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We learned a new word today: “painterbation.” Guest judge Richard Phillips used it to describe Mark’s Mondrianic grid mess, but it applies to a lot of the activity we see on Work Of Art. Each week, there are the artists who try something bold and generally succeed, the equally brave artists who fail, and the artists who don’t have much of an idea at all, so they painterbate.


Mark may have slathered countless layers of right-angled nothingness onto his canvas, but he’s usually more directed. He’s not one of the serial painterbaters like Ryan, who week after week creates some lifeless portrait of himself, and in this episode finally created an image so pat and empty that the judges took notice. The challenge—the embarrassing, weird challenge that most of the contestants essentially ignored—was to create a work based on the experience of driving an Audi to an Audi showroom. So Ryan painted a picture of himself looking badass driving a car. The image conveyed “cool” in the same way that an angsty college freshman applying some Photoshop brush filters to a blurry, low-angle self-portrait for his Facebook profile image is “cool.”

In the studio, Ryan was open about the fact that he was grasping at straws—“I see myself as this cool, detached rockstar, but I’m not really selling myself on the idea”—yet he still mounted a long-winded bullshit defense of his poseur triptych at the critique. That was a contrast to his fellow member of the Painterbationist Society, Jaime. She didn’t have much to say about her piece, and neither do I, mainly because her contraption is so hard to describe. The thing was like a wheel of fortune adorned with line drawings of a carefree dancin’ girl—the kind you might see in the “Just Because!” section at Carlton Cards—and accented with pastel skyline images from old Caroline In The City interstitials. “It talks about my love of car dancing,” Jaime said, enhancing the already formidable WTF quality of her work.

Jaime got booted, and it looks like Ryan won’t be far behind unless he finds a way to summon inspiration in a timely manner—which is really the core of the whole painterbation problem. The cruel reality of this type of competition is that you may be terribly talented, but if an idea doesn’t hit you in that critical 12-hour stretch, you’re no better than the guy hawking velvet Elvises on the sidewalk. Worse yet, the artists’ only option when they’re groping for ideas is to work through the fuzz, and the upshot is that we get to see their manifest lack of inspiration on the screen. Maybe Ryan and Jaime just have a slow creative process, so they need to suss out the obvious ideas before the more gripping ones come to light, and that doesn’t work in this format.

But my instinct (admittedly a convenient one) is that even in the compressed timeframe of reality TV, a few glimpses of talent will show through. Nicole’s crumpled, suspended ball of soundbites was a promising first draft despite the fact that it didn’t deliver the impact she’d hoped. Peregrine’s reappropration of the Audi trademark had the embryonic outlines of a subversive bent despite her settling for something more silly and charming.


I was hoping that one of the artists would go whole-hog anti-corporate (Abdi’s logo-plastered racer probably came the closest, and that’s not very close) to rebel against the ham-fisted branding of this challenge. The sponsorship could have been done more delicately; it’s not like corporate patronage of the art world is such a foreign concept. Yet it was tossed out there like a cold fish. It's an Audi challenge. Deal with it. Even World’s Most Enthusiastic Swiss Man Simon de Pury—a guy who, two episodes ago, referred to a Penguin book cover as “the ultimate, ultimate accolade!”—couldn’t be bothered to talk up this Audi crap.

Instead of going all Bolshevik on us, the top two artists—Miles and Jaclyn—discarded the challenge out of hand and simply made something from stuff that they saw. That’s harder than it sounds. These two artists only had the wherewithal to do something simple because they’ve developed relatively strong points of view. That’s no surprise in Miles’ case, as he’s still the no-doubt frontrunner to win the whole thing, but Jaclyn’s growth has been something of a shock to me. A commenter on my recap of the premiere episode described Jaclyn as the “hot chick who makes art about hot chicks,” and while it may sound a touch misogynist, the characterization kept popping into my head during the show's first few weeks.


In this episode and the last, though, her art really holds up. She can be an irritating, self-obsessed character, yet two weeks in a row, I've found myself looking at her work and saying, “Hey, that’s not bad at all.” Last week she only got half credit because, as Son of Mecha Mummy noted in the comments, Erik took the only good idea he’s had thus far and handed it right over to her. Now it’s all Jaclyn, though, as she takes the success of last week and runs with it in a photographic collage of men ogling her. She’s quickly honing a voice based on inviting the viewer into an interrogation of the (straight) male gaze, and while the male-gaze thing may seem like the obvious well for Jaclyn to tap, she’s doing so in creative, engaging ways. (I’m on the fence as to whether the paint splotches on the leering men add to the piece, though. It might have been intriguing enough with just the photographs and the mirrors.)

Jaclyn won the week despite Miles having the more thought-provoking piece—not that you would know it from the way this episode was edited. When I first saw Miles’ photograph, the single flattened cardboard box seemed to indicate that it was a homeless person’s sleeping area. But given that nobody was talking about the homeless angle, I decided I was wrong and read the image as a shipping dock (or some such) in the Audi showroom building. Turns out that I was right the first time, as Bill reveals on his BravoTV GeoCities page:

One element which was omitted entirely from the show was our crit discussion about Miles' choice of location, which appeared to be a vacated shelter used by a homeless person. Richard Phillips asked if this image was not somehow romanticizing poverty and therefore on dangerous ground? I understand the time limitations on an hour-long program, but I thought it was a valid exploration.


Sounds like it was a pretty interesting exploration, in fact, and a lapse on the producers’ part to cut it out entirely, given its central importance to the work. Then again, as I noted last week, Miles’ real work is his performance piece as the idealized reality show contestant, and Work Of Art never fails to give that project all the camera time it needs. Miles added another layer this week with the addition of a love interest, Nicole. He notes in a monologue that oh gosh golly a little ol’ midwestern nerd like him could never hope that a pretty girl like Nicole might pay attention to him because he’d get all tongue-tied shucks gee whiz. Meanwhile, we see footage of Miles in the studio, turning his “vulnerable genius” puppy-dog look up to maximum intensity with the smooth confidence of a good-looking kid who has done this before.

“I think he’s an actor,” Erik says, but he thinks everyone (except him) is a fraud, so this remark is not such a testament to Erik’s brilliant insight as it might seem. Even a blind squirrel stumbles across a nut every once in a while. Judging by the promos for next week, Erik’s smoldering hatred for the other artists will soon come to a head, which is welcome, because his “outsider” shtick has run its course.


Stray observations:

— I mentioned them last week, mostly to make fun of them, but the judges’ blogs on BravoTV.com are pretty good (if brief). Jeanne’s posts are especially insightful, so it’s worth digging through Bravo’s crappy, antiquated site to find them. The photo galleries of the artists’ creations are also valuable given how hard they can be to discern amid the show’s rapid edits.


— “I realized most of the people stopping and looking at me were men.”

— The quickie summations that the judges deliver to each potential loser before the final ax are way too stiff. The judges are terrible at reading lines, but they do have good insights. Why not just give each judge 15 seconds to address his/her designated contestant in a more free-form way? They’re eloquent, smart people; let them speak from the heart. This is one of a few needlessly overproduced elements in Work Of Art that irritate me every week.


— On the other hand, I enjoy the light vignette that appears during the commercial break between the end of studio work and the gallery show. It’s a great way to purge the tension of the workroom’s ticking clock and relax the tone in time for the viewing.

— Nicole is probably playing a game of her own with this Miles dalliance. It couldn’t hurt to ally yourself with the best artist and make yourself his number-one collaborator.


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