Post Academic


Art and Commerce: What’s the Problem With “Work of Art”?

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes by Caroline Roberts on July 17, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Obviously, we here at Post Academic are really into reality shows. I just watched a few episodes of the Bravo TV show “Work of Art,” in which aspiring artists who work in different media compete a la “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” Apparently, people who are supposed to know something about art hate it.

Laurie Fendrich over at the Chronicle writes:

The show promulgates a massive deception that out-deceives all other reality programs: If we were to have a real reality show about artists, one that showed how artists really make art, it would bore the tears out of the audience. Artists are frequently quiet or dull sorts, and much of their art-making consists of sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways. No hissy fits, no artificial deadlines, and no visiting Euro-suaves like Simon de Pury, the auction-house exec, to give pats on the back and ask helpful questions.

And how is that different from a show like “Top Chef” or “Project Runway”? Cooking isn’t that fun to watch in and of itself, and I’m sure that clothing design involves plenty of “sitting around, thinking, looking and puttering around in incomprehensible ways.”

Okay, there are hissy fits on the show, and that’s a reality-show convention, but the benefit of “Work of Art” is that it emphasizes that art involves real work and skill. The contestants regularly throw verbal spears at each other about technique, and it is fun to watch how pieces come together in a single episode. The people who just slap something together and can’t explain it tend to be the ones who get the boot.

More after the jump!

Glen Hefland at Salon doesn’t think the show is perfect, but he defends it:

… it’s unclear what, exactly, the show’s harshest critics are so worried about. That “Work of Art” will create the unfounded expectation that artists can produce at the snap of a finger? Or that they might actually appreciate winning that grand prize and getting some air time? Or are they just worried that the “mysteries” of the art world will be exposed to middle America?

Art is made to be shared, which is why it is so effective as a communication tool and–yes–as a sales tool. If you aren’t making art to try to share it, then what’s the point? By sharing it, you might even make enough to live off of, and that is not a bad thing. And even if you work a day job, theoretically you have a drive to share your ideas if you’re an artist, right?

In a way, the arguments over “Work of Art” remind me of debates about the role of the humanities versus the “practical” disciplines. Perhaps much of the bitterness directed toward the ivory tower comes from the fact that much of the product (writing, papers, etc.) doesn’t seem made to be shared. Exhibit A: Arnold’s Bad Writing Contest.

But think about it. Judith Butler didn’t write her work wanting to hide it from the world; otherwise, she wouldn’t have sent it out for publication. Some art and writing is obscure, and some isn’t. It doesn’t matter. It should be shared, and “Work of Art” does the job. If you don’t share your work, or deliberately attempt to hide it (like the one contestant who went on “Work of Art” knowing full well she was doing reality TV and then said “I am a fine artist!”), then you get eliminated.

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One Response to 'Art and Commerce: What’s the Problem With “Work of Art”?'

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  1. Sharmian said,

    The problem I have with Work of Art isn’t mentioned in the article. It’s the same problem I have with schools that give kids grades in art. Unless a particular technique such as impressionism is being taught, how do you grade art? Art is an expression of the soul, of the ideas and the reality of an individual. Thus, I have a problem with the competition and the judging. I guess one could argue that art is critiqued all of the time, but something about the elimination format just seems wrong when applied to art. That said, if the artists are willing to submit to that, that’s their choice. It’s just that appreciation of art is so subjective that it’s harder for me to accept that one of these judges can really be qualified to judge.


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