Buzz over a celebrity engagement. Buzz over bad behavior. Buzz over a new gadget, or political scandal. Hello Levi and Bristol? Mel Gibson? The iPhone4? Mark Sanford, or maybe even Al and Tipper Gore?

Thumbnail For the Love of God_Damien Hirst 2007Buzz over our favorite television shows, like reality TV. Buzz over Erik and Miles, name calling on Work of Art.

Controversy causes buzz; the public, revved up, riled up, and dealing with dashed expectations. It’s social media fodder. Word-of-mouth marketing. It spreads fast, attracts a wider audience, and puts issues out for debate.

Who would have thought that people would talk about art in any context, much less a competition concocted by reality TV?

Last week’s episode of Work of Art ignited the ire of many, with its talking smack, the dismissal of Erik from the show, and a rash of argumentation over the personalities, the format, the judging, the quality of the work. And yet… Buzz – of any sort – over art?

Other than the sensationalism of a mega-multimillion dollar diamond-encrusted skull (hello, Damien Hirst), when is the last time that “regular people” talked about, blogged about, or argued over anything to do with contemporary art? So maybe it’s true – all press is good press?

People are talking – about art!

People are talking and writing about art. And no, not in the typical context of polite academic Artspeak. Or even the more cutting jargon of art criticism.

Take a look for yourself. There are more comments on Bravo TV’s Work of Art blogs than ever before, following last week’s show. And then there’s the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog, and Huffington Post Arts, and the LA Times. There are equally heated (and entertaining) conversations on specialized art sites like Art Fag City or Art Log, not to mention recaps by critic and show judge, Jerry Saltz, writing in New York Magazine.

Discussion is percolating outside this country’s metropolitan art centers. That’s BUZZ, people! And even bad buzz is good buzz, right?

All press is good press?

There are times when buzz can work against you – Sex and the City 2 had a great buildup. Avid fans of the HBO series always want more of the fabulous four. But the movie was disappointing. “Buzz kill” hardly seems sufficient, but I imagine that if there is a Sex and the City 3, we”ll flock to see it all the same.

Why isn’t the last episode of Work of Art a buzz kill?

Because there was nothing to lose. A start from ground zero. The subject of art is rarely on the mainstream radar. This is a win on many levels, even if not for the participating artists. On the other hand, who ever heard of Erik Johnson before this summer? It’s certainly a win. Just not the win.

Contemporary art – is it all subjective?

Whatever I may think of the format, the contradictions, the editing, the decisions, the level of talent brought together, this is PRESS. Publicity. Commentary on creativity, pop culture, contemporary artists. Perhaps not in the way the insular art world might prefer. But people are talking, looking, discussing – fine art education, the art market, the nature of criticism and competition. And yes, they’re even talking about the art itself.

Maybe Bravo knows what they’re doing after all – how to “influence” a situation in order to hold an audience, and yes – piss them off, if it gets them watching.

Tuning in, tuning out

Sure, the show could find more seasoned talent. The format could be tweaked to effect a variety of positive changes. Better challenges. Longer timeframes. Perhaps something more akin to Project Runway’s presentation of a collection among final contestants – an exhibition of a body of work that has allowed several months in the making.

Yet I stand by my belief that this is a good concept, and eventually – viable entertainment, with a side of education.

I love that discussion is dancing around the edges of the art world – viewers are arguing, blogging, taking sides. Engaged. It’s buzz. As for those who are so pissed off they say they won’t watch any longer? We’ll see. Maybe they won’t want to watch, but I suspect they will. People are curious about outcomes. A few may tune out, but far more – including me – will tune in.


Thumbnail of Hirst “For the Love of God” via Wiki (fair use) image here. For more details on British artist Damien Hirst, I recommend Hirst page on Artsy. Work of Art images, courtesy

Read more on Work of Art, Seasons 1 and 2.  

© D A Wolf


  1. says

    All press is good press. Some buzz can kill. But in general, in this day and age, I think without buzz, you can’t get aloft. So from that perspective, any buzz is good. Thanks for the buzzworthy post!

  2. says

    Being a contrarian to some extent, I’m not a fan of buzz and think that when it comes to a diamond-crusted memento mori, the joke is on the living.

    I agree that it’s a hopeful sign that people are more interested in art, even if it’s art controversy, than we might have expected. The challenge of art, however, is to tell people things that they turn out to need to know (when things prove relevant and nourishing, people don’t just show up for a tweet and move on).

    In a culture dying of phoniness, I’m still hoping that actual authenticity (in everything from business to art) is going to start to show up in a more local manner and that we’ll learn to really see and hear all the buzz the way Don DeLillo saw white noise.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      So Bruce – with your background in the arts and film, how might you present entertainment to a broad audience, that involves contemporary art and artists?

      (It would be interesting to know measurements of “success” (of various sorts) of Work of Art, on completion of Season 1, versus, say – Art21. They’re not comparable, I know – but it would be interesting.)

  3. jason says

    i wish i could post a mel gibson rant worthy of mel gibson, but at least whoopi goldberg says mel is a nice guy. so he’s got that going for him!

  4. says

    I’m not sure I know how to comment.

    I have hated reality shows because they seem to feature the underbelly of humanity. But I notice that we are exposed to a much broader life than previously. We talk about radical sports and dirty, thankless jobs and… now art.

    Maybe it is as you’ve noticed, the buzz gets us in the door. Bruce, is it possible the authenticity you’re looking for will happen once we gather at the same table??

    Fabulous perspective on this.


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