Why I Hate ‘Work of Art’ (and why I watch it)

Fingerprint of Inspiration

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

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15 thoughts on “Why I Hate ‘Work of Art’ (and why I watch it)”

  1. Thankfully I have never seen the horror of this show. I really don’t like reality TV anyway, for all the reasons you mentioned and more.

  2. I am likewise repulsed and intrigued by this show. What I do like about this season as opposed to last is there are more “traditional” artists. and less photographers/designers/performance artists. I don’t really understand how you can compare a painting and a performance….  I am really enjoying your posts Shayla!

  3. Agreed! I loathe reality shows and refuse to watch them. Which is partially why I resent this show so much. I feel I sort of “have” to, since it’s about artists and my industry. It’s maddening. :-/

  4. Thank you! So true, I’ve whined about that part endlessly. Not that I have a problem with any type of art, but it makes no sense to judge painters against dancers, etc. Have a “painting season” or a “graffiti season” if anything. It’s the only way to level the playing field.

  5. I tune in just to make my own work seem better somehow, but of course I have all the time in the world to produce a piece and they have only 24 hours. Pressure does not art make.

    To ask any artist to produce art in 24 hours, inspired by someone else’s limitations and expect it to be a work of art is ludicrous. I have created commissioned portraits to pay the bills and i can tell you, even after having months or even a year to work on them, they are not my best work and never could be.

    I get more creatively out of Project Runway than Work Of Art.

  6. I sometimes like to imagine what I would create if I were in their shoes. I might come up with an awesome idea (in my humble opinion) *once* but it’s not sustainable in this format and I have no clue how I’d function in that environment. 

    It’s really just a game-show, I shouldn’t take it personally. But I do. It’s offensive.

  7. I had a diatribe last year on my blog about this show. I too am horrified and yet I watch occasionally. It is everything I hate about the “art world” I strive in my posts to make art accessible for everyone. That it can be affordable, and that you don’t have to walk into a gallery to purchase art.

    I cannot stand art critiques who feel that there must be some esoteric meaning behind every piece. And not just meaning, but shock value, discussion, etc. Sometimes art is just that, art. It doesn’t have to shock, provoke disgust or discussion. And who is Sarah Jessica Parker to say what is art. At least Heidi Klum has at least worked in the fashion field.

    People and shows like this do nothing but drive people to buy “art” at Walmart, Target and the like. Which is a shame because there is so much art out there that is affordable and original and didn’t come off of a factory line in China.

    Good post Shayla.

  8. Well said! We are not cattle – the problem is when you’re surrounded by the herd you don’t always see the man behind the masses. I know I carried the cow analogy a little far, but I really like your message:)

  9. A friend of mine put it best when he said that the problem with this show is that it’s not about art, it’s about the “art world.” So the people who can scam the judges best and play into their whims will ultimately win. :( Blargh.

    Thanks for your comment. :)

  10. Very insightful…love the statement “maybe I want to know my enemy”.  I know myself that I have this insane urge to compare my capabilities to others..see how I stack up.  It’s an urge that I have to fight realizing that it is what it is and fits in just where it should.  I know that I’ve watched shows like Jerry Springer thinking “thank God my life isn’t THAT screwed up” or Hoarders thinking “at least my house isn’t that messy”.  At the end of the day, I think that there is just an organic need to feel “normal”…whatever our perception of normal is (which is amazingly different from person to person-thankfully).  I think much of the popularity of “reality” television comes from people’s desire find a place for themselves on the big spectrum of things.

  11. I agree that the time-limited challenges don’t show the artist’s real talent and creative process. It doesn’t often even let them show what they do best. But, in defence of the show, I think the majority of the people who watch know better than to think that it’s a true representation of how artists normally make art. It’s a reality show, which generally means that it’s quite far away from actual reality. All of these artists applied for the show. No doubt because they think there is value in the possibility of the exhibit, the money, and the publicity. They know how the show works before they become part of it.

    I understand your passion on the subject, but with all due respect, I take exception to the comment about being part of a “new generation of artists that don’t value this sort of treatment.” The treatment, as you are describing it, wouldn’t be valued by any generation of artists.

  12. Totally. It’s funny that we even call them “reality shows” since there’s nothing quite realistic about it. It’s more like extreme reality. Certainly helps to make our own lives seem calm by comparison. 


  13. So true! This show kind of freaks me out as an artist, but I still watch it. If you check out the one judge who has a gallery… I don’t think you’d be too impressed.
    Great post Jessica!

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