Moving Pictures
Jun 17, 2010, 07:18AM

The Next Great Whatever

A hollow victory for the misguided.

“Victory” on any reality television series is the most specious, empty kind of victory humanly possible, aside from being that guy who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being really, really fat. It's hard to pick out more than a few reality television “stars” who haven't been on some awkward, stumbling track towards becoming genuinely reprehensible or useless. A quick survey of the complete roster of American Idol winners (if you can remember more than two, and no, walking punch line William Hung was not one of them) mostly reveals a lineup of people who were temporarily popular and are subsequently flickering away without making anything great or inventive.

It stands to reason that any thinking human being would observe this, recognize the very simple pattern of self-destruction, and keep a safe distance from the whole charade.

Bravo must have run out of accessible subjects, so they've begun to plumb the creepy depths of an enormous pool of aspiring artists and their litany of social disorders. We already knew that artists were weird and arrogant, but The Next Great Artist serves as a case study in the undesirable and adamantly anti-hygiene. I'm aware that on a very personal level, there's a great deal of desperation involved in following your passions and trying to build a life out of the malformed husks that they leave behind, but reality TV has to be an entirely uncharted kind of low point in any career already pocked with landmarks of futility and self-doubt.

After one episode, none of the artists seem to acknowledge this idea. Some of them understand struggle, but at this point, they are still star struck and immensely proud that they've made it onto the big picture show. Granted, any type of mass media exposure is potential gold for the creative person, as the right person seeing the right thing at the right time can be a catalyst for the exact notoriety and positive motion that we all seek, but there's a looming potential to discredit yourself by selling out to Bravo so early in your career. Does anyone really take Kelly Clarkson's talents seriously, or is she just synonymous with “that chick who won that show”? Or are they just doing this as a way to gain a foothold towards doing real artwork on their own schedule?

Some of these artists are also laboring under the impression that they're far too established to even be there, but I've never heard of them. The vaguely human chunk called Nao strolls through a gallery full of artworks created by her fellow whores, as she dismissively waves off the artwork of everyone else without stopping to actually observe any of it. OCD guy twitches for an hour. They get paired off for a challenge and everyone gets uncomfortable, especially me.

There's also the artifice of trying to create an epically amazing artwork within a very limited amount of time. I relish the challenge of solving visual problems in interesting ways, but doing these things on an unrealistic schedule doesn't permit for the important organic evolution of thought. It forces early conclusions and excuses at the time of the final critique. Most of us called that particular phase in our lives “college.” Now, they're calling it reality TV. The main thing that I learned in college was how to slip out of studio classes unnoticed, do art on my own time when the hot girl wasn't taking over the developer by perfecting the 90th picture of her feet, and totally ace the crit anyhow. This is a necessary step in the creative process that reality TV cannot afford, instead placing precedence on speed and efficiency. Art is not meant to be efficient. It's not even something that we need, on a purely biological level.

While artists from multiple disciplines are pitted against each other in this fight to the whatever, the only real measure of comparison between each work is their effectiveness in reaching the assigned goal, which is a criterion that is paired with the works' universal appeal. This seems to be the structure that the judges are using as they alternately deify and crucify the collected artists, and it's absolutely a fair judging mechanism, if not a disappointingly homogenizing one. Not unexpectedly, the winner of the first episode's portrait challenge is a fairly straightforward and literal, but well-executed, portrait. It's good, but it's not outstanding or overly original. More deeply mediocre, literal portraits were allowed to slide on past without comment, but if this sameness is what Bravo is selling as “art,” they're doing it wrong. Oh, and none of the regular judges are actual artists themselves, just the talentless vultures who profit from actual artists.

Anything that might make the arts more accessible, or bring them into a more open field of discussion, should be a positive thing, but I don't maintain faith that the arts won't be trivialized in a reality TV format. Instead, we get character-driven melodrama, a few quick shots of some hastily thrown-together paintings, and once in a while, we can wait for the remote possibility of seeing something miraculous emerge. I'm already living it—I don't need to see it on TV.


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