Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Work of Art" Didn't Work for Me

First, the good news: I'm happy that Abdi won. I think he has the greatest breadth of vision and technical facility of all the contestants, and I wish him all the best. 

Having said that, I really think that this series failed as a competition that tried to cast itself in the same mold as Project Runway, Top Chef, and Top Design. In my view, art is not suitable for this format, because it is such a subjective art form. All of us can envision wearing an outfit we see on the runway, tasting a dish, or living in a professionally designed room, and we live with our wardrobes, our food, and our house decorations every day - but how many of us think about or create art every day? Also, not only can we envision wearing the outfit or eating the food, but we can easily follow along with the judges when they say technical skill is well done or lacking; when a dress is well constructed, say, or a dish shows different harmonious flavors. I feel as if I am learning something about dressmaking and cooking every time I watch those shows, even though I will most likely never sew a dress or make a roulade. 

I wanted to learn something from "Work of Art," too. Perhaps it might have succeeded better if it had taught us more about some of the techniques the artists were using, such as screen printing or photo manipulation or sculpture armatures. We all like to see how something is done (witness the popularity of the many "how it's made" shows), even if we never intend to do it ourselves; one of the fascinations for me with Project Runway and Top Chef is seeing how the outfits and the dishes come together, and learning new terms, such as "chiffonade." It does not take away from the mystery; in fact, it increases my admiration for the people who are skilled in these fields.

With no explanation of technique in "Work of Art," and its seemingly overarching focus on "concept," we were left with judging the challenge projects only subjectively - as to how they made us feel (if they made us feel anything).  It's not that I believe I have to like everything I see to appreciate it, but art is such a slippery experience, a few footholds from the experts would have been welcome.


  1. So aptly put....the omission of insight into "how" each piece came together...I too would have liked to know more about the process.
    Some very bizarre moments, and art, during the series but the gallery shows at the end were interesting and sometimes enlightning.

  2. often, art is criticized based on skill. Good is intricate or difficult to craft. Bad is simple and easily made. Think of the number of times you may have heard, "my three-year-old could have done that" when viewing a modern work by Rothko or Pollack or Melvich's "White on White" piece. I love, nay, celebrate the notion of expanding art to the masses - of television exposing the public to art. Remarkable.

    The show could have more aptly been named "What is Art?" and then the group of judges would deem it as such (so let it be written, so let it be art). What surprised me, a humble viewer, was the panel--who are steeped in this conceit of artdom--were complicit in this very practice! "No, that's not art." "Oh, that was complex and well-fashioned and aligned with my sensibilities--ART!"

    It seems, to me at least, the play is very much the thing!

  3. OMG I loved this show, never missed one episode and even went to Miami to try out for it. what an experience. it's just entraining to see artists work and to learn more about how they work and why they work. it's entertaining to see how they handle the challenges and what they come up with and why. it's entertaining to see how they interact with each other.

    I'd like to have them take it a step further though, and see what SELLS because at the end of the day, if you can't feed yourself, you won't last as an artist for very long.