retsuko: (love this show)
I think very few people are tuning in for Bravo's "Work of Art" reality TV show this season, and this makes me a little sad. I realize this show doesn't have a lot going for it; it's so-called "reality TV" (strike one), it's about modern art (strike two), and it has some pretty crazy casting choices, both on the part of the judges and contestants (strike three, change the channel.) But despite all these failings, I can't help but love it. Even with the overly edited nature of the episodes, the terrible, terrible "art", and weird characters, I think it's an interesting idea, and its execution, although deeply flawed in some areas, is fascinating to behold.

Of course, the idea that anyone is going to find the "next great American artist" via the reality show medium is patently ridiculous. Likewise, the idea that art produced in the course of a twelve-hour challenge is somehow going to be fresh and original, is laughable at best. (Can you imagine asking great artists of any century to produce a masterpiece in a set amount of time? It's happened, but very, very rarely.) In fact, the testing format is more like the SAT, and like any standardized test, it rewards a set kind of thinking that isn't necessarily indicative of creativity. The judging criteria so far has skewed towards picking out obvious crap (the word "derivative" is, so far, the worst insult flung) and getting rid of it, while favoring pieces with "stories" (what these stories are, it's really hard to tell) or works of art that take the artists out of acceptable comfort zones. The challenges have run the gamut from interesting (create a museum installation around the theme of motion, which one only of the teams managed to pull together) to standard (create a piece of pop art, creating consternation among some of the competitors about the definition of pop art.) But even in teams, or individually, the artists are hampered by time and financial constraints, and their creativity appears a bit stilted at best, and utterly absent at worst.

But what I love about this show is that the questions it shakes in the modern art world's face: What is modern art, and what's its purpose? Who is allowed to judge it, the creator or the patrons? Where is all the money coming from, and do those sources allow for true creativity? Can someone with no artistic education be considered a true artist? None of these questions are easily answered, but the narrative dances around the edge of them, offering answers here and there before hastily pulling back into reality show convention. (So far, there is no clear villain, although I think the editors are very sad that the tear-prone, creepy photographer Cathryn lost last week's challenge.) The modern art world, as personified by the judges and personalities at the gallery, is a mystifying and snobby place, filled with money (if you know who to sell to) and pretentious, overly judgmental statements. (For example, one of the judge's words to the deaf contestant about his piece not addressing how deaf people use Facebook is pretty much one of the rudest, most facile things I've ever heard on TV.) It's no wonder that the competitors have all banded together; even if their mediums and subject matter are all completely different, it's better to support one another instead of sniping or snarking. Even the contestant who's named himself "The Sucklord" is a pretty tolerable guy, despite his overly exaggerated concern that the women in his life are going to "cut his bawls off" every time he does something wrong. All of these contestants have at least some talent, and how it's going to serve them in the art world is a great question. It's what I want to see play out.

I should I say there is one thing I want to smack the editors for, and I have no idea if it was from the hypocritical higher ups at Bravo, or from some other force, but I find the censorship of women's breasts to be pretty laughable. In the pop art challenge, one woman photographed herself, topless, holding a plastic water bottle. During the actual photograph session, when she was posing, her breasts were pixelated out. But the photograph itself was depicted on TV, completely un-pixelated. And this was a high quality digital photographic print, with every detail shown to the audience. What on earth is the difference between taking a topless picture for a camera, and showing the topless photo that that camera took? Absolutely nonsensical.

Anyway, regardless of stupid censorship standards and art world pretentiousness, I'm curious enough to stick around and see which artist wins. At the very least, watching host China Chow's insane fashion choices is entertainment to last me for an entire week. I hope others will give this show a chance, not only because it's a good show, but also because I'd love to have someone else to talk about it with.
retsuko: (book love)
Quite recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with a rambunctious 6-year-old after calming him down with a game of "soccer" that largely consisted of me kicking the ball far away so he would wear himself out running and getting it. We went inside and he declared that he was bored. I located some scrap paper and markers, and his eyes lit up. He started drawing "The Adventures of Lego Batman", which took the form of an elaborate drawing of a complicated level ("Level 10!"), complete with villains, traps, and the consequences of those traps (fire and acid.) Somewhere along the line, he started to narrate the action of the drawing to me in bits and pieces. It went something like this:

Him: Which Bad Guy should be next?
Me: What about the Joker? He's pretty bad.
Him: (enthusiastic) Yeah! I can't beat him yet!
Me: Where's Harley Quinn? She's always with the Joker.
Him: Oh, yeah. (drawing) She's right there. They're kissing. Yuck.

And, later:

Him: How do you think Batman will escape this trap?
Me: Can he use his glide suit?
Him: NO! Now he's caught in the trap! FIRE! (He draws flames coming out of a volcano mouth, does BWWRRRRR sound effects.) OH NO BATMAN!

And, still later:

Him: (Now utterly oblivious of me) Now there's fire! Batman tries to dodge! But he's not fast enough! (More sound effects, more scribbling of red ink) He barely made it! Now Robin's going to try! (Various sound effects) Oh no, he lost a heart! They're on the other side! But WAIT--it's a pool of acid! OH NO! (Sound effects of, presumably, Batman and Robin trying to evade the acid and saying "ow ow ow!", more scribbling of green marker this time.) OK, now they're nearly at the end. But wait, it's the Penguin! And Mr. Freeze! And ANOTHER TRAP! (etc. etc.)

I always enjoy watching kids enjoying being creatively involved with things--whether it's art of their own creation or art in other forms. As an adult, even when I write my original fiction, it's very seldom that I get into it the way kids do. I may pause and frown over what the characters will do to get themselves out of one scrape or the next, but I don't usually talk back to my keyboard, worrying over how the bad guys have constructed their plots. It's usually when I read books that my child-like instincts to talk back and negotiate with the characters finally come to the fore. In her wonderful book on creativity, Lynda Barry talks about this dichotomy of the way children and adults experience making art: "When kids draw, they make sound effects or start talking out a story that seems to be happening live, as they draw. There is a change of place and time. Another world contained by this one. They seem to be both in it and watching it. When I'm reading a good book, it's like that. Another world activated. I picture it. I move around in it. I can tell you what happens at the end. I can tell you the whole story." With my original fiction, I can most definitely tell you the whole story, and usually throw in details about characters and settings that others aren't interested in and I've deemed unimportant, but hate to throw away. But I miss the sensation of drawing, the feeling of being in a story and watching it at the same time.

That's why I love books that manage to recreate that child-like instinct in me to talk back to the story, and give me the feeling that I am experiencing it and watching it simultaneously. Not every book manages to do this, and of course different books do it for different people. I think my great loyalty to the Harry Potter series stems from feeling this, while some people dislike it because to achieve that feeling, they would have to employ too much suspension of disbelief. Recently, though, I've had the great good fortune to read a string of books that left me talking back to the pages, culminating with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This deceptively thin volume (well, thin for a novel that I would normally pick up, say about 300 pages or so) provoked all the "involved in/watching right now" feelings that I adore as I worried about the character(s) and the outcome of the terribly disturbing plot that revolved around her/them. I talked back to the pages on several occasions, including one where I had to censor myself because I was in public and I didn't think dropping the F-bomb next to a pair of sweet-looking elderly people would be polite. And, above all, I can tell you that story. I pictured it, I moved around in it, and it was a complete and total sensory experience, including some senses that most authors cannot usually pinpoint well, like hunger and thirst. A wonderful book, scary and beautiful and alive. Part of me wants to see it in some kind of movie form, while part of me fears how Hollywood would mess it up. (You just can't *show* some of the things she's writing about!)

In sum, I adore reading experiences like this one, because suddenly I'm a kid again, drawing along and participating in a story that seems as real or vivid as any life experience. This kind of imaginative state of being isn't as prevalent as it used to be, and the less I have it, the more I crave it.
retsuko: (sugoi)
For all those who are interested in art, Van Gogh, the artistic process, and the layout and use of a really spectacular web page, I urge you to check out:

The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has scanned and annotated all 902 of Vincent Van Gogh's letters and put them up (for free!) on this wonderful site. Each letter has been translated, scanned, and annotated with both comments and the relevant artwork Van Gogh speaks about. You can sort the letters by date or recipient, or search by subject matter. You can also modify the way the letters are displayed on the page. Simply fabulous! I wish I had hours and hours to spend looking these. The sketches included in the letters are also available for viewing by themselves, or as part of the larger letter. Definitely worth a look for those of us who can't buy the six-volume book or travel to Amsterdam.
retsuko: (gingko road)
I spent the last two days in Pasadena with the ultra-cool friend of my Mom's, C., who has known me since I was knee-high to a palm tree. Highlights of the trip included:

Poking Around in Neat-o Shops in Pasadena )

Making Friends with Cats & Dogs )

The Murakami Exhibit at MOCA in Little Tokyo )

tl;dr version: As weird as it was, I am glad I went and saw it. You've not been creeped out by cute until you've seen armies of smiling flowers in a painting about the size of a small swimming pool, so that each happy flower was about the size of your head. The old riot grrl adage about Hello Kitty's mouth being full of fangs and therefore, unshowable, is out in full force here. I wish Sanrio would let Murakami have free reign with Hello Kitty. What he would produce would be unspeakably weird, but completely wonderful.

Then I caught the train back, and now I am home again.

May 2016

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