The good thing I can say about Bravo’s new art-competition reality show, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, is that it surpassed my expectations. I expected it to be lousy, however, so take that for what it’s worth.
My big concern about the show is that the various genres of visual art—painting, photography, performance, &c.—were so divergent that it would be like expanding Project Runway to also include interior designers, food stylists and architects. The show did cast a wide net, but at least in the first challenge—which involved each artist doing a portrait, or “portrait,” of a competitor—the various styles were applied toward a similar enough end that is seemed possible to compare them.
Professional artists might complain, of course, that the reality show turns portrays career as a freakshow of extreme personalities, high-concept stunts and shameless self-promotion. All of which, of course, we know has nothing to do with contemporary art.
As for the early mix of contestants, the best thing the show has going for it is the mix of styles, backgrounds and philosophies; in particular, I like the idea of casting both experience working artists and self-taught newbies with little or no art-world exposure. There were plenty of drama-generating reality-show types, like Jaclyn, the hot woman who just happened to paint a self-portrait with her [clears throat] exposed, and Nao, the abrasive performance artist. But the first episode seemed to be working a little hard to convince us of its cred, and its contestants’—straining to show us the participants saying that they couldn’t believe that this experienced artist or that big-deal judge was involved in the show. To really succeed, Work of Art, like Project Runway and Top Chef, will have to earn respect in the actual professional world, but it has to earn it or not; it can’t just assert it.
I don’t really feel engaged by the show yet, but it will take a couple of episodes to see whether the problem is fundamental to the concept, whether (like the first season of Top Design) it’s a matter of casting and judges’ personalities (or lack thereof), or whether it’s just the usual case in which it takes a few weeks to get to know the personalities and develop a rooting interest.
In the meantime, I already have a request for the second season: come up with a new elimination catchphrase. Whoever thought “Your work of art didn’t work for us” was a clever turn of phrase must have cut off their ear. Any suggestions?