I’ve been following the Bravo TV reality series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” ( fifth episode this week). It tracks a group of young-ish artists, most of whom have already been exhibited , and assigns them a fresh project each week to be conceived and completed in about 1.5 days.
The completed works are then displayed in a private gallery showing followed by a critiqued from a panel of judges ( a core or regulars, plus one fresh prominent figure per week; one week it was Andres Serrano.) The projects range from utilitarian-but-arty (design a book cover for a classic novel re-issue) to almost-unspecified ( “do something outrageous”), and at times the artists receive their assignments by lot, with no say as to the subject agreeing with their own affinities ( or preferred medium).
Although it’s the usual winnowing-out design typical of such programs – and I don’t at all care who gets tapped as eventual winner – I’d pinpoint the same two interesting elements within each hour-long segment :
• The very different processes each of the artists follows in interpreting the assigned project. These are profiled in some detail – surprise! — and follow the gradual development of each new work. This manages to take up a big slice of the program, some 20+ minutes.
It’s exhilarating to see cameras paying attention to a working-out that stems from labor which is primarily ‘head-work’ . And rare.
• A refrain in the judges’ comments, present virtually every week: that the works they find successful do *in some respect* provide for viewers to respond to the piece – and actively. ( For example, they very much admired works in which the artist incorporated a mirror, or sign-in boards to register comment, or placed him/herself actually physically into the piece ; etc. )
Of course the judges want the artist’s individual personality to be expressed in the piece – but beyond that, and far from an auteur context where a viewer is only meant to “receive” an utterly complete document - the judges want the art to invite the viewer to respond, so that the work is ‘incomplete’ unless and until someone reacts to it in a way that registers to other viewers. ( This forested tree demands the listening ear be there ! so its fall can be heard.)
There’s plenty of opinion flying about throughout the episode — in addition to the judges, the artists themselves comment liberally on one another’s work throughout the show. If you pay no mind to the trumped-up personality conflicts and the bland or fatuous criticism ( or the commercials), the show can be worth screening.
The level of the works — particularly those by three of the competitors still ‘alive’ – is certainly professional. And the prize is $100,000. plus a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the program originators.
– Would that composers could reap the same on-camera attention for our head-scratching hours…!