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.
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.
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.
“Everybody Loves Hugo”
April 13th, 2010
“There’s a difference between doing nothing and waiting.”
Ah yes, that eternal question: a week after finally getting something close to answers about the Sideways universe and what it means for the series, “Everybody Loves Hugo” appears at first to be the start of another waiting period. The Man in Black is right when he says the above, of course: there is a difference between the show sitting around wasting time and the show waiting for the right moment to introduce something that will truly change the direction of the series.
I’d argue that “Happily Ever After” gave us the momentum required to (hopefully) negotiate the difference between these two approaches. While early episodes lacked the context necessary for us to view the flash sideways as something that was building to something larger as opposed to just the show twiddling its thumbs to toy with our minds, the new details about how the Flash Sideways work means that there is now a function to the “waiting,” making it seem more purposeful and goal-oriented.
It’s one of the things which makes “Everybody Loves Hugo” a particularly intriguing episode; after creating the expectation that it would be a quiet episode of waiting and wishy-washy motivations, various characters get tired of waiting and take things into their own hands, creating some rather explosive moments that punctuate a philosophically intriguing hour.
And that certainly doesn’t qualify as “doing nothing,” even if we’re still waiting for the big answers.
March 10th, 2010
“It was on this island that everything changed.”
I’ve got an extremely early wakeup call tomorrow, so I intend for this to be somewhat less lengthy than previous reviews. However, Lost delivered another solid entry into the sixth season this week, so it’s tough to be too brief: there’s a lot of interesting elements at play in “Dr. Linus” which reveal some new subtleties to the Flash Sideways structure, which reveal more nuance to Michael Emerson’s performance (which I thought was impossible), and which point towards answers to a few key questions without, necessarily, answering them completely.
And so there’s plenty to ruminate, speculate and potentially even pontificate on, so forgive me if my promise of brevity proves to be as inaccurate as the statement above: on the island that we know, everything stays the same, but Benjamin Linus’ story of the island of Elba reminds us that sometimes the most substantial change is how the stagnation of one’s position drives them to the point of disrepair. Napoleon remained Emperor when he was exiled on Elba, but his power was false, and it eventually wore him down: this is the story of a man whose quest for power met a similar end, but it is also a story where change seems plausible and, in another universe, an established fact of life.
From this point forward, it might also be the driving force of this series.
March 2nd, 2010
“You think you know me but you don’t.”
The Flash Sideways structure this season has been taking a lot of criticism from those who think that its opaque intentions are obscuring any meaning that it might have, but I think that in terms of its immediate function it has actually been quite clear. As the show confuses the question of identity through the Man in Black and his various influences, the Flashes offer a glimpse at characters in a far less confused universe who are still just as confused as they were before. Yes, there seems like there is a deeper meaning behind the scenes that is being withheld, and there are times when the connections are too simple to feel eventful enough for the show’s final season, but “Sundown” is a pretty clear example of the basic dramatic purpose of these scenes.
“Sundown” is not the best episode of this short season, nor is it a particularly pleasant one: it is an episode filled with darkness, showing characters taking actions and getting into situations from which there is no real escape. However, it’s a nice bit of analysis of the determinism that dominates this universe, and with a strong performance from Naveen Andrews the episode is able to entertain even if we are none too happy with its outcomes.
May 13th, 2009
“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that…it’s just progress.”
After last week’s penultimate episode, there were two paths moving forward: one was John Locke leading a group of Others and Benjamin Linus to kill the man known as Jacob, and the other was Jack Sheppard heading out to drop a hydrogen bomb into the Swan Station and rest the entire show as we know it.
What was so fascinating about these two paths is that you are convinced, at about the halway point of “The Incident,” that neither will truly happen. The latter is far too big of a series reboot for them to risk this late in the series’ lifetime, and the former seems premature considering that we haven’t even met this mysterious Jacob who runs this island and now we’re just going to kill him, just like that? But the episode just kept going: the closer you got to its conclusion, the more you realized that there really wasn’t anything standing in the way of these events at all except for our own expectations.
What Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof did with this episode was toy with the viewers in a way that they only can, and in one of the only ways I’ll admit I downright love. In an episode where the first scene was the most important, and where the inevitable became questionable and the predicted was thrown entirely on its head, they managed to take a scenario that sounded too simple and complicate it beyond any reasonable expectation. In one fell swoop, they rewrote the events of the entire season, opening up a metric ton of new questions just as the final shot in many ways made everything fair game for the show’s final season, all the while situating the show’s characters in the right place for the action to come.
There are some key reasons why this isn’t quite Lost’s best finale, but in terms of its technique I’d say that Lindelof and Cuse have certainly tapped into something that will yield some fantastic results in the show’s sixth and final season.