high art and reality tv

I admit to watching the more creative reality shows on TV, like Top Chef and Project Runway to name a few. Yet as I sit in my den, I’m struck by how similar these shows have become in setting up an atmosphere of competition to entertain the television audience. The premise is, whoever is unable to achieve the challenge to the judge's liking is deemed the loser of the challenge and is asked to leave the show. Someone leaves each week until one contestant remains as the winner. The prize is a big spread in a national magazine and a large amount of money for the last person standing. In every one of these shows one of the contestants will look into the camera and say, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win.”

Still, I’m a sucker for these shows, so when Work of Art: The Next Great Artist aired on Bravo, I was on my couch tuned in. Part of me wanted to see if I could be a contestant on the show. Could I survive the time restraints and competitive nature of the show to win? I wondered if I had the kind of talent that would excel under such glaring lights. You never know how you react to a situation until you’re in it.

This is where I get upset. Most of the contestants on the show are young and a bit arrogant about their talent. They are eager competitors ready to mow down the competition while hamming it up for the cameras. They come with learned tricks ready to wow the audience…and all I can think is, this is not how real art is conceived.

Which brings me to the question, can high art really be merchandized, manipulated into entertainment and still remain an independent voice of a culture? For me, the creative process thrives when I have the time to think things out. I’m able to try something—fail at it—then rethink the process more successfully. Most times it’s a slow process I’m not able to force. This is how unexpected advances happen, opening new doors to discovery. The foundation of art is in the drawing and composition, the knowledge of color theory and spatial balance…years of study…years of trial and error. It’s the one art form where the artist gets better with age.

I’m concerned that this program in its desire to entertain has done a great disservice to the artists who are hard at work in their studios dreaming of someday having a show at the Brooklyn Museum or P.S. 1. To watch young “wannabes” on TV get this highly prized advantage without putting in the time and sweat is a bit discouraging. High art, in my opinion, can’t be manipulated and packaged to make good entertainment. It has to find its time and truth in order to become the voice of its generation.