It came to me in my sleep. Oh, it was hardly a revelation. But it was some sort of clarity. Hmm. Sleeping. Was I channeling Miles?
Work of Art Episode 7 may have been titled Child’s Play, but it should have been called Infancy. And that’s the perfect metaphor to address this show in its current state. Work of Art is, at best, a work in process in its infancy, in need of maturing if it’s to become what it could be – effective entertainment for the masses, that appeals to those who are genuinely interested in art, artists, their process, and the outcomes.
By outcomes, I mean fine art. Not arts and crafts, which is what we witnessed in an episode in which Nicole’s purple pipe cleaner glasses may well be the best work in the gallery.
Work of Art: This week’s Challenge
The assignment: call upon childhood to illustrate artistic beginnings, using materials on site at the Children’s Museum of the Arts.
Tools at the ready? Tiny scissors, pipe cleaners, pom poms, acrylic paints, colored pencils, construction paper, masking tape. Most of the artists seem confused; they create childish work, rather than adult work inspired by childhood experience.
What’s the problem? Are they stymied by their surroundings? Traumatized by the teeny tiny chairs?
- Ryan’s scraps of scribbles are a mess, and I’m being kind. He gets points for opening up about religion putting a wedge in the relationship with his mother, but he brings nothing conceptually or visually. He was rightfully eliminated.
- Abdi’s offering? A variety of little drawings representing childhood – Superman, Nikes, and I forget the rest. Uh-oh. Not good. I forget the rest.
- Mark’s recollections of using office supplies as a child provides a cohesive tale that relates to what he produces – something between a comic and an artist book. I’m not impressed with the final product, and wish the judges had taken a moment to touch on the intimacy, diversity, and interactivity of artist books. Still, Mark gets a Pass.
- Nicole thinks with her head and her fingers. Her tiered styrofoam plate sculpture exhibits creativity, alludes to aspects of memory (obscured and layered), and looks interesting. Do I love it? No. Still, she continues to impress with her playful side and thoughtfulness. High Pass.
Then there’s the girl we love to hate (editing for effect?) – Jaclyn. She struggled with this one, spoke of isolation, and vacillated in her choices. She allowed Simon to overly influence her work. Yet I found what she ultimately creates to have value. The judges comment that it is cold, but if your youth is about loneliness, then isn’t “cold” appropriate?
Furthermore, she paints trees as refuge, in keeping with her story. She uses two surfaces with space between them (two selves? searching for a way out?), and she ties the whole together with strings, pipe cleaners and pom poms that Simon encourages her to revisit. These elements add a bright child-like touch, visual interest, and while not a stellar result, I find it more intriguing than Mark’s, Abdi’s, or even Miles’ offerings.
While I admit it’s difficult to appreciate any of these constructions on television (or through photographs on Bravo’s site), Jaclyn, Peregrine, and Miles are the only participants who produced adult artwork. Miles skirted the rules and came up with a few colorful rubber band balls to add whimsy to his patterned surface. And most likely, he crafted a bullshit tale to accompany it. But at least it resembles art. And art is more than a story (with no visual), and more than a concept (supported by trash). Both message and aesthetic output need to “work.”
So like it or not – Miles gets a Pass.
Peregrine explores a childhood growing up in a community where children were exposed to dangerous drugs, unsafe sex, and an environment that recalls friends she’s lost to AIDS. She juxtaposes innocence and the seamier side of adulthood – ponies and candies meet cigarettes, condoms, and crack.
I can’t say I’m drawn to the piece, but the concept and the sculpture make sense. They are authentic. And compared to everything else, that’s a win.
Work of Art: The real challenge
This episode was tepid at best. Among other things, where was guest judge Will Cotton in all this? Cotton, whose work melds pop culture and fine art, frequently poses nude women with sticky sweet food in outlandish scenes. Cotton is an accomplished painter (regardless of what you think of his themes), yet in what aired, we got little of him or his artwork.
This is just one of many problems with Work of Art in its current format, or as I said at the outset – in its infancy. The producers are so busy stirring the personality pot behind the scenes, they’re missing opportunities to generate excitement around art and art making. Real excitement. And real controversy.
Then there’s the dilemma of inconsistent talent, a poor sequence of artistic missions, insufficient time (even 12 more hours might help), and ineffective challenges. Top Chef, for example, ensures that its participants master basic skills – whether it’s cutting and chopping, cooking the perfect egg (no small task), or understanding the subtleties of an amuse-bouche.
Where are the challenges that show us these artists understand composition? Or color? Or paint? Then move on to themes, to concepts, to mixing it up in teams, to limiting their choices, to provocative sites and materials. And while we’re at it – with Will Cotton’s candy-inspired canvases, a food fight cum childhood reminiscence might have yielded tastier viewing.
All images courtesy Bravo TV.