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  • What's a masterpiece and what's a 'meh'

       July 22, 2010

    I've been watching Bravo's new reality series, Work Of Art. It's billed as the "search for the next great artist" and as such it's pretty delightful. Like Project Runway, it gives you a glimpse into the creative mind, but unlike Project Runway, there are no limitations like making something actually wearable. The artists are relatively free to follow their whims.

    It's fun to watch what they come up with, but the whole concept of judging art seems wrong to me. How can you objectively judge art? I know there are generally accepted masterpieces (although I'm not really sure how even that has happened), but isn't the greatness of art determined by the emotional reaction you have to it? Is the idea that a great artist has the power to draw out that reaction from anyone who sees their work?

    I think that's probably the answer, but again, so much of the power of the work is derived from the viewer rather than the artist. I can't help but think of when I first saw Sarah Ruhl's play
    Eurydice. I saw it just a couple of months after my Dad died and basically sat through the play in tears. I loved it and it clearly touched something within me. My sister was sitting next to me and had no real reaction at all, despite our identical situation. One of us thought Ruhl's play was a masterpiece and the other just thought "meh". It doesn't make the play any less great to me because other people didn't share my reaction. I don't think greatness is consensus.

    In general though, I find myself usually agreeing with the judges' decisions on Work Of Art. Why is that? Is it because of the general manipulations of reality television or is it because I'm wrong and that part of what makes a work of art great is a consistent reaction to it? Or maybe this show at its best is just producing middling art - so it's the equivalent of Top 40 radio - nothing truly great, but it's got a beat and you can dance to it. It's not challenging enough to produce anything but a consensus. So then really, it's more the equivalent of the politician who's for jobs, clean energy and against those fat cats in Washington. :)

    Posted by kris at July 22, 2010 02:06 PM

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    #  July 22nd, 2010 2:30 PM      BVBigBro
    There may be generally accepted masterpieces, but I'm not sure there are masterpieces that were recognized as such in their own time.  
    #  July 22nd, 2010 3:09 PM      cherlynda
    Well, there are rules for "reading" a piece of art. I took a class last year in art appreciation. I always wondered why some art is thought to be better. We had to read several different works of art, compare two pieces and decide which one we thought was the true masterpiece. It was interesting. I don't like Andy Warhol but after that class I can appreciate it and "read" it and understand what he was trying to say.  
    #  July 22nd, 2010 3:10 PM      kris
    But doesn't that just remind you of the scene in Dead Poet's Society where they make fun of the ridiculousness of rating poetry on those two scales?  
    #  July 22nd, 2010 3:15 PM      cherlynda
    well I still am not quite convinced you can "read" a piece of art, or any other art form. But that is what they do, and it is interesting. I do however reject some art that others like and like some that others hate......  
    #  July 22nd, 2010 5:37 PM      BVBigBro
    Having looked at the link, the bigger problem I have with such a show is that the projects they were given were all over the place. I'd rather an artist be good at what they do and not half-assed at everything.  
    #  July 22nd, 2010 7:09 PM      kris
    Yeah, I don't any of them are amazing. My favorite is Abdi, but he was really bad this week. Miles seems like the most "artisty" of the bunch, but he's too lazy to be great at this point.  



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