Monday, August 23, 2010


"Work of Art" was a cable realty show on Bravo that brought together two dozen artists and four critics.

Each week there was a different "make art" episode. One show was "make a junk sculpture." Each contestant was given $100 to spend and 48 hours to create something. Another show required the participants to use only a child's tools, like crayons, chalk, scissors and paste.

(I must say these assignments sound interesting. Painting is one of my hobbies -- the walls of my home are my gallery, family and friends are my audience.)

The prize was mentioned a few times -- the winner was going to get$100,000 and a show at the Brooklyn Museum. The show gathered 1.2 million viewers since the first airing in June.

Every week, one contestant was booted off the show with -- "Your work of art didn't work for us," spoken politely, elegantly by the beautiful hostess, China Chow.

The semi final show was 3 contestants. Each was given $5000 to go home and create whatever he or she wanted.

A 23-year-old, perky, skinny, energetic, articulate black artist, Abdi Farah, won the $100,000. His show can be at the Brooklyn Museum until October 17th.

Here's a self portrait Abdi painted,
Here's some of his sculptures.

If you are an artist working on a creative project, does this show, "Work of Art," fire you up? Would you want to be on this show? I find myself wondering what's happened to the artists who were booted off the show -- how do they feel? Are they still doing creative work?

"Work of Art" caused a sensation. The LA Times called it "piddle;" the Wall Street Journal, dismissed it. Some bloggers hailed the program for demystifying the artistic process, establishing that "anyone can create art." Other bloggers and critics said that what was produced was trash.

T-r-a-s-h -- how easily, how frequently that term is used in upper echelons of the art world. And yet the trash is sold for millions of dollars, generally after the artist is dead, long gone.

Do you have to die to win in the art world? What makes trash turn into great art? It looks odd? It looks like nothing? It's boring? Weird? Shocking?

The people in charge of this show have marvelous credits: Jerry Saltz, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated art critic for New York Magazine; Simon de Pury, one of the art world's most knowledgeable auctioneers; China Chow, a style plate model, actress, socialite, daughter of fashion designer, Tina Chow; co-producer Sarah Jessica Parker, who's become a major film actress, producer, celebrity. These four people picked the judges (all names' in the art world), and also raised the money to fund the project.

To me they sound like IN-ies -- chic people -- what we used to call the "Jet Set."

I guess that's what bothers me. The Art World has always seemed like an upper class, exclusive group who love, salute, and pay homage, pay enormous sums of money for things that don't touch me at all. Also, the art works that were created for the show seem ... well, interesting ... but not very special.

Even so, Abdi seems to be a talented, ambitious artist, who has worked as an artist most of his life. And winning this contest will undoubtedly launch him.

If the show is renewed next season, will it mean something to painters, and other artists? Will it be like American Idol -- inspiring thousands of hopefuls, as the other realty shows for dancers, chefs, hair stylists, and fashion designers seem to do?

Well, why not renew it? Why does this make me uneasy?

Maybe because winning isn't quite the right feeling for an artist, or the right thing for motivating creativity. The drive to create comes from something within a person that shouts, pushes, keeps banging on the doors of his mind, demanding to be expressed.
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