Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Comments on "Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist"

As I mentioned in my last post, I was intrigued and excited about Bravo Channel's first season of "Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist." This mellow, low-key show was addictive and entertaining. It had a low-budget feel to it, as first season programs often do, but if the show catches on we may never return to the quiet contemplative style the producers seemed to cultivate. It's cousin, competitive dance show, "So You Think You Can Dance," discussed in the previous blog, is flashy and often appears highly over-produced.

The producers never explained how the 14 artists were selected; we were just to assume that they were the best emerging artists currently working in the country. However, it quickly became apparent that a few were already known in the art world, e.g., Trong, Judith, and Nao, who were older and more established, but were quickly eliminated. In each case, they seemed unable to adjust to the weekly "challenges." Ultimately, these three did not successfully create work that was true to their own aesthetic, which would also meet the requirements set forth by the host, China Chow, and mentor, Simon de Pury (for example, Judith was eliminated for creating a book cover with the title written in reverse). This actually may be a testament to the artistic vision they have cultivated throughout their careers or it may indicate that they don't have artistic chops. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the work of the aforementioned artists, and I preferred the artists who were willing to test their own values and experiment in the studio. But, I prefer sponteneity and adaptability in people generally.

I am pleased to say that my favorite from the beginning, Abdi, actually won the competition. Some of his pieces early in the competition made him a front-runner for me; and then he seemed to suffer from an identity crisis midway through the competition. When the artists were asked to create a piece inspired by nature, Abdi returned trimphant with an amazing self-portrait/baptism piece inspired by the body of water visited by the artists and rendered in charcoal that he mixed with gravel obtained during the visit to the woods. With the wind at his back following his win, for the final challenge, Abdi created an entire show devoted to studies of the body based on his "baptism" piece (see above). Meanwhile, in the finale, two other artists, Miles, who had generally succeeded in each challenge despite the fact that his work, for me, was largely cold and mechanical and Peregrine whose work was generally moody and often childlike, and whom I had thought would have been eliminated in an early round, also created a show for the Phillipe de Pury auction house.

With this program, Bravo let us peek inside the studio to observe the artistic process, watch a gallery opening unfold, and later hear the "crit" of the artwork by the panel of judges. Many find the artworld largely impenetrable and are particularly baffled by the gallery process. Although, as I stated earlier, the show has been met with quite a bit of criticism, the opportunity to peel back the layers and find our way inside the hearts and minds of the artists was really a joy. Most of the artists were proud and excited to be a part of the process and their genuine love for art helped lure the audience in. Although a few of them accused one another of being "too art school," they generally got along and helped each other develop as artists.

Once again, as I stated in my earlier blog on "So You Think You Can Dance," I believe these two shows are all about accessibility. "Work of Art" could stand some retooling, and the greatest criticism I have for it is that I would prefer the camera work be improved. It was very hard to get a sense of the artwork on the screen. But what I think SYTYCD and WOA offer is merely a chance to sample an appetizer. SYTYCD gives you two minute dance routines, and WOA, an incomplete view of how the work must really come across in person. However, despite these shortcomings, these shows will probably have a positive effect on the artworld generally. Might people who love SYTYCD be more likely to take the time to check out a production by their local modern dance company, and may WOA fans decide to spend an evening gallery hopping? I conjecture that the answer must certainly be "yes!" Sure, there is a chance that the new audiences might bring new expectations with them, such as a desire to be entertained and an interest in hearing the opinions of judges; but wouldn't this suggest a greater emphasis on audience development, such as a chance to mingle with the dancers and artists or talk backs with the choreographers? And couldn't that be a good thing?

Although both shows have their detractors, I am happy that they are on the air, and I hope WOA is renewed for another season. In a medium largely dominated by melodramatic reality programs and a constant barrage of news, I am grateful that these thoughtful and highly engaging programs about the arts have found an audience. I also hope that these shows will help struggling dance companies and galleries grow their audiences as well.

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