Friday, June 11, 2010

The Reality of Art

This week was the premiere of a new reality show. (well, probably more than one, but I'm only going to discuss one here) Generally I avoid them. The seeming requirement of stocking the casts with contestants who obviously lack the skills, intelligence, and basic grasp of reality to compete, as well as enough people with antisocial and other personality disorders to guarantee the level of conflict that the genre has decided it requires, is more than enough to keep me from watching. However, I felt that I had to make an exception for one based on the subject of art.

The show is called "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist". A dozen artists of various ages and backgrounds are brought together, will undergo a series of challenges, and the winner will get $100K and a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum. I sure could use all that, but I'm not in the cast. (however, I do have some related experiences and connections, which I'll get to in later paragraphs) For the first challenge, artists were randomly paired and asked to create portraits of their partners. As expected, some were unwilling or unable to meet the assignment. Some artists displayed rudeness and excessive ego toward all the others. (not surprisingly, some overlap in these two groups). And they get to live in a nice group house, have a beautiful studio and all the free art supplies they want, neither of which is typically part of reality for artists.

There were a few pleasant surprises. The group includes an actual printmaker (a screen printer, but that's better than nothing) and he won the first challenge over all the painters. And I have a connection to one of the artist contestants, Peregrine Honig. The name was familiar, but at first I wasn't sure from where. I thought the connection might have been my old friend Tom Huck, and a little internet research confirmed that. It turns out that we were both participants in the original Outlaw Printmakers group show that traveled around the country in 2004. I have no recollection of what her contribution to the show (I saw the NYC location) looked like.

I'll probably continue to watch the program for a while, though I may not write about it here regularly. The artistic challenges have me a little curious, but the coming attractions for the season highlighted examples of the kind of interpersonal conflicts and oddball behavior that turn me off all the reality competition shows. Unfortunately, without all that stuff I don't like, there's no way they would allow this to air. The artistic process just isn't that interesting to outsiders. Back in my grad school days I had an experience that illustrates this point. One of my fellow grad students was a huge fan of Details magazine, a men's magazine heavy on fashion and lifestyle. The magazine announced a plan to visit readers around the country, and my friend somehow talked them into making Carbondale one of their stops. He hung his art all over the studio building (expecting that photos of it might be in the magazine), and invited a group of us to be part of the interview process. The interviewer asked lots of questions about alcohol, drugs, sex, etc, which we mostly answered, but we kept steering the conversation back toward art, a subject we felt was far more interesting. Several months later the issue came out. Many pages were devoted to their visits to other parts of the country, with the discussions of alcohol, drugs and sex dominating. From the Carbondale session a single question ("What is the worst job you ever had?") and only two short answers, from neither me nor the organizer. No photos of art either. It would seem the editors at Details had a different opinion than we did of what was interesting. Our consolation prize- all our names in fine print at the end of the article, along with all the dozens of others interviewed around the country.


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