I admit it, I watch reality TV. The Bravo TV channel has a lot of fun reality shows. It airs the cringe-worthy (but totally enthralling) “The Real Housewives of [insert city]” and also produces competition shows like Top Chef and the original Project Runway (now on another station).
Now they’re trying it with visual artists.
Tonight is the premiere of “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” a competition among 19 visual artists to be crowned … um, well, winner of the show. The winner gets a sizable cash prize and an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York. (The museum exhibition prize is a topic for another day.)
This TV show makes me nervous. It has a lot of potential to make visual art, and especially contemporary art, more accessible to the general public. But it also has the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes about contemporary art and artists.
I fear that many see contemporary artists as people who are “pulling a fast one” on the viewer/museums/the world. People look at a pile of old clothes and wonder not what the artist is communicating with his work but how much money he was paid for this pile of old clothes. Viewers can feel like the artist is getting away with something. They see a work of art that seemingly took little time, thought or talent and assume the work sold for a huge sum of money, and the artist is laughing all the way to the bank. This goes hand-in-hand with the “my kid could do that” attitude.
So I’m really worried about this TV show reinforcing the idea that contemporary art doesn’t take time or skill. The contestants will be given challenges that they have to complete in a day or two. I know that not every great work of art takes weeks or years to create, but many people (including me) often equate the amount of work and time spent on a work as a clue as to how much to value it, appreciate it or just spend time looking at it. So, if a work of art turns out well, will viewers think that most contemporary art takes little time? Probably not. I like to give the viewing public a little more credit than that.
I’ll be watching the show tonight (since I’m one of the few people who still watches live television) and we’ll see what kind of fast-one Bravo pulls on me.