Reality rocks! (I need an intervention.)

I’m an educated woman. Accomplished. Cultured. But I also have a secret. I’m hooked on Bravo TV. No, not the whole line-up! But one or two of its reality shows caught my fancy right away, and several others have grown on me like ivy on a brick wall.

Bravo to BravoTV for getting me hookedIt’s time to come out of the closet. Fess up. Perhaps there’s help for me out there! So I’ll admit to the shows I love (and why), express my concerns (where enough is enough), and voice my mixed feelings over the latest “creative” competition, backed by Sarah Jessica Parker – The Untitled Art Project.

Unreal “Reality”

Am I the only American who has never seen an episode of Survivor, or American Idol, or The Apprentice?

The concept of Reality TV didn’t spark my interest as most of the country went gaga over each episode of Survivor. If I did watch television, I preferred movies with strong characters, plot line, great dialogue, interesting settings. I wanted my “unreality” presented straight up and with a twist. Like a well-crafted novel.

What happened?

Thanks to reruns and marathons these past two years (and TV on in the background), Project Runway and Top Chef changed my opinion.Heidi Klum Project Runway

I was hooked, happily hooked at that – on acts of creativity.

I love fashion. I love dazzling and delicious cuisine. And let’s not forget – Heidi Klum, Padma Lakshmi, and Tom Colicchio are all pretty easy on the eyes.

So why do we love these shows?

Creativity, competition, and characters galore.

The Top Chef format requires skills and talent, appealing to viewers like myself. Seeing solutions to improbable tasks makes for fascinating, enjoyable television.

And then we have the nature of competition, and winning. Who doesn’t love the idea of fame and fortune as the result of trial by fire?

It’s a classic plot line, in fact – underdogs and overachievers, with obstacles to overcome and the ultimate prize – success, American style!

Add a dash of aspiration, a heaping portion of wacky and tacky exchanges, the emergence of heroes and villains, and it’s a great recipe for television addiction.

But is it really fame and fortune for the winners?

Top Chef Winner Stephanie IzardLooking over multiple seasons of many reality shows, reporters (and former contestants) have reflected on a variety of post-airing outcomes. Sometimes there’s success. And also, failure or limbo; the anticipated opportunities have not materialized.

Why the uneven range of accomplishments? Lack of talent? Maturity? Is it the fact that there’s no “post show” structure to take the designer (or chef, or stylist, or model) through the necessary steps to being successful – the start-up of a fashion line, a restaurant, a small business?

Is there another show possibility here, Bravo TV? Some of us would enjoy viewing that – turning talent and $100k into a viable enterprise. AND in this tough economy, plenty of us could benefit from watching and learning.

Let’s talk “real” housewives

We all know the housewives are anything but representative. And they’re another matter entirely. But they’re so outrageous they ignite the gag reflex, or we can’t get enough. And so we turn them off, or we keep watching, and watching, and watching. So bravo, Bravo TV! You accomplished your objective. We’re entertained, and we’re staying tuned!

The Real Housewives of New York

My true confessions:

Orange County? I couldn’t stand them initially, but they grew on me. I watch.

New York? I was a fan, immediately. Their manner, their work, their urban backdrop, their style. Their fast-talking, fast-walking world in which, bedecked and bejeweled, these women do something, in addition to fight and make up.

Atlanta? I was embarrassed for women everywhere. I’ll say no more.

New Jersey? Again, no caché for this viewer.

The spin-offs, kids, and continuing locations? Enough is enough.

What else will I admit to? I thoroughly enjoy Top Chef Masters. I sneak peeks at Tyra’s America’s Next Top Model, and Kathy Griffen (and her mom) keep me in stitches.

A “Reality Addiction” Gene?

Health Warning: All those who rush to their TVs on Tuesday nights, Wednesday nights, Thursday nights, and for reality TV marathons – GET TESTED! You may have RAG – the Reality Addiction Gene. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are currently preparing trial studies…

I’m thinking an intervention may be required. But not just yet… there’s more to come…

Promising and worrisome: contemporary art competition

Jutta Koether Museum of Contempoary Art Los AngelesThe casting takes place this month for Bravo TV’s latest brainchild – The Untitled Art Project. It is a promising development, and a worrisome one.

Theoretically following the format of Project Runway, we can expect real skills, talent, and thinking fast on your feet. We’ll likely encounter absurd scenarios of “making things” out of odd materials, in surreal situations, and under trying time constraints (it’s part of what we love). And of course, I’m sure we’ll get a compelling cast of characters.

We marvel at the ability for imagination and innovation to yield remarkable results – like gorgeous and delicious cuisine, and stunning fashions. And we’re entertained by quirky behavior.

But a competition for artists – fine artists – still seems problematic.

Would the format truly judge a photographer on painting skill, or a sculptor on industrial design? Or will there be clever pairings to solve that disconnect? These are the sort of issues that give me pause, and I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Without knowing the exact format, wouldn’t “supporting the arts” be better served to have painters compete for one prize, sculptors for another, industrial designers for a third, and photographers for a fourth?

The pros and cons of The Untitled Art Project

All quipping aside – I’m genuinely concerned about gallery closings, budget and programming cuts at museums, and the downward spiraling state of affairs for fine artists (and supporting functions that are also affected). I’m all for any kind of programming that brings positive attention to the visual arts.

But more than fashion, than cooking, than singing a song or styling a head of hair, fine art takes time, is extraordinarily subjective, and can’t be assessed or encouraged by throwing talented people and strange materials into a room, and giving them 36 hours to “make art.”

Odili Donald Odita at ICA Philadelphia

According to Artnet News, based upon an interview with producer, Sarah Jessica Parker, this creative competition may represent an actual attempt to combine entertainment with support for the arts in a country that needs it.

Much will depend upon the good taste (oh dear) of the producers, and the caliber of curators, critics, gallerists, and collectors who will pre-screen the many hopefuls, and ultimately comprise the judges’ panel.

Managing expectations

Any artist who thinks “when I get a gallery, I’ll be set” is mistaken. Good gallery representation is important, but it’s only one piece in the puzzle that comprises a career in art.

Any artist who thinks that years of study and work aren’t necessary (and months/years of effort prior to an exhibition) is also mistaken.

The experienced artists I know – even the young ones – understand these fundamental realities. Would they compete on a show like this? Possibly. But why?

Because they are so invisible today, with so few avenues for funding, exhibition, professional growth – that anything is something. And it’s not only about exposure for the artist-participants, it’s about expanding horizons for those who watch – an opportunity that I hope will not be squandered.

So am I for or against The Untitled Art Project? And will I watch?

I’m leaning towards optimism. No intervention, please. Not just yet.

Peter Doig, Museum of Modern Art Contemporary Drawing Exhibition



© D A Wolf

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