Category Archives: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

Season Premiere: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist – “Kitsch Me If You Can”

“Kitsch Me If You Can”

October 12th, 2011

As we drew closer to the season premiere of Bravo’s Work of Art, I began to get very nervous.

Last summer, I wrote a number of pieces that I think accurately capture my general obsession with this show, a complex and enormously flawed exercise that revealed things about the artifice of reality programming, the perils of reality editing, and the challenge of combining reality competition structure with something as purely subjective as fine art. However, while these difficulties may make it problematic within the fine art community, as a television critic I found Work of Art to be one of the most truly satisfying reality series I had ever seen. Each episode showed us something new about the artist, and their personal narratives were constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed numerous times over the course of the season. So whether I was writing about the show at large, or about two of its contestants (Miles Mendenhall and Jaclyn Santos), I had a lot to say.

Sadly, I will not have time to say as much this fall simply due to time constraints, but going into tonight’s premiere I wondered if I was going to have anything to say at all. For some reason I became profoundly worried as of late that the show wouldn’t be able to catch lightning in a bottle twice, especially since it didn’t seem like the show did so on purpose last time around. The tension that once sat at the center of the show could easily be diffused with a production staff now aware of the series’ flaws, and a set of contestants who fully understand what it is that the show is trying to accomplish.

While I have not seen beyond tonight’s premiere, I feel as though I can state with some authority that all has not been lost. “Kitsch Me If You Can” is an extremely strong opener, managing to introduce the artists while simultaneously focusing almost exclusively on their process rather than their personalities. Although “The Sucklord” may be larger than life, for the most part the cast seems to consist of artists with points of view who will be tested and tested again over the course of the competition.

And the results, at least in tonight’s finale, were pretty fantastic.

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Revisiting Cultural Learnings’ Work of Art Trilogy

Revisiting Cultural Learnings’ Work of Art Trilogy

August 11th, 2010

Tonight, Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist finishes its first season, but unfortunately I won’t be able to cover the finale as a result of some (exciting) personal events which will have me heading cross-country in the days ahead.

When the show began, I never expected I would be so concerned about not covering the finale: I don’t cover Bravo’s other series, Top Chef, on a regular basis, and I didn’t expect for Work of Art to really break that particular trend. I enjoy reality television on a weekly basis, but there are rarely series where there is reason to write about it each week.

However, what I very quickly realized is that Work of Art is a special breed: as flawed as it is fascinating, the series has endless potential which is forced to fight against a limiting structure and a reductive reality construct which is consistently subverted by the actions of the artists and the very process of art itself. And so, after catching up with the series a few episodes in, I sort of became obsessed with the show, and have turned out a lot more academic(-ish) writing about the show than I thought possible.

And so, if you’re just discovering the show now or want to see why I might be so obsessed with it, I figured I’d collect the Work of Art trilogy together in one place. The three pieces cover the conflict within the series’ application of reality competition artifice onto fine art, the complex performance art which its most recognizable contestant has used to dominate the competition, and one contestant’s decision to “go rogue” by offering her own version of events in each episode on her blog in order to reclaim her personal reputation from Bravo’s editors – I might not recommend the show as reality television for which one shuts off their brain, but I certainly recommend it for those interested in the genre as a whole, and hope these pieces capture why.

Point of View: Bravo’s Work of Art a (Fascinating) Piece of Work

What I find so fascinating about Work of Art is that it is both a tremendous success and an absolute failure, a series which is flawed by traditional reality competition standards and yet offers ancillary, and unique, opportunities for viewer connection which the show’s structure isn’t built to really capture. While many contestants aren’t participating in the reality series they’ve been cast on, they are participating in a larger quest for creative fulfillment, and at moments the show successfully invites us into their own little worlds and gives us a legitimately fascinating glimpse into their creative process which overshadows the tired machinations of the Magical Elves.

Who is Miles Mendenhall?: Confronting Work of Art’s Engimatic Antihero

Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.

Worked Over: Jaclyn Santos’ Online Reclamation of her Work of Art Narrative

Jaclyn’s true subversion has taken place after the competition came to a close: frustrated with how she was being portrayed, her personal blog has evolved from an opportunity to celebrate her appearance on the series to an effort to reclaim her personal reputation and her artistic point of view from what she sees as Bravo’s manipulative editing. Investigating that blog offers a glimpse of something we rarely see: a reality contestant confronting their depiction head on, in the process heightening the series’ clear – and likely unintended – willingness to unearth the contradictions and conflicts inherent in reality television as a whole.

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Worked Over: Jaclyn Santos’ Online Reclamation of her Work of Art Narrative

Worked Over: Jaclyn Santos’ Online Reclamation of her Work of Art Narrative

August 7th, 2010

In profiling Work of Art contestant Miles Mendenhall, I highlighted how his behavioural multiplicity both serviced and undermined traditional reality show narratives and editing practices; however, at the end of the day, the fact is that even those who find fault in Miles’ behaviour have few issues with his art. The series may have portrayed him as a jerk, but the series never went so far to blur the lines between his actions and his artistic expression.

However, I think artist Jaclyn Santos has a fair case for the fact that the editors were not quite so kind, although it is fairly clear how and why this happened. For better or for worse, Santos’ use of her own image created a direct connection between her behaviour and her artwork, and while this led to some of her most successful pieces it was also a key element in the producers’ efforts to paint her into a box throughout the editing process. If Miles carefully controlled his behaviour to appeal to the basic structure of reality television, Jaclyn purposefully positioned her work as both intensely personal and as a direct subversion of the male gaze, which gave the editors plenty of opportunities to paint her into a corner.

However, Jaclyn’s true subversion has taken place after the competition came to a close: frustrated with how she was being portrayed, her personal blog has evolved from an opportunity to celebrate her appearance on the series to an effort to reclaim her personal reputation and her artistic point of view from what she sees as Bravo’s manipulative editing. Investigating that blog offers a glimpse of something we rarely see: a reality contestant confronting their depiction head on, in the process heightening the series’ clear – and likely unintended – willingness to unearth the contradictions and conflicts inherent in reality television as a whole.

While I’m sympathetic to her frustrations, I think that her post-show efforts to set the record straight has transformed her experience from lemons to lemonade, and furthered the series’ reputation as the most frustrating yet fascinating reality series in recent memory.

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Work of Art: The Next Great Artist – “Natural Talents”

“Natural Talents”

August 4th, 2010

New York Magazine’s Art Critic Jerry Saltz is aware that Work of Art is less than revered within the art community, a response which Carolina A. Miranda nicely captured at TIME this week. In his review of last night’s final episode before the finale, Saltz reflected on the experience as he saw it, partly out of an effort to convince his critics that he wasn’t sullying his name through his participation and partly to convince himself of the same:

I know that much of the art world is appalled that an art critic would even be on a reality show. I feel this way sometimes, too. Yet, leaving after this episode I felt more as I do when I’m teaching, and get totally involved with students whose names I will not remember in 24 months. Only, I was pouring everything I had into this TV show and these artists…I began to see that with only one week to go that this whole experience, weirdness, wildness and all, was forming into some sort of larger whole.

I’ve written a great deal about how the show has been a mess of contradictions, so tonight’s episode was a key test of whether or not it would reach some form of cohesive conclusion; as Saltz notes, “involvement” is a key factor in any reality show, wherein we get caught up in each character’s journey and it becomes less about the general premise (finding the next great artist, or the top chef, or the next great fashion designer) and more about choosing which of the final contestants deserves their shot at stardom. It’s a key difference, and I think that Saltz nicely captures what I’ve witnessed from the comfort of my couch: through all of its contradictions, Work of Art is a competition which intensely focuses on the creative process, which makes its conclusion seem like far more of a personal journey than other reality series.

Or, at least it does for the artists who embraced the idea as Saltz did.

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Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero

Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero

August 4th, 2010

To take a page out of Mad Men’s book, “Who is Miles Mendenhall?”

In basic terms, Miles Mendenhall is one of the artists on Bravo’s Work of Art, simultaneously the summer’s most problematic and most fascinating reality series. The series is a total contradiction, emphasizing the value of art by subjecting artists to challenges which seem designed to dilute their work and maximize reality television drama, and yet the resulting pressure placed on artists gives us a front row seat to their creative process which would otherwise be impenetrable (I wrote more about this earlier this summer).

Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that’s a work of art.

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Getting Some Feedback: A Top Chef Failure and a Work of Art Worry

Getting Some Feedback: A Top Chef Failure and a Work of Art Worry

July 8th, 2010

I have yet to blog about this year’s season of Top Chef’s seventh season, and I really wish that I wasn’t doing so under these particular circumstances, but “Room Service” was such a failure that I have a few thoughts on where precisely it went wrong (although Scott Tobias has a more complete rundown of the episode at The A.V. Club). The notion of introducing a tournament-style competition in order to send two chefs home isn’t the worst idea, as they’re trying to create competition between the chefs (especially after the hyper-competitive elements last season) and this forces Kenny and Angelo’s rivalry to the forefront and draws further tension from the various chefs. However, the way in which that competition was actually executed failed to actually highlight the weakest chefs, instead punishing good chefs for small mistakes while rewarding weaker chefs for a single quality dish in what was an otherwise disastrous performance.

And while I want to highlight a few problems, one thing I want to focus on specifically is a lack of feedback within the process, which was also central to part of last night’s episode of Work of Art, which I want to discuss briefly as well.

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Point of View: Bravo’s Work of Art a (Fascinating) Piece of Work

Point of View: Bravo’s Work of Art a (Fascinating) Piece of Work

July 7th, 2010

In the second episode of Bravo’s newest reality series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, a contestant created a sculpture which derided reality television, a sculpture which led to him being sent home.

Mind you, he wasn’t sent home just because he had little love for the form of television in which he was taking part: the sculpture was lifeless and uninteresting, and relied on an inside baseball art joke that not even the contestants/judges (yet alone the home audience) understood. But the fact remains that he wasn’t here to play a game of any sort, unwilling to engage in any sort of drama and, more importantly, not in a position where he would be willing to step outside of his comfort zone in order to compete in what most would consider a competition. Another contestant, eliminated the following week, went home because she refused to take a challenge seriously because it was a commercial “job,” and she doesn’t make art to appease clients; she, too, ended up making something of limited value (and hadn’t done much interesting previous to that piece), but the fact remains that it was her refusal to “play along” which separated her from other failures.

Reality Competition series require participation, not only in terms of creating strong personalities (and the conflict which arises from them) but also in terms of creating compelling narratives for viewers to follow. What I find so fascinating about Work of Art is that it is both a tremendous success and an absolute failure, a series which is flawed by traditional reality competition standards and yet offers ancillary, and unique, opportunities for viewer connection which the show’s structure isn’t built to really capture. While many contestants aren’t participating in the reality series they’ve been cast on, they are participating in a larger quest for creative fulfillment, and at moments the show successfully invites us into their own little worlds and gives us a legitimately fascinating glimpse into their creative process which overshadows the tired machinations of the Magical Elves.

And allows us to find our own point of view on the competition at hand, even if Bravo isn’t willing to fully embrace this sort of potential.

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