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Work of Art

2011 October 13

Late last night,  I was idly flipping through the channels on TV, looking for a rerun of The Office to watch while cleaning up after having friends over for dinner. To my total surprise and complete delight, Bravo was showing Work of Art, a reality show Joe and I discovered last year when it was in its first season. The object of the show is to discover the “next great artist” and it’s essentially a combination of the most eccentric, creative, weird, and wonderful reality show contestants on television. I mean, one of them is named The Sucklord this season. Not just a nickname, people. They all create art in different media–there are sculptors, street artists, painters, and photographers. They must compete against each other in various challenges–for example, last night’s episode saw the contestants creating a piece of work using pieces of kitschy “bad” art. The winner gets a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, as well as $100,000. Simon de Pury is like the French version of Tim Gunn. Joe and I have adopted his catchphrase, “Be bold. Be brave. Be amazing,” into our daily lives.

More than being immensely entertaining and fun to watch, I think the show challenges our conception of what art is, and what it means not only to us, but to society as a whole. I may not think a photograph of a naked man with his terminally ill parents in the background is particularly pleasing to the eye, but I do think it’s thought-provoking and, at the very least, intriguing.

This afternoon, while browsing at The Strand on my lunch break, I came across Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel. It’s an interpretation of the book Street of Crocodiles. Foer cut out words and phrases to illicit an entirely new story. Every page in the book is a unique die-cut, which caused nearly every printer to balk and reject publication. However, one Belgian printer was up to the challenge, and Tree of Codes was born. As I flipped through the book (carefully), I marveled at the craftsmanship, the artistry, and the innovation. I was also, admittedly, a little confused as to how the narrative progressed, but I think that’s part of the fun of the book.

My point is, whether you think it’s a gimmick, pretension, or genius, it pushes the boundaries of what we think of as a “book” and what we think of as “art.”

What do you think? I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. October 20, 2011

    I’ve watched Work of Art before and I’ve always been kind of confused on how it gets judged – it’s not like fashion where you have to judge on fit and finish or food where you judge on taste – art is so subjective!

    Tree of Codes looks vastly intriguely, thanks for the info about it – I’m going to need to find out more about it.

  2. Raquel permalink
    October 24, 2011

    Haven’t seen that show but LOVE the catch phrase! (Also have always loved Tim Gunn’s “Make it work” phrase. I have many “Make it work” moments in my life.)

    JSF’s book looks interesting in terms of an object to peruse, but to me it’s gimmicky (and pretentious, and maybe a bit lazy because he didn’t do any of the writing himself, if I understand this correctly?). I want a story when I pick up a book, not an art project. I’d look at Tree of Codes as more of an objet d’art than a book. Seems more the work of an artist rather than a writer. But then I’m biased against JSF because I hated Everything is Illuminated so much. :)

    • Jill permalink
      October 24, 2011

      Everything is Illuminated was MY FAVORITE book when I first read it…but I was 20, and it was the first book I’d read in English in a long time (I was in Florence) and I haven’t read it since. I’m afraid I wouldn’t like it anymore, so I will probably just keep the happy memory.

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