Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Work of Art Rant

I’ve had a few meltdowns on Twitter lately over the tweets people have been posting while they watch Bravo’s Work of Art. The snark invades, despite my efforts not to watch the show. The artists, bloggers, and critics all seem to have outsmarted the poor bastards on the game show. Indeed, many of the comments are funny and probably more entertaining than the show itself, which I stopped watching after episode 4. I have to admit I only saw the first episode because @c-monstah invited me to the debut screening at the WNYC studios in Manhattan. 

As soon as Simon De Pury croaked his first bon mot out his nose, I knew I wouldn’t be watching the show. It was painful to watch someone like De Pury shamelessly perform for a cable TV audience. I mean he’s used to sucking up to rich people endlessly, I just never thought I’d see him get on his knees for a tv show. I doubt anyone else felt the kind of humiliation I experienced watching Jerry Saltz demean himself by seriously considering the undergrad, all-nighters the kids slapped together. I guess Jerry has a lot of practice as a professor and visiting critic. So, this isn’t a critique of the show’s trajectory or individual episodes. I didn’t see it, and I don’t want to. This is my personal rant, my inner monologue about the show, which has received spectacular interest in the art world.

 A few months ago Jerry praised my work, but watching that first episode, I felt like the floor was falling out from underneath me. I wanted to crawl out of the room and hoped Jerry wouldn’t embarrass himself or be embarrassed by the show’s producers searching for the dramatic hook to captivate audiences. My inclusion on his top 10 list started feeling more like an anchor around my ankle than a life raft in the art world. After that, I watched the next three episodes with artist Jennifer Dalton and some friends at her house in Brooklyn. I drank a six-pack trying to sit through them. I mean, I wish we had been drinking whiskey for at some point the laughter died and the formulaic nature of the show, the manufactured drama, and the bad art made the extended viewing seem like a punishment for not keeping up on a weekly basis. When we had finished episode 4, I felt like it was 7 am and the coke had run out at a rather dull party. No one really wanted to talk about it, and I went home feeling disconcerted. Jen merely said something like “Well, I wanted to like it,” and frowned. She had been hopeful that the show would help middle America better understand contemporary art or what we have devoted nearly all of our adult lives to. 

Still, I couldn’t really articulate why I hated the show so much when people asked. Individually, each episode wasn’t terrible. The contestants tried to do something within a hilariously limited amount of time in an artificial situation. I’ve spent more time sitting in my studio staring at the wall than they had to do all their projects, combined. When I watched the episodes continuously, I really did not want to watch anymore, and I haven’t. The thing was, I couldn’t just ignore the fucking show. Everyday, someone would mention something about #workofart on twitter and on Wednesday night the fucking twitterverse lit up with inane observations and chatter about who was doing what, who was wearing what, what idiocy had been perpetrated, or if Skelator, er, Jaclyn had popped her fake tits out. 

The art world’s guilty obsession bled into every conversation, online and off that I was having. Nobody was riveted by the crap the contestants were producing, but far more interested in their relationships and personalities. Paddy Johnson, @artfagcity, and Carolina Miranda, @cmonstah, morphed from witty, sarcastic art world ass-kickers into something far worse; witty, sarcastic cheerleaders. Their participation in adding to the cacophony around the show disheartened me. It’s not so much about what they said (they are both excellent comedians), but that they were so engaged by something that made everything about art feel cheap and thin like worn polyester. I mean, my first instinct is to say ‘well, most of the art world is cheap and thin like worn polyester,” but it’s not. The stakes in this game have always been high, for some it concerns money that makes Abdi’s 100k look like chump change and for others powerful reputations, careers, and, well, money. For me, it’s just my life. This isn’t a career for me. It really is everything. Beneath the humor, the meta-commentary, and ironic devices there is rage, despair, joy, love, and a working philosophy about engaging the world. My drawings are warped, funhouse mirrors meant to trap all the fucked up shit that pops into my head and distort it into something people can look at without getting upset. Well, most people. Pissing of some people can’t be avoided including Jerry and everyone on Work of Art in this particular case. I’d rather Jerry be angry than sad, which only reinforces my ambivalence about the impact of the show. 

In the past, Paddy has given me shit for making art about the art world. Once she described me as producing the closest thing to ‘fan art’ out there. So, imagine my surprise when Paddy in her role as @artfagcity began fawning over this fucking show in full-on “I like reality TV” mode by ingratiating herself with the show’s followers. Not only was Paddy twittering during the show, she wrote weekly recaps. I haven’t read any. It’s pretty much one of the main reasons I don’t read her blog anymore. Sorry, Paddy, it became another reminder that the show was out there. Perhaps now, I can visit AFC again without seeing what happened to Miles.

 Cmonstah also tried to make fun of the show, I guess, but this is the part the makes me fucking irate. No matter how snarky you are, how witty you are, how mean-spirited you get, or how much you complain about the show, it doesn’t matter. If I complain about the show to people, “It’s a complete bullshit and a really bad representation of contemporary art,” they look at me like I’m some fucking elitist asshole who can’t relate to normal people and just accept the show. When they look at me their expression says “Look asshole, life is hard and I’m tired. I want to watch something stupid and feel good about myself or just not have to think too hard before I go to bed and get up for work at my boring, soul-sucking job in midtown or at this deadly museum. It’s just TV.” It’s just TV. The sarcastic LIFE Magazine profile about Jackson Pollock was just an article too, and it transformed his career in a way that the paintings alone hadn’t been able to do. 

As the summer wore on I wished I could just say, “fuck it. It’s the Jersey Shore of the art world,” and watch the show. The problem is, I can’t. It’s not really the show I’m pissed about. I’m pissed off by it’s very existence and the promise it offers its contestants. I’m sure you all understand the basic fucking premise of the show; respond to an assignment, win, and get a 100k and a museum show. Sweet. All you have to do is crank out some art that is marginally less terrible than what everyone else is making. It’s not that you actually have to make anything good. My friend Letha used to explain that meeting the hottest guy in a bar is always a relative proposition. Sometimes, she would take home the hottest guy in the bar and still be making out with an ugly motherfucker. Despite this, and unlike the broader market where critics can ignore mediocre and bad work and collectors can chose not to buy it, someone had to win the show by default. It would have been way riskier and far more interesting if there was no guarantee anyone could win if the work wasn’t good enough. I think this one of the most obvious flaws in comparing the show to life. In fact, even the losers on the show are still winners if we count recognition as a form of payment.

 Anyway, when I started to reflect on why a show I wasn’t watching and why it was making want to get violent and fight strangers, it started to dawn on me how closely the model of the show and everything about it reminded me of the worst aspects of the art world and America. First, the notion that some random fucks, chosen by a highly questionable jury, win the fucking lotto to get on the show with portfolios that wouldn’t have gotten them into Scope is problematic enough. The producers had also reached out to artists with representation, including myself, which undermined the underdog nature of the show. I’m sure some of the contestants were straight off the street hopefuls, but I bristled that Bravo was out there looking for personalities that might be ‘combustible’ or manufacture the appropriate amount of drama. Reality. Right. Does reality need ‘producers’? I hate the word ‘reality’ TV and wished that even one of the participants had found a way to undermine that concept, or at least challenge it. 

So, yes, I turned down multiple requests to audition in New York. If there had been a little more time I was working with a Belgian actor to audition in my place, in character, but he was in Europe. The problem was manifold though. Would Bravo own my character at the end of the show? They own all the other art the contestants made. That character, an idea, has been central to my practice. Who owns the ideas? 

That Bravo reduced art to series of BFA level challenges was arguably the most artificial and insulting part of the show for me. I mean, beyond the fact they have an absurd shooting schedule and severe time restrictions. On his FB page, @Jerrysaltz asked his thousands what challenges they would issue. OK. So, let’s just get this fucking straight. Would it be cool if I just went on my FB page and asked “Hey kids, what should I do next?” Of course fucking not, it’s the central challenge for an artist. “What the fuck do I do?” 

There is an army of talented artists out there, and you can find a platoon of them working for Jeff Koons, who have awesome skills, but the biggest struggle facing an artist is individuating themselves from the masses and finding a reason to employ their abilities. “Hmmm, I can do anything I want, but, uh, shit…” I am fucking insulted that the producers of Work of Art and that witch-hooker Sarah Jessica Parker couldn’t come up with some format for the show where the artists had to do their own fucking thing, and let the judges…wait, who the fuck is Bill Powers? Where is the Half-Gallery? I wouldn’t ask that fucker to interpret the second hand on my watch…actually engage in some critical analysis and consider every aspect of the work, not just if it met some absurd pre-existing conditions. But no, we get the contestants making fucking book covers and interpreting what it feels like to drive a luxury, product placement car? Fuck you Audi you fucking pieces of shit. Fuck all art cars; BMW included. I will never ‘design’ a car or a yacht. I might piss on one, but that’s it. 

While the challenges make me irate and are the most unrealistic thing about the show (and don’t compare it to Project Runway, since it’s more likely than not that the designers will end up working for someone else and executing their ideas), artists don’t get fucking challenges. We call that illustration, commercial work, or being an artist’s assistant like Jaclyn. I wonder if she’s back at Koons’ studio working on his ideas? Anyway, the challenges themselves only serve to do the thing that makes me want to jump off a fucking cliff. They are the shitty vehicle that enables one lucky patsy, and in this case Abdi who seems like an affable kid, to experience a simulation of art stardom, to be an instant sensation. If Starbucks can make instant brew, Bravo can make an art star, of course. I can’t help but see the show offering a compressed, flawed version of art stardom; a rapid ascent, a vast payday, instant entrance into museums and institutions, and some amount of broader public awareness (I won’t call it fame. Most of America doesn’t know who the fuck Jeff Koons is. Abdi, Miles, and Peregrine probably have more useful celebrity than Koons for about six months). Success in the shows terms seems flimsy and tawdry in comparison to say the career trajectory of Dana Schutz or Jules DeBalincourt ( I mean they are talented and have good ideas right?). I will never stop being fascinated by them. They both have talent yet I find them to be derivative painters who won the art lotto and filled the darling spots at the beginning of the boom era. 

Comparatively, Abdi is something of the butt of a protracted joke, a novelty coughed up by produced television, it’s way too edited and manipulated to suggest it’s anything other than a mocumentary using non-actors to play the pre-assigned clichés. I don’t know how Abdi’s show will look, and I’m not judging his work here. I just know it will be difficult to shake the feeling that everything is covered in a faint layer of perspiration and a greasy residue like the inside of an OTB or a Greyhound bus bathroom (If you’ve never had the pleasure you’re probably not reading this so fuck you). The veneer of dignity has already been stripped away by the profit-whores at Bravo who have reduced the activity everyone involved has dedicated years to into tidy, fifty-minute episodes. What scares me most about this, this blackhole of terror that opens up in my chest, is that there is no dignity to art, to this career, and that the whole thing is a terribly produced ‘show’ that is always already rigged and that no matter how hard I work, I will always be a middle class loser without the right fucking pedigree to suck on Bonami’s cock. 

I also quiver in terror when I think about all the artists out there laughing their collective ass off at Miles’ ass or Skelator (see I can’t resist either), because I wonder how many of those same fuckers would shed their dignity like Jerry to get on TV. What bullshit excuse would they use to achieve the sort of cognitive dissonance that would allow them to become the butt of a weekly, nationally televised joke. Or perhaps even worse, all the artists laughing at the contestants believe they can laugh at them on TV because at least they aren’t actually on the show. No, they are just watching TV, risking nothing. I mean, if they could just get their own break, they would be successful too, but of course, they’d never risk their own dignity by actually being on the show. I sense a kind of hypocrisy, even in myself, when I consider how people love to take a piss on the show, when they don’t have a fucking pot themselves. I turned down the opportunity to audition for the show because it seemed like something that would be fun to watch someone else do, but there was no way I was going to destroy what little integrity I had in not taking things seriously. What Ken Johnson said about Jen Dalton is how I think about what I do, “taking not being serious seriously” (paraphrasing), and if I’m going to destroy my career, I want to do it on my own terms, not making money for NBC Universal and Bravo. 

We used to talk about the mother of all capitalist art fears, ‘commodification’, where any idea or critique is simply absorbed by the market. In this case, it’s not a particular artist like Murakami who tried to swallow the market and ended up in its belly anyway but the claim to art itself. It’s like watching the ‘art market’ get chewed up by a bigger cultural fish, ‘the entertainment industry’ and turned into a giant advertising product meant to deliver an audience to the real consumer, the advertisers and sponsors. I’m pleased Christopher Knight posted a link to Richard Serra’s video “Television Delivers People”, which reminded me of what I was witnessing. What makes art potentially radical is just neutered for the sake of showing an understandable process to deliver the numbers of viewers. 

Apparently it has worked. Season 2 is starting to cast and another batch of artists will compete again for some quick cash and an instant social/professional network earned in a fucked-up, truncated version of reality compressing years of hard work, ass-kissing, struggle, and sacrifice into a month. Again, a totally unrealistic lotto system based on physical appearance, personality, age, gender as much as whatever artistic merit is presented/sold to the public as a viable alternative to the struggle of making it as artist. I mean a viable alternative to having a trust fund. As for @Jen_Dalton’s optimism that the show “would help educate people about contemporary art,” Work of Art also serves to remind me that I, and art, have failed to approach anything remotely radical in decades. Thinking about the 52% of Californians who voted for Proposition 8 or fundamentalist beliefs in ‘intelligent design’ also remind me that there are ideas, beliefs, and perspectives to which I am not tolerant. This intolerance is based on a reaction to traditional thought that eschews science, logic, and reason for faith and pseudo-science. The defense of the tradition becomes paramount to any realistic concerns. I also don’t like the way that Work of Art makes art safe and sanitized for the masses by relying on cliché and tradition. It’s like calling McDonald’s food. Sure, as the lowest common denominator, it qualifies, but it’s not what we aspire to. Work of Art makes art appear safe, professional, and full of fucking morons talking gibberish about nothing. I’d rather sit through an hour long lecture series on Altermodernism subtitled in English every week than watch Work of Art. At least I might learn something or experience an idea that will challenge my ideas about what is possible in art.

Nothing I’ve seen or heard about Work of Art suggests that possibility even exists. No, instead, I am left feeling depressed about art. It looks ugly, cheap, and I feel like we all, not just Abdi or Miles or Skelator, are jumping around like clowns for rich assholes. And it’s not just the contestants that are also experiencing some d-list celebrity status. In their temporary TV fame, I see my own shallow, ugly reflection staring back at me. It reminds me of the ever-increasing up tick of twitter followers and little messages from the tumblr bot, or looking at peaks of Google hits in analytics amid the long, desolate stretches of insignificance. The feeling of being desired or recognized is a powerful thing, and on most days, I can tell myself “It’s because of the work you’ve done,” not the personality projected during a few hours of reality tv. On other days, that nagging sense of desolation brought on by the warm, lazy reception of Work of Art is that I am failure, just another shitty hack producing ‘symbolic representations of radical thought’ or being yet another symbolic pressure-release valve for radical thought, instead of being genuinely radical.

 So maybe the joke is on all of us, for accepting art as a closed set of predetermined relationships calculated and influenced to produce a single outcome. Or it’s a joke because it is so much like art itself. As Jerry Saltz pointed out “the work on our show isn’t much better or worse than what I see in Chelsea”. Maybe it’s not the show I am disappointed in, but myself and everyone else in the art world.


Maritza Ruiz Kim said...

I like what you came to at the end of your article. About what maybe actually is disappointing you- it tells what is informing your opinions & perspectives. I come from a wholly different place. I am this person outside of the circle of the art world; in fact I am *outside* of the outside of the circle of the art world. Anyway, I live in dualities in a lot of ways (I am a stay-at-home-mom artist in a suburb on the other coast, surrounded by “middle-america” thinkers who I love and yes I am a thinking artist.) I really don’t have any artist friends, still I know contemporary art well enough; I know what I like when I see it. My life finally allows me to make art again sort of, entertaining my children while I am working (who can work in these conditions!) :), & I take them with me into my studio as my studio assistants– they are the unknown variable that informs my work (what choice do I have?) :). I’m not young anymore, but my portfolio is immature since I took the scenic route in my career. I get to have that indignity. I don’t care about commercial contexts of WoA or any art for that matter. It doesn’t make me angry. I just don’t care. I don’t care if WoA upends West Chelsea art. Because probably there’s good in mixing it up. I don’t care about how we as audience are delivered to the advertisers. The joke is on them- I take what I want & need from this show or any art. No one makes me like or buy anything.

I define myself here, bec. I must say- I liked WoA, really I did. Maybe it helped that I watched it all at once the weekend before last (but waited for finale like everyone else)- ALL these episodes in one weekend because I had kids with the flu so we were trapped at home. I didn’t get into personality dramas and who wore what. I saw it as one whole experience. I know enough to see past the BFA constructs in the assignments. I know it was soundbites. But- I read between the lines, the crits pointed me back to ones I’ve heard before, I could fill in the blanks. *You* didn’t need this WoA show, and this show frustrated you. (And you seem to care deeply about the show’s role in the shaping of culture- I’m not addressing that right now.) But *I* needed this show. It’s not because it offers up art exposure to me. (There were pieces I did like tho.) I can visit galleries & museums, I get to see a lot of end-product art. WoA for me was just a window into other artist’s processes (who cares if they weren’t stars!), seeing their funky haphazard 24hr failures & their joy when something worked… At art school there was so much pretension... nay– in life there is so much pretension. Everyone acts like they know what they are doing, they want to be the expert. Who really is the expert? This show gave me a chance to see artists, experts, buyers… opine, sound stupid sometimes, roll their eyes, sigh, critique, make mistakes, AND get it right on, too. Loved that. Post-episode articles gave me even more back-story. Seeing people interact about art, talk about art… happy happy. You are in the middle of it, you get that in real life. You love your life. ?. I love mine. You hang with other artists & drink until the wee hours. I don’t. I get woken up twice a night by a 4 year old for various reasons. Lucky you for being in the middle of this art world thing, having the luxury to not need something like this, lucky you for having your work loved or not loved by people, for having time & energy to make work, time to stare at walls, lucky you for having an audience of any kind. You didn’t need this show. But I did. It opened up a world to me that I am not in, made it accessible. I don’t expect it to give me all the answers, and probably I will need Season 2 for the illusion of being surrounded by practicing artists again. It makes me work more. And I loved people watching in this reality TV art “false construct.” However false it was, it was built out of pieces of real.

And if that’s all I’ve got, I’ll take it. Happily!

James said...

you're my kind of asshole. we should grab a beer. @James_Reeder

Michelle said...

Your expanded rant reminds me of my Tumblr complaint from June: http://blackvon.tumblr.com/day/2010/06/14. Producers are looking for great personalities and stories, whether they are Bravo crack-heads or PBS's Art:21 highbrow masterminds. It's not about art, it's about TV. Some artists can make interesting subjects, but TV has always failed to clearly portray the art.

I am even more creeped out by the fact Bravo owns all their art. I wonder if they do that on other shows, does Bravo own the rights of all the recipes on "Top Chef"? Less valuable, but still.

Christi Nielsn said...

Absolutely fucking spot-on!

judith braun said...

Hi William, I enjoyed reading your rant. My name is Judith Braun, and, you may recognize, I was a contestant on Work of Art. I'm not going to write a defense of the show!!!.... just an explanation of my going on and a few other thoughts.

I'm happy to say that I was shown, in the first episode, rolling my eyes when China announced the title, The Next Great Artist, and I'm grateful that Bravo gave me that moment on tape...for posterity. I was also the one that scoffed at the book cover challenge and was basically booted for insubordination with my "Edirp and Ecidujerp" piece. Ken Johnson is on record saying that "the judges should have announced afterwards that it was a trick challenge, that everyone who fell for it goes home, and for sticking to her guns as an artist, Judith wins, game over."

Anyway, going back, when I heard about the auditions I just decided to try out because I thought it would be fun, to play the game, and even more so, to then watch myself on TV. As shallow as that may sound, I honestly never focused on the "meaning" of it for Art, or for my reputation, but purely as my own entertainment. I'm 62, have had an emerged, submerged, and, pleased to say, re-emerged art "career" that I believe can speak for itself. I actually think my approach to going on the show reflects a very basic self confidence about how seriously I really do take art. I simply figured I could walk and chew gum; be a real/serious artist, and play a game on TV.

Sure I knew I'd be cast as the "older" artist, but that didn't feel like an insult or exploitation. I had no reservations about the idea that I might get teased. So what? For what? I know what I've done, where I've been...and not been... and I'm pretty clear about where I am in the whole big scheme of things. (totally aside from the tv show). I have nothing to pretend and nothing to hide.

I'm one of those that thinks Art is what makes the universe alive, beyond just a bunch of stuff vibrating . So the TV producers may have had their mission to make art more accessible, while I myself am in it for the mystery. None of that was at risk for me by being on the show.

Now that I've done it and watched all the edited episodes, and all the crappy projects that were produced, and all the sound bites and whatever, it is obviously not a representation of what it's all about for us true believers and practitioners...but I never thought it would be. So I'm not cringing... because who cares!? And in some circles, I admit, I'm one of the worst trash talkers about many aspects of it all. But it still has nothing to do with how I think about art and how I will continue to live my life as an artist.

So this isn't to convince you of anything, only to share a bit of my own experience from actually doing it. I have no regrets because that's my life policy in general. I'm not sure if this is a perfect analogy for me, but recently I compared it to taking LSD, in the sense that when I decided to "do it" I had no idea what was about to happen, but I was seeking a sort of "through the looking-glass" experience for myself. Ok...nuff rambling, and thank for reading! Judith

j_d_hastings said...

I watched because I felt like I had to. I'm not in the thick of the artworld and the chance to have broader communications about art in the manner of the twitter barage are lacking. I did quit watching at some point for the reasons you mention, but ultimately came back for the group dialogue. Sad, maybe, but mainly I just want a common thread to discuss art.

I just feel cheated by the perversion provided to us toward that end. If there is a market for this kind of communal online art event, is it possible to find one of greater substance?

Jesse Patrick Martin said...

Rapid, rambling, heaving, vitriolic, vomit-like rage and loathing is the most appropriate reaction one can have to WANGA (since watching it is like biting into a glitter-dipped, shellacked turd).

Kenneth said...

So, did you like the show or not?

Garric Simonsen said...

Um, yeah. The point is Work of Art’s failure in general, but also its failure to educate the uneducated. I live in a very decentralized area where art is thought of in terms of hand-hammered copper relief and tole painted decorative objects. People here are several decades behind contemporary themes and there’s little hope of making up for lost time. I guarantee a large portion of my city glued their dyeing eyes on Bravo’s newest calamity. SO WHY couldn’t the most innovative institution on the planet have collaborated and succeeded on what it needed to do most? EDUCATE! Educate us without glorifying the stereotypical clichés regions like mine cling to for understanding art. Bravo/Art World, you turned art into a sickened and unsuccessful multi-million dollar social experiment.

Like stated proper above in that there rant, this shit ain’t no career with a prize. It’s blood and instinct. I’ve got a box with 100’s of childhood drawings sitting in my studio. My family pinned those fuckers on our water-stained kitchen walls just as I do today in the tiny box I make shit in.

And if you think jealously has been aroused here, your damn right it has. And had I not given a shit about the space I inhabit, this show probably would’ve made no difference to me. But people need to know when their full-of-shit. And this is the best place for those people to read that their full-of-shit. So producers, critics, artists, bloggers, whoever the hell. Make a difference, not pageant. And BTW, I didn’t watch a single episode of this bullshit. Didn't have to, Twitter transcribed every episode.

Molly said...

Maritza Ruiz Kim, your comment really touched me. I'm right there with you, in every way.

Jesse Patrick Martin said...

@Maritza: I know it may seem utterly jerkish of me to say so, but your maudlin testimonial doesn't seem like a reasonable justification for WANGA. Actually, it smacks of the same generic tone that most marketing (and reality-show competitions) deliver: inspirational, "unpretentious" pap that appeals to the alienated-yet-family-loving consumer. Oprah would approve.

I mean, WANGA's casting-call for the 2nd season has a similarly irritating, aspirational earnestness to it: "We want voices that believe in their art and want the world to know who they are and what they can do." And remember: Abdi won because of his "heart." Please. This all sounds like sentimental, "emotional" advertising copy 101, and it's bad news if this is the default tone of where the "broadening discourse" of art is heading. I'll slit my wrists with a Hallmark card.

Maybe Powhida's "rant" isn't any better, but at least it's not condescending to those childless, art-world-insider dilettantes with the "luxury" "to stare at walls." C'mon.

I'm sure you're lovely (I am, too), but the crisis in the "art world" is no different than the crisis in the real world: there are so many voices and conversations and confusions and standards over how things should be understood that we all just end up perceiving ourselves as being broken up into these little factions. Then, big-money (Bravo, Carrie Bradshaw, etc.) swoops in and chucks it all into the hopper and neatly packages our collective dreams, struggles, accomplishments, failures, misgivings, whatever into a pretty little paste. Because things are so groundless to begin with, the paste becomes the new point of reference merely because it was made conveniently available to the most people. It's like, great: here we are "talking" about "art" and our relationship to it by way of a twelfth-rate reality-show that actually wrapped-up many months ago. We might as well be communicating via kazoos in a typhoon.

judith braun said...

I agree with almost all the pros and cons. Whatever. I'm wondering WHY it is such a big deal one way or the other? I've begun to think it's because we are all scrambling so hard for a little attention, a little affirmation about our work...our lives... and it's hard to have so much attention going to this TV show posturing and setting itself up to bestow rewards on a bunch of random contestants, most of whom have paid no dues! I think it's bringing out people's personal issues. Fortunately the Fall Season will come soon and bring lots of new things to see, and to talk and think about.

Saskia said...

I also really liked what Maritza said, and can relate in many ways. I'm also a mom w/ small kids (+ day job!)... who somehow still finds time to make art, even show it.
At the same time, I definitely agree with William's rant. What a sophomoric, ass-backwards way to choose a 'best' artist, and anyhow, what's the use in artists competing against each other like this for, for what, money, fame, a solo show, to be 'the best'? What are they hoping to gain from all that, anyhow? Yet still, in all that there are the small moments of human frailty and redemption that emerge, as Maritza points out. Yea, kind of like the art world itself.

I have to say that I did not watch the show either; 2 contestants from my alma-matter and another one (of the finalists) who practically lives down the street from me was a little too close to home to stomach, but I did follow some of the press about the show.
Hey, Maritza, whether we are New Yorkers heavily involved in the Chelsea art scene or moms in the suburbs, we all have a life outside of the art world, and for most of us, it's not easy to navigate both successfully. No matter what our personal situations, most of us artists are all looking for the answer to the same question: how to keep making art. (TIME, TIME, TIME, how to get more time!!!)And of course, as William said so well, since to most of us art is not just (or maybe not at all) our careers but our lives and in most cases our education as well, we are not just content to putz around making pretty pictures. Those of us who know better don't just want to make art, we want to make really good art, the kind that makes people think, or feel, or cry, or love, or pushes art and the dialogue in new and challenging direction-- That's really the goal, isn't it? And that is damn hard, no matter which way you slice it.

Dana Burns said...

I think what we(artists) seem to be frustrated with is not with this reality show per se but how much attention it's gotten in the art world. We want the attention. We feel we deserve more since we are working on our own projects, losing time going out of our way to network, and not following some reality show crap. Big egos. Desperation. Maybe some of us wish we had that attention so we'd finally have some recognition. We are constantly fighting, going to bed without sleep just to have time to make work after our 9-5... What does it take to get a little attention? What about us who can't afford/are not priviledged enough to get an MFA at Columbia, NYU or Yale? What about those whoa re paying off art schools loans. Do we have to resort to a reality show? Powhida, at least you're already well-known. Most of us little guys will be financially depressed/unsatisfied our whole lives making art and not get 1/1000 of your recognition. I think any show about art is going to get this attention in the art world, no matter how stupid the challenges are. It's hard not to watch, as crappy and predictable as it can be. Our whole life is about art. Just like chefs are gonna' watch Top Chef and fashion designers are gonna' watch Project Runway. Maybe we're a little jealous of not getting the attention. Maybe it is slightly inspiring. As shitty as you may find WOA to be, it still is relatable to artists on a level since there is art-making involved. Alors nous regardons.

And as shitty as it may be, you and others are writing about it. :-p

ec said...

The question is art a ‘symbolic representations of radical thought’ or "yet another symbolic pressure-release valve for radical thought..." is ground zero for any serious artist. It piques my curiosity as to what you consider radical to be now beyond shock viewers out of their complacency.

Articulate and passionate post.

Joanne Mattera said...


With a few exceptions (C-monster, Jerry)I don't disagree with you, but I think you have taken this show way too seriously. It's the art world's Nascar races, wrestling, Real Housewives, Jerry Springer and celebrity roasts all in one.

The clueless socialite with the one-should sequin dresses is the perfert metaphor for the whole thing: totally unnecessary but freakishly amusing to watch.

mkaysen said...

right .... fucking ...... on ....

I'm gonna print this, post it and read it every 3 months ....

Cat said...

I didn't really read this whole rant. I Didn't watch 'Work of Art', but read about it. And glad I did not watch it and glad people hate the show, I think it;s a stupid idea, especially with Sarah Jessica Parker invloved. Makes me want to create more work, and glad to not be in NYC, and only in Missouri, where my work is not judged as whether it really matters or not. I don;t think I could take the pressure of living in NYC and trying to "make it" as an artist in LA or NY or Paris. to be happy I just want to live life with balance, though I would like to sell more artwork and TRY to sell work, but I'm not even doing that well along with the rest of life. I know I still need to make work and DO SOMETHING (show, sell, somehting) with it. Which I have not been doing (ssssiiiiigggghhhh....) Makes me wish I hadn;t MAJORED in Art and been to ART SCHOOL and MFA and All that, because now my main motivation is that I HAVE to make art, beacause I have thes e f-ing DEGREES and student loans, but that is not the worst motivation. I think the worst motivation would be to make....well, maybe there is no worst motivation to make art...even if it is bad art, at least YOU MADE SOME THING, and didn;t just WATCH TV...

Anonymous said...

you need a vacation

joy said...

Maritza: right on the money.

zurizuri said...

its pretty funny how clear it is what the main demographic for this show was from reading these comments...
not a value judgement. I know a young mom/ former art student who really hates the show though, so go figure.

Joel K Smock said...

Mr. Powhida,

Carefully (questionable adjective here, obviously) produced television programming is designed to distort the viewer's perception of reality. It is in effect propaganda whether good or bad.

Having been in the work force now for over thirty-years, American society and capitalism function in such a way that it is very much like a lottery, even for professional athletes. For example, an athlete may be exceptional in college, but once he or she enters the professional realm, he or she may or may not excel. The athletic individual could suffer from a career-ending injury, dashing all hopes of excelling and breaking all sorts of records.

So, too, for the working classes (the writer JPM was on point in characterizing staring at walls as a luxury), one can devote lots of time and energy to a corporation or privately run company and hardly have their work acknowledged; hardly get paid enough, only to watch someone else get hired in a better paying position. Such aspects of American society for the working classes can be sad, depressing, disgusting, and even repulsive, but, ultimately, we must somehow come to terms with it, whether we like it or not.

So Mr. Farah won a television contest of a program few people watched. Big deal, but good for him. He received a little bit of money. The real test (and this applies to all of us) will be if he has the endurance and stamina to continue thirty-years, forty-years, fifty-years from today.