mock them instead of having my own career of work judged on one single challenge in which I’m not allowed to use any of the skills and inspirations I’ve developed over the course of my lifetime.
There was a girl on recently whose art reflected her battle with Crohn’s Disease. She couldn’t make anything else, or take criticism, so they kicked her out. Though it contradicts everything else I’ve said, I agreed with the judges’ decision. I guess in that moment, I realized that although this show is a poor example of it, artists do have to learn the skill of absorbing their outside environment and translating it into art. If you can’t go with the flow, there’s probably a key ingredient missing anyway. I hate that they are reprimanded for this, since it’s a skill gained during the course of one’s career, but I accept the lesson that, as artists, we will always have more to learn.
I just don’t think the lesson should come from this show, or these people.
‘Work of Art’ is, at the very least, basely educational. I think artists should watch it. If nothing else, the emotional response we have to each moment can be part of our own process. It’s unfortunate that this is what the general public may believe about art, and I’m angered that this is the state of the supposed art world.
To create a situation in which the souls of artists are judged against the opinions of game-show hosts for nothing more than advertising dollars is perverted.
I’m honored to be part of a new generation of artists that don’t value this sort of treatment. We are not cattle. Our experience and unique creativity are valuable. These things are not anecdotal. We spend hours a day for years perfecting our own form of expression, and we should be valued for doing so. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of soul. We bleed ourselves.
Art isn’t a trick that’s performed on cue. It is a language expressing the totality of our experiences.
—Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings