Writing

Reality TV: The Case of “Work of Art”

Heather E. Hughes

University of Waterloo

The primary goal of today’s reality television programming is “that of diversion rather than enlightenment”; and although some makers of reality programs argue that certain formats can provide cultural value, it is the case that the reality genre is designed for entertainment value. [1]

Reality Check

Reality television has generated a ripple effect within the Western entertainment industry and society at large.  Society has caved in the popular demand for narratives about so-called realities of contemporary life which parade in front of millions via endless projections on television screens.  There is however a noticeable increase in the global demand for production of new reality shows as this guilty pleasure of cheap entertainment becomes all pervasive.  The field of visual culture addresses this very issue by criticizing and theorizing the need for reality TV and images it produces. Visual culture can be defined as the study of objects that are examined for the aesthetic value and the image making that defines visual experience in particular historical contexts.[2] In his introduction to The Visual Culture Reader Nicholas Mirzoeff suggests that in the last twenty to thirty years there was a move away from a text-based culture to an image-based experiences and states: “Visual culture directs our attention away from structured, formal viewing settings like the cinema and the art gallery to the centrality of visual experience in everyday life.”[3] Therefore, unlike previous cultural experiences in which spheres of meaning were separated from each other and often from the so-called everyday life, reality television directly touches our everyday life experience forming the voyeuristic relationship between the viewer and the viewed.  In effect everything is visualized and becomes up for grabs.  The socially acceptable surveillance of culture becomes the norm.  Mirzoeff alludes that the importance of the visual in our contemporary culture creates this socially permissible activity of viewing real people doing real things.  It becomes an activity of guilty pleasure, one that can be extremely addictive.

Reality television becomes the perfect entertainment form that allows the viewer to escape into a realm of distraction.  I argue that it is this very question of real life that needs to be taken into consideration and studied further.  To what degree does the show reflect an accurate depiction of ‘real’ culture?  Reality television encompasses a variety of personal and specialized formats or subgenres of interest to a large audience base such as gamedoc (Survivor, Big Brother, The Apprentice), the social experiment dating shows (Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek), the makeover program (The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Look Alike) and the docusoap (The Real World, Big Brother, Jersey Shore).[4] Other subgenres include the talent contests (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance), reality sitcoms (The Osborne’s, The Simple Life), court programs (Judge Judy) and any celebrity interaction with ‘normal’ people on the big screen.[5] The cumulating factor tying together all of the various formats of reality TV genre are the voyeuristic and playful production tactics that keep the viewers wanting more.  But the question remains: what amount of cultural value can one obtain from the reality TV?  The validity of reality presented in these various programs remains in question, and there becomes a constant battle for the viewer to determine its cultural value in the present.

The art reality genre introduces a specific tangent of a visual culture through the angel of contemporary art.  Contemporary art can be defined simply as ‘art that has been and continues to be produced during our lifetime’.[6] Contemporary art is a single aspect of a very large spectrum of visual culture, a specific tangent of the ‘pictorial turn’ of the twenty first century.[7] Contemporary artists participate in visual culture everyday through their inventive roles as artists.  The nature of viewing contemporary art normally is quite removed from the average viewer of television and exhibited by commercial art galleries, private collectors, corporations, publicly funded art organizations and contemporary art museums. When the opportunity arises for the artist to be viewed in a larger, more public domain, the participation of the artist and viewer can become fueled by the commercially driven industry of mass marketing: television.  The contemporary art form has embraced the mode of  ‘reality’ television in order reach a large audience that might not have the opportunity to view contemporary artwork in the flesh.  This introduction of contemporary art being depicted through a ‘reality television show’ scrutinizes and questions the purpose, value and entirety of the content of the art presented.

This paper will explore the role that contemporary art has within the premise of the entertaining genre of ‘reality television.’  An overview of the significance of the reality television genre along with relevant examples will provide the framework for further investigation of contemporary arts and its role in, and use of what we now term visual culture.  I will take a close look a particularly interesting phenomenon which is the reality TV show/contest dealing with contemporary art.  American Television Network Bravo’s new creative series “Work of Art: The Next Greatest Artist” will allow for the unveiling of the culture industry, paradox of the new age, and authenticity of the reality genre.  Through a close analysis of the Work of Art I will outline how contemporary art is projected to a mass audience through the discourse of reality TV.  Furthermore, I will address how society, or more closely, audiences that engage in such discourse interpret the meanings constructed.

The History and Meaning of Reality TV

Reality television can be defined as a hybrid entertainment genre featuring real people in real life situations.  Also called ‘popular factual television’, reality TV was formed by amalgamating existing television genres and formats bordering between information, entertainment, documentary and drama.[8] The hybrid genre merges factual programming, such as news or documentary, with fictional programs such as game shows or soap operas.[9] The result is an “all new” reality program with a contagious appeal to a large audience base.  Our present obsession with ‘authentic’ or real people, situations, conflicts and narratives separates reality television from other fictional forms of media production.  Audiences become completely fixated on people they can relate to, compare with, and ultimately feel some sort of connection that generates a curious fascination to the particular show.

Over the past decade, reality television has developed as a new and extremely popular genre in television. The origins of this genre stem from three main strands of media production: tabloid journalism, documentary television and popular entertainment.[10] The first type of media production incorporates the term ‘tabloid’ that refers to a newspaper of a particular compact size, and ‘journalism’ focusing on the personal, sensational and dramatic aspects of culture.[11] Combining the two terms allows for a larger idea of ‘tabloid journalism’ presenting the interplay between everyday people and celebrities, or information and entertainment.  This development began through various newspapers of tabloid style such as ‘supermarket tabloids’ including the Globe or the National Enquirer.  The focus of these tabloids was to aggressively grab the attention of the masses through various embellishments of popular culture.  An example of one National Enquirer’s headline, “Oprah & Gayle’s Secret Life Exposed” alludes to an exclusive enquirer investigation of Oprah’s lesbian relationship best friend Gayle King.[12] This article along with thousands more captures the eyes of star-crazed audiences who will believe in just about anything printed, with a catchy, bold title.

 

Figure 1 – National Enquirer Tabloid

Elizabeth Bird boldly states, “the tabloid audience has moved on from tabloid papers to tabloid TV shows.[13] The success of previous tabloid style of storytelling in news and tabloid papers has led to the popularity of production of reality programming.  The idea of raw footage of the ‘ordinary person’ doing ‘something extraordinary’ lured in many individuals to contribute to this successful ‘reality’ concept.[14] John Fiske described tabloid journalism as follows:

“Its subject matter is generally that produced at the intersection between public and private life; its style is sensational, sometimes skeptical, sometimes moralistically earnest; its tone is populist; its modality fluidly denies any stylistic difference between fiction and documentary, between news and entertainment.”[15]

 

One of the first reality shows to ever be introduced was the hit series Cops, which played upon the growth in popular journalism showcasing public, private, and personal stories from a law enforcement standpoint.  Executive producer, John Langley, had a difficult time with production of his idea and the edgy ‘reality’ component of the show.  Many network executives questioned the success of the sporadic and unrehearsed qualities pertaining to a reality infused television series; “How are you going to do a show with no narration, no host, no script?  You’re mad.  It’ll never work.”[16] The ‘show that almost wasn’t’ debuted on the Fox network March 11, 1989 capturing the eyes of millions of Americans who instantly became hooked on the controversial and explicit viewings of law enforcements actions towards real criminals.[17]

Today, twenty years later, Cops continues to hold its reputation as an exceptional show featuring raw footage of police enforcement reacting to criminal actions.  Although some find the show to be too explicit or too raw-Fox continues to air new episodes every Saturday night as well as reruns on a multiplicity of networks such as the user-friendly internet.  The majority of crimes committed in real life are termed ‘crimes of passage’ or mundane in nature. Yet it is the serial killers, stalkers, child kidnappers, sexual predators and drug addicts who comprise an exceedingly large amount of reality TV programming.[18] It is shows such as Cops that emphasizes these extreme crimes that are excessively violent and overall least likely to occur.  Regardless of concrete occurrences of these severe crimes, Cops continues to generate a steady fan following with production of ‘spontaneous’ crime recording.  Through the engaging production tactics, Cops delivers icons of reality that allow for viewers to be entertained through violence.  It will continue to be a great example of a tabloid journalism media production that illustrates reality television.

Documentary television and reality television are types of complex programming, which closely relate to one another.  The types of documentary television that are directly related to reality programming include documentary journalism, documentary realism, and observational documentary.[19] Documentary journalism deals with current subjects with a specific quest of finding information, often in a broadcasting format.  An example would be the extremely successful television broadcast Sixty Minutes (CBS) in the United States, delivering compelling reports, interviews, and profiles while informing an extreme mass audience.[20] Documentary realism remains important in order to understand the properties of documentary practice.  The issue of realism is always in question when compared with production and theories of the documentary itself.  When put in context of a reality programming, the ‘real’ factor becomes more scrutinized due to the reliance on entertainment.[21] One of the first contemporary reality television series that gave reality television its name came from an observational documentary called The Real World.

In Roland Barthes “Myth Today” the myth of reality exists due to a failure present in language to form reality.  Barthes described this in terms of levels of representation or levels of meaning.  Denotation and connotation are often described in these meanings under the notion of orders of signification.  Denotation is the first level suggesting that there is a sign consisting of a signifier and signified.  Connotation is the second-order of signification, which uses the denotative sign as the signifier attached to the signified.  The myth refers to the relation with the connotation.  Barthes argues that every photograph, ad or in this case, reality TV show contains each of these levels of meaning.[22] The artificial framework of visual culture through reality TV shows such as The Real World presents these false images of reality to the masses.  In attempts to naturalize the constructed nature of the show, The Real World appears not so real after all.

This type of documentary used a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ feel to create a docu-soap setting that constructed a narrative around the characters, placing real people in artificial surroundings.[23] This constructed surrounding allowed for the characters to experience maximum emotions, which ultimately had a similar impact upon viewers.  The name of the show itself “The Real World” proposes the show presents reality, but many preliminary production decisions shape the way the characters are presented to the public.  Theorist John Fiske explores this issue and describes it on a similar level to the term ‘media event’:

“An indication that in a postmodern world we can no longer rely on a stable relationship or clear distinction between a “real” event and its mediated representation.  Consequently, we can no longer work with the ideas that the “real is more important, significant, or even “true” than the representation.  A media event, then, is not a mere representation of what happened, but it has its own reality.[24]

 

In other words, The Real World observational documentary is shaped through a variety of discourses and higher social powers before it reaches the homes of its viewers.  The producers of reality shows shape the narratives through various production strategies such as the selective casting, documenting more footage of controversial or entertaining drama and cutting out pointless conversations, to mediate ‘reality’ that will consider the masses.

Talk shows, game shows, sports and leisure programming involve an interaction between non-professional actors and celebrities or established figures.  Popular entertainment programs usually have an interactive element that specifically targets the masses with particular respondents or judges.[25] One of the earliest examples of a popular entertainment series was Candid Camera; a hidden camera series filming ordinary people in unusual situations.[26] Producer Allen Funt’s comedic show often played hidden-camera pranks on celebrities as well, which increased ratings.  Candid Camera became one of the longest uninterrupted shows in the 1960s that appeared on CBS late Sunday evenings., Candid Camera was a popular show that delivered entertainment to the masses; one of the first in history to create a ripple effect on popular entertainment in television.

The production of each media stream; tabloid journalism, documentary television and popular entertainment have all contributed to opening the floodgates to a hybrid media stream with complete focus on capturing a real sense of entertainment.  Reality television tackles the spectrum of genres, all with different followings dependent on individual interests.  With particular interest in contemporary arts, this paper will dissect the new reality series “Work of Art: America’s Next Greatest Artist” in attempts to elaborate on insights towards society’s skewed perspective on what constitutes ‘real’ art.

The Work of Art

The term ‘contemporary art’ simply means “art that has been and continues to be created during our lifetime.”[27] Contemporary art has gained a considerable amount of importance in modern culture, as it is more socially conscious than any previous era.  Used as a tool for interpersonal, mass market or general communication, the fascination of contemporary art has begun to expand beyond institutional horizons into the lives of everyday people.  Contemporary artists are constantly finding innovative ways to communicate larger issues or occurrences within society through their visual artistic creations, and now to mass audiences.  There has been an interest in the past twenty years to use mass media communication methods of television to introduce fine arts to public.  The significance of reality show ‘Work of Art’ provides the mass audience with a sense of the process of how artists produce and create art.  The methods used to produce this ‘real’ process introduce the double-edged sword of entertainment versus actual art culture.

Work of Art is a reality TV concept that follows a group of young contemporary artists trying to compete for the title of “America’s Next Greatest Artist.” The premise of the show spurred from famous similar British show built around controversial Charles Saatchi.  The ‘School of Saatchi’ as the show was titled (referencing Western tradition of art education based on master/apprentice system) was constructed around finding the next ‘it’ artist in the highly competitive London art market.  As with many reality TV shows The Work of Art is transplanted to United States and is given an American flair.  Similarly to its British counterpart it showcases fourteen aspiring artists who are participating in an elimination-based contest featuring the New York City art market.  Artists using of different media such as drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, installation, and performance work are put through artistic challenges each week to test their skills as artists.

Work of Art falls under a combination of media productions including popular entertainment and observational documentary television.  The structure of the show presents the entertainment factor with the competitive challenges to the artists.  The show also features very dramatic and interesting responses from judges as well as a bonus in a form of regular studio visits from different renowned artists.  Work of Art amalgamates the game show, talk show, and the peep show presented in a melodramatic, soap-opera narrative.

The contestants of the show were chosen to represent the potential artist to achieve the renowned title as “America’s Next Greatest Artist.” Peregrine, Nicole, Nao, Judith, Jaime Lynn, Jaclyn, Amanda, Trong, Ryan, Miles, Mark, John, Erik, and Abdi were selected to compete in this new reality series Work of Art.[28]

 

Figure 2 – Cast and Judges of Reality Show, Work of Art

 

Each of the artists were chosen based on a variety of criteria such as their talent, skills, looks and overall persona as an individual.  Producers of reality shows tend to cast characters that will create conflict with each other.  The nature of casting the role of ‘an artist’ was placed in the hands of the producers; and the production team took full advantage of casting contestants with the common stereotypes associated with artists today.   The two pivotal contestants were Miles and Abdi who consistently demonstrated maximum efforts throughout the show.  Representing a more adversary character, the shows production team loved to focus attention on trendy Miles Mendenhall.  Miles fit the part for the detailed oriented artist who constantly reminded audiences of his obsessive-compulsive disorder and chronic insomnia.  Miles’ personality traits embodied the typical ‘tortured artist’ label that Bravo needed to keep the masses interested. After winning multiple challenges, he became quite confident with himself.  His interactions with other contestants took on a very egotistical edge that fostered antagonistic traits.  Miles ranked runner up in the final show, as his consistent efforts to produce works of art kept him on a winning streak until the very end.[29]

Second youngest contestant was, 23 year old Abdi Farah.  He was presented as the happy-go-lucky artist with an optimistic attitude towards the Work of Art contest.   Abdi took on the role as a hard-working and determined young artist with full intention to do the best in each challenge.  The production team developed Abdi’s character through scripted lines of Abdi always questioning himself and his intuitive tendencies towards each particular challenge.  In episode 7, Abdi was placed in the bottom three for his piece titled Straight Line, consisting of graphite sketches of cartoonish symbols and logos on separate pieces of white paper—a Nike SWOOSH logo, a star, bubble letters spelling out ABDI, a gun, a basketball—that he lines up in a grid on the gallery wall. Unable to express the personal moment in his childhood when he realized he was an artist, through drawing these cartoonish icons for his classmates, Abdi’s work was unsuccessful but still made it onto the next challenge.  Abdi’s role in Work of Art took the form of the underdog hero, the one who made mistakes, expanded on his weaknesses and learned something in the process.  Abdi’s relationship with other contestants only proved his talents and willingness to improve and learn from others throughout the duration of the show.  Abdi’s consistent ‘works of art’ won him the title of “America’s Next Greatest Artist.”[30]

The authoritative voice of the show (as with all reality TV) were the ‘Judges’ the host China Chow, Jeanne Greenberg, Jerry Saltz, Bill Powers, and Simon de Pury.  The construction of the authoritative figures was done by producers to give viewers a sense of trust and authenticity in reference to critiques given to each artist.  Similar to playing upon ‘artist’ stereotypes for the cast selection, the authoritative figures chosen for the show had certain backgrounds that complimented the contemporary art industry (some more than others).

Host China Chow, a model as well an actress played the combination role as host and judge on Work of Art.  Having the pretty face, fantastic fashion sense, and a family in the history of art, producers believed audiences would find Chow quite likeable as a host and judge.  The likeable factor triumphed with Chow because her validity factor with constructive feedback to artists was questionable.  Each week the artist deemed to have the least effective work was eliminated, dismissed by Chow’s signature line – “You’re work of art did not work for us.”[31]

More intellectual and reputable judges were needed in order for the show to be taken somewhat seriously.   Jeanne Greenberg, an uptown Manhattan gallerist with a history in art through her prominent parents, art dealer Ronnie Greenberg and art educator Jan Greenberg was cast as a judge on Work of Art.  The idea of a gallery owner having an input on the artistic creations provides audiences with a gallery owner sense of ‘what would make it’ in a Manhattan gallery.  An even more promising judge, Jerry Saltz, played the tough-love art critic with experience as a writer and educator that give him a certain admiration from contestants.  Providing constructive critiques, Saltz put emphasis on what artists did well, and more importantly, ways they could improve.  Bill Powers, a self-proclaimed art fan, as well as gallery owner, added a lot of eye candy to Work of Art’s panel of judges.  His dashing good looks, contemporary interest in artists of the twenty-first century, and background of interviews with famous artists made him a producers dream to be a judge on this show.  The mentor of the group, Simon de Pury, a renowned auction house executive, became the authoritative advisor to the artists throughout the show.[32]

 

Figure 3 – Host, Judges and Mentor in Work of Art

Leading authoritative figure, Simon de Pury, was cast as the ‘mentor’ or guide for the duration of Work of Art.  His legendary performance in auction houses, his curatorial expertise and thorough understanding of the global marketplace from an art perspective, gained him the position as a mentor for the show.  De Pury was depicted as a coach, cheerleader, and a friend of each contestant, guiding them as they encountered new obstacles within each weeks challenge.  It was important for De Pury to provide constructive feedback to each artist prior to their critiques with the judges.  In the eyes of the contestants as well as audiences, De Pury became the benevolent expert that gave artists a sense of security.

The opening presentation of the contestants of Work of Art presented each artist in a studio setting in New York City working towards mission of becoming America’s next greatest artist.  At the beginning of an episode, the host, China Chow, introduced the challenge of the week.  This challenge was outlined by rigid guidelines with restrictions on materials, time, finances and location to create the specific ‘work of art’.  A guest artist, usually someone of great importance and accomplishment, was introduced at the beginning of each show.  Each week the challenge revolved around the individual artist and their methods of art practice.  An example of episode four-‘create shock art’, introduced a challenge for each artist to move beyond his or her comfort zones to create a shocking work of art.  Accomplished artist, Andrea Serrano, introduced this challenge to the artists and gave them a sense of his role in producing artwork.

Figure 4 – Artist Andrea Serrano and Judge Jerry Saltz

Once works were created, a mock show was put together and presented to the public to give artists the experience of an opening of a real exhibition.  The five judges go around and make a unanimous decision on which works of art ‘worked’ and which ones did not ‘work’ for them.  The winner of the challenge received immunity for the next week, thus kept a spot on the show.  The artists who failed to create a ‘Work of Art’ were eliminated from the show.  Ultimately, the winner of the show receives the grand prize of a solo show in the Brooklyn Museum and a cash prize of 100,000 from sponsor Prismacolour, Art Uninhibited.

The Story of Change

Similar to many other reality TV contest shows, the plot of Work of Art follows a pattern constant transformation as the events unfold.  Media theorist Annette Hill refers to this continuous transformation as a “story of change.”[33] Reality television programs present character developments, advances, and setbacks as central focuses to construct the narrative as a whole.  In Work of Art, the stories of change are structured around the ultimate goal of achieving success through accomplishment of achieving the winner status along with other material prizes (100,000 and a solo show at prestigious museum).  The individual Self is put ahead of a larger cooperative accomplishment, becoming an egoistic pursuit for personal gain.  It is the industry’s construction of the mission behind creating works of art, within the artificial construction of a competitive environment that contestants place emphasis on their personal success.  According to Foster, “The brand of reality depicted on Survivor reinforced the widespread notion that self-interest ultimately trumps self-reliance, just as it coincides with the formula for successful television programming: conflict is compelling and conflict sells.”[34] Work of Art, or contemporary art’s version of Survivor, brings the notion of survival of the fittest in a controlled, but competitive studio environment in New York City.

Another persistent form of change in Work of Art lies in the hands of the authoritative figures of the host, judges and guest artists.  With each the individual challenges, Host China Chow presents specific guidelines to with each challenge that must remain consistent throughout the process of creation.  It is the anticipation of the judges’ decision of which artists will continue on to the next week of the competition and which will be eliminated.  Audiences become enthralled with the anticipated finale, a completion point that must go through a beginning, middle and end stage before it is reached.

It is the staged moments in the show that become the scenes of ultimate entertainment.  These moments that appear spontaneous are always well planned and organized before they are delivered to its audience.  The bottom line of course, as will all entertainment, is to produce a show that will make a profit.  A profitable reality show must have several key ingredients in order to generate a profit.  These key ingredients can be summarized as follows: they need to have interesting characters, entertaining storylines, mass audience appeal and an overall ‘it’ factor that separates it from the other forms of entertainment.  The true purpose and role of reality TV presents itself through the unauthentic forms of filming – that present themselves as authentic through the rehearsed and scripted moments that are programmed to produce this profitable mission.  The industry has a significant impact upon the production and the image that meets the eyes of millions.

Reality TV, and Work of Art in particular, can be argued is the ultimate example of culture being packed and sold as an easily consumable, digested product.  As such it is what is often referred to in the critical theory as an example of culture industry.  The term “culture industry” is the realization of the mass-produced culture in the arts fueled by the industry needs to produce maximum capital.  Defined by critical theorists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer in their book Dialectic of Enlightenment, ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,’ the nature of culture in media has impressed a massive generic stamp upon everything it has touched.[35] There has been a feeling tied to culture in media involving a ‘uniform generic system’ in which all mass culture participates within the circle of manipulation.[36] In relation to reality television, the technological term ‘culture industry’ has been responsible for this standardization and mass production in television.  Culture industry associated with portraying contemporary art in television has aimed to fuse all of the arts into one work. Work of Art showcases all types of artists in one ‘reality setting’ of an art studio. The artificial construction of ‘reality screening’ has left nothing for the consumer to classify; the producers have already constructed the framework of the program.[37] The culture industry views its audiences as nothing more than consumers of goods.  It in many ways becomes a form of trickery or propaganda with an underlying ulterior motive to achieve maximum capital.[38] This dominance of culture as industry in various forms of programming production has become an inescapable force, which is ultimately used in commercial ways.  It has allowed the industry to pull the wool of supposed ‘real situation’ over a mass audience to provide a general uncouth form of entertainment.  However, as Adorno and Horkheimer argue we as consumers have in many ways let the industry do this to us as it is becoming easier for this wool to be pooled over our eyes.  We in fact in many ways understand the trickery of reality TV but choose to ignore it because of its easy entertainment value.

It is this very industry that has taken command over what the mass audience perceives as real or authentic.  When forms of contemporary art are presented in the form of entertaining reality television, the term ‘hyperreal’ comes to mind.   In Jean Baudrillard’s essay ‘The Hyper-realism of Simulation’ there exists an overuse of media, signs and symbols that have consumed culture, and have caused reality itself to vanish away from the media-saturated contemporary world.[39] Television, photography, mass production and advertising have altered the reality factor, reducing it to a reproduction in simulation.  Baudrillard’s famous term ‘hyper-reality’ explains this blurring of reality and fantasy present within contemporary culture.[40] It is in this environment or hyperrealist setting that reality television presents itself to a greater public.

Paradox of New Age

Reality television has created a paradox of the new age, a staggering inclination for consumption of entertainment over education.  The dramatic increased rating of reality programming continues despite the availability of a more educational ‘real’ program such as CBC news or the National Geographic Channel.  The younger generations are finding that common people engaging in the uncommon allow for the viewers themselves to relate their own experiences to these programs.  This paradox presents an issue with the nature of what is being consumed: the authenticity factor of reality television.  A very important question needs to be addressed when investigating the reality program Work of Art: is contemporary art authentic in reality television?

Consumers are recognizing the iconic mix of imitation and artificial that fosters in the form of reality TV; but this realization does not prevent them from getting pulled in.[41] A study done by Randall L. Rose and Stacy L.Wood dealing with the paradox and consumption of authenticity through reality television demonstrates that reality programming is viewed both as authentic an inauthentic.[42] This study introduced three main paradoxes that emerged from the reality-programming genre: 1) situation 2) identification and 3) production.  When assigning this constructed diagram to the reality show Work of Art, the paradoxes of authenticity become exposed.

 

Figure 5 – Constructing Authenticity through Reality Television

 

One of the most important aspects of reality television resides in the nature of the program structure.  The situation of the show, as shown from the Rose and Wood’s data indicates the appreciation of fantastic elements and self-relevant themes in reality programming.[43] Work of Art sets the scene of each artist being placed in a glamorous studio setting in the busy environment of New York City; one of the great art hubs in the contemporary art world.  This setting alone places the viewer in a prestigious setting for a working artist trying to make it in the big city.  The overall attraction of audience is dependent on the authentic self-relevant situation along with this glamorous environment.  The combination of genuine goals and glamorous setting allow for a mass-market appeal.  The situational elements of the program are successful when it is paradoxical, in other words, when it is or is not familiar, genuine or accessible to the viewer to allow for acceptance or assimilation of the paradox.  It is therefore a feeling of authenticity, independent to the viewer with predisposed experiences of real life to bring into the nature of the reality show.

Real people are quite different than celebrities or hired actors in the industry of reality television.  The present appeal within reality television has been targeted towards the audiences’ inclination to observe real people.  There was a fine line revealed through the data in researching the identification paradox between real people “like the audience” and reality “characters” present in reality shows.[44] The processes of engagement or the ability for audiences to make a personal connection with real people demonstrate this paradox of identification. The next level of identification involved the individual association or disassociation to the particular character.  There are always specific characters within reality television that resemble the antagonist and protagonist roles.  It is usually these characters that contribute to the shows success, through the various conflicts and upsets to increase the overall dramatic appeal.  In Work of Art, the contestants exchange the roles of antagonists and protagonists through the various interactions and relationships formed.  The judges remain fairly consistent, playing a neutral role in order for proper critiques of the works of art.

The paradox of identification explores the ordinary and extraordinary traits of the contestants through investigation of personal goals and life themes.  This combined with the external appearances of the contestants creates an identification factor that plays a large role in the audiences that choose to engage with the show.  The present ‘good-looking’ factor of many of the contestants and judges in Work of Art combined with the stereotypical ‘artist’ temperament evolves as contestants reveal more about themselves in the show.  These external identification factors alone increase ratings within any type of reality programming.  Critic Christopher Knight’s review of Work of Art’s first episode revealed his thoughts on the identification present within the show.  To his belief the contestant’s ages and personalities reflected consumable profiles to increase overall audience numbers.[45] The typical cast selection of Work of Art included “the slacker, the pretty girl, the geek, the shrew, the neurotic, the late-bloomer, the amateur, the kook, and the hipster.”[46] Contestant Jaclyn Santos, or the ‘pretty girl’ claimed to follow her artists’ statement of addressing themes of sexuality and spirituality by painting with less clothing, or in her bathing suit.

Figure 6 – Contestant Jaclyn Santos painting in her bathing suit

 

The majority of Jaclyn’s work introduced herself as a subject matter, usually in the nude.  This detail of ‘pretty girl’ combined with ‘nude portraits’ fits the profile for a paradox of identification.  The notion of a spontaneous cast selection; with an overwhelming number of good-looking contestants who fit the part for ‘tortured artists of the twenty first century’ are not just lucky coincidences.  The culture industry, or the production team, goes through the phase of choosing the artist contestants with a certain criteria in mind.  It is important that there reside three central characters including the everyday average Joe, the hero and villain. Another important element associated with the villain or the “bad guy” represented a necessary character for creating dramatic situations.  In everyday life, there remains an avoidance of adversarial or evil individuals, yet in reality television, the antagonist becomes an essential character.

The antagonist character within Work of Art consistently was the one who remained quite independent throughout the duration of the show: the obsessive compulsive disordered hipster Miles Mendenhall.  Miles was quite successful in the beginning of the show; winning the first two challenges.  This gave him the confidence to show signs of superiority with his actions by breaking the rules in challenges as well providing other artists with opinionated feedback.  In episode 8, ‘Opposites Attract’ Miles and Jaclyn were paired up to create a work about opposing forces: in their case the male and female identity.  Miles insisted that Jaclyn take nude photographs of herself while masturbating to achieve the female sense of ‘control.’  This created a tension between the two; along with others who did not think that this was what Jaclyn wanted for the work.  Characters that create conflict provide a sense of dramatic intrigue or excitement that propels the audience to tune into the show each week.  The shock value of these dramatic encounters increases ratings.  In the end, the paradox of identity remains unique to the individual viewer who will make independent decisions on their associations with the characters.[47]

Finally the paradox of production outlines the final component of authenticity present within reality television.  The premise of reality television interjects an unproduced or unscripted product to a mass audience.  The actual nature of any television program, regardless of the genre, uses production tactics that edit, manipulate and change the show in order to satisfy the critical eye of the audience.

Episode Seven in Work of Art – “Child’s Play” was a great example that demonstrated the paradox of production in Work of Art.  The beginning of the episode showed the tensions as a result of the previous challenge, highlighting the hurt feelings of eliminated contestants.  The episode began with an artists’ debrief on the roof of their building, getting more in depth with the background of each artist. Simon de Pury interrupts and brings the artists to their new challenge.  Making their way to the Children’s Museum of the Art, the challenge was introduced: ‘Create a piece inspired by past experiences that made you an artist.’  This challenge set a restriction on the location of the children’s museum studio space and materials in the space such as pipe cleaners, tempera paint, and pencil crayons.

By hosting the challenge in the Children’s Museum of the Arts, the childhood stories of each artist were revealed.  The paradox of production enters the realm of authenticity behind the intention of the challenge. A challenge that engages the contestants to relive, explain or depict their childhood probes them to explain more about their personal lives as artists.  Audiences become more inclined to form an opinion on each contestant based on their own predisposed childhood experiences.  Directly or indirectly, this causes the viewers to compare and relate themselves to each artist.  A paradox of production lies in the overall construction of challenge: creating a work of art from experiences of the past.

Throughout the episode, each artist goes back to the memories and past experiences of making art as a child.  An example of Nicole’s childhood work, her family stories, her twin sister, and her consistent fight for perfection are revealed as she creates perfect rectangles with images inside for the specific challenge.  Mark explained his experience as the limiting materials he used to create artwork when he was younger.  He created a children book about his life to date by incorporating these limited materials.  Peregrine revealed her experience growing up in San Francisco, identifying a lot of experimentation, drug culture, and how she was introduced to heavy topics of sex and religion.  She created a work of art that resembled a child at an adult party; candy mixed with drug substances.

 

Figure 7 – Peregrine’s “Rainbow” piece

Episodes such as Child’s Play are framed around inauthentic production molds that are both ironic and farce when put in context of ‘real’ reality television.  Yet, the awareness of these factitious models places a duty upon the viewer to make assumptions on what is real and what is not. There is a constant duty put on the audience to balance between this narrative and manipulated narrative, the spontaneous and the scripted and the actual living versus acting of the people.[48] It is ultimately in the hands of the viewer, which is the most important part of the negotiation process of authenticity, to satisfy personal independent meanings from the screening.  To see both elements of real and supposed real situations allows for the spectator to make their own assumptions based on personal experiences within their own lives.

Reality TV has reached its primary goal of diversion rather than enlightenment as it is designed for entertainment value.[49] It has conformed to certain trends that have shaped its existence in the critical study of visual culture.  Nicholas Mirzoeff’s noted texts have recognized these trends as the movements away from a text-based culture to an image-filled experience of culture.  This movement has created a domino effect on the Western entertainment industry and culture.  People are now solely interested in viewing the everyday life experiences of other real people.  This forms a voyeuristic relationship of the viewer and the viewed, allowing for the entertainment factor to triumph.  It is the curious nature of society, wanting to view the unviewed, make associations based on personal experiences and be easily entertained at the cost of others.

In reality TV’s attempt at producing genres or formats to meet the demands of various consumers, a large range of subjects have surfaced.  With particular focus on the cultural subject of contemporary art, producers of reality TV have adopted media production tactics to deliver shows targeted to the masses.  The reality show ‘Work of Art’ demonstrates a contemporary art concept with the underlying side of the culture industry, paradox of the new age and questioning relationship of authenticity in the art industry.  All entertainment industries have a sole mission to generate a profit.   Along with the profit incentive driven by the culture industry, it is in their mission to entertain the audience it reaches.  The paradox of the new age becomes present when this audience chooses to be entertained over educated.  The authenticity factor becomes present through the three main paradoxes of authenticity emerging from the reality-programming genre: situation, identification and production.  Work of Art demonstrates the instilled desire for entertainment, touching on the unauthentic situational decisions, identification procedures and production tactics fueled by the culture industry.

The amount of cultural value one can obtain from reality television is dependent on the particular nature of the show.  In Work of Art’s case, the cultural value was constructed completely by its production team forming an artificial fragment of contemporary art culture.  By abruptly turning the subjective appreciation of contemporary art into an elimination process, the overt commercialism, stereotyping of cast, theatrical drama, underscored by an absurd promotional slogan “In the war of art, there can be only one winner”, L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight is right in labeling Work of Art, “a vacant television piddle” [50]– an entertaining one to say the least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baudrillard, Jean. “The Critique of Originality.” The Hyper-realism of Simulation (1929): n. pag. Print.

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Bird, Elizabeth. ’Audience Demands in a Murderous Market: Tabloidization in U.S. Television News’. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Print.

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“Candid Camera: Smile you’re on Candid Camera Website.” Candid Camera. Merged Media, 2011. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <http://www.candidcamera.com/>.

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Foster, D. “Jump in the pool”: The competitive culture of Survivor fan networks. London, UK: Routledge, 2004. Print.

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Greenberg, Clement. “Modernist Painting.” Art and Literature 4 (Spring 1965): 193-201. Print.

Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

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Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995. Print.

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Schwartz, Vanessa R., and Jeannene M. Przyblyski. The Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge , 2004. Print.

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[1] Kilborn, Richard. Staging the Real: Factual TV Programming in the Age of Big    Brother. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. Pg 11.

[2] Schwartz, Vanessa R., and Jeannene M. Przyblyski. The Nineteenth-Century Visual
Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. Pg 6.

[3] Ibid, Pg 7

[4] Murray, Susan, and Laurie Ouellette. Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture. New York and

London: New York University Press, 2009. Pg 5.

[5] Ibid, Pg 5

[6] Esaak, Shelly. “What is ‘Contemporary’ Art?” About.com. About.com Art History, 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. <http://arthistory.about.com/‌od/‌current_contemporary_art/‌f/‌what_is.htm>.

[7] Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995. Pg 16.

[8] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, 2005. Print.  Pg 2.

[9] Ibid, Pg 14.

[10] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, 2005. Print.  Pg 15.

[11] Ibid, Pg 16.

[12] “Oprah & Gayle’ Secret Life Exposed.” National Enquirer. American Media Inc, 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2011. <http://www.nationalenquirer.com/celebrity/oprah-behind-closed-doors>

[13] Bird, Elizabeth. ‘Audience Demands in a Murderous Market: Tabloidization in U.S.
Television News’. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Pg 213.

[14] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, Pg 16.

[15] Glynn, Kevin. Tabloid Culture: Trash Taste, Popular Power and the Transformation
of American Television. United States: Duke University Press, 2000. Pg 6.

[16] “HISTORY OF COPS.” COPS. Langley Productions, 2009. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
<http://www.cops.com/cops-history.html>.

[17] “HISTORY OF COPS.” COPS. Langley Productions, 2009. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
<http://www.cops.com/cops-history.html>

[18] Levinson, David. “Distortion in Television Crime Portrayals.” Encyclopedia of
Crime and Punishment. Volume 4 ed. 2002. Pg 1612.

[19] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, Pg 19.

[20] “60 Minutes – Interviews, Profiles & Reports .” CBS News. CBS News, 14 Apr.
2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. <http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/60minutes/
main3415.shtml>.

[21] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, Pg 19.

[22] Barthes, Roland. Myth Today. New York: Translated by Annette Lavers and Wang, 1984. N. pag. Myth Today file.

[23] Hirschorn, Michael. “The Case for Reality TV.” The Atlantic May 2007:
The Atlantic Monthly Group. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

<http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/05/the-case-for-realitytv/5791/>.

[24] Murray, Susan, and Laurie Ouellette. Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture.
New York and London: New York University Press, 2009. Pg 207.

[25] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, 2005. Pg 21.

[26] “Candid Camera: Smile you’re on Candid Camera Website.” Candid Camera. Merged Media, 2011. Web. 3 Apr. 2011. <http://www.candidcamera.com/>.

[27] Esaak, Shelly. “What is ‘Contemporary’ Art?” About.com. About.com Art History, 2011. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. <http://arthistory.about.com/od/current_contemporary_art/f/what_is.htm>.

[28] “Work of Art: The Next Greatest Artist.” Bravo TV.com. Bravo Media, 2011. Web. 2
Mar. 2011. <http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art>.

[29] “Work of Art: The Next Greatest Artist.” Bravo TV.com. Bravo Media, 2011. Web. 2
Mar. 2011. <http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art>.

[30] Work of Art: The Next Greatest Artist.” Bravo TV.com. Bravo Media, 2011. Web. 2
Mar. 2011. <http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art>.

[31] Becker, Christine. “TV or Not TV: Work of Reality TV.” Notre Dame Magazine 6
Sept. 2010: n. pag. University of Notre Dame. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. <http://magazine.nd.edu/news/16633-tv-or-not-tv-work-of-reality-tv/>.

[32] “Work of Art: The Next Greatest Artist.” Bravo TV.com. Bravo Media, 2011. Web. 2
Mar. 2011. <http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art>.

[33] Hill, Annette. Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television. New York:
Routledge, 2005. Print.  Pg 170.

[34] Foster, D. “Jump in the pool”: The competitive culture of Survivor fan networks.
London, UK: Routledge, 2004. Pg 280.

[35] Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York:
The Continuum Publishing Company, 1999. Pg 121.

[36] Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York:
The Continuum Publishing Company, 1999, Pg 121

[37] Ibid, Pg125.

[38] Ibid, Pg 124

[39] Baudrillard, Jean. “The Critique of Originality.” The Hyper-realism of
Simulation (1929): Print.

[40] Ibid, 1929

[41] Rose, Randall L., and Stacy L. Wood. “Paradox and the Consumption of
Authenticity through Reality Television.” The Journal of Consumer Research
32.2 (2005): Pg 286.

[42] Rose, Randall L., and Stacy L. Wood. “Paradox and the Consumption of
Authenticity through Reality Television.” The Journal of Consumer Research
32.2 (2005): Pg 287

[43] Ibid, Pg 288

[44] Rose, Randall L., and Stacy L. Wood. “Paradox and the Consumption of
Authenticity through Reality Television.” The Journal of Consumer Research
32.2 (2005): Pg 291

[45] Knight, Christopher. “TV review: ‘Work of Art: The Next Great Artist’ on Bravo.”
The Culture Monster. Los Angeles Times Entertainment, 2011. Web. 2 Apr.
2011. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/06/
tv-review-work-of-art-the-next-great-artist-on-bravo.html>.

[46] Ibid, 2011

[47] Rose, Randall L., and Stacy L. Wood. “Paradox and the Consumption of
Authenticity through Reality Television.” The Journal of Consumer Research
32.2 (2005): Pg 292

[48] Rose, Randall L., and Stacy L. Wood. “Paradox and the Consumption of
Authenticity through Reality Television.” The Journal of Consumer Research
32.2 (2005): Pg 294

[49] Kilborn, Richard. Staging the Real: Factual TV Programming in the Age of Big Brother.

Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. Pg 11.

[50] Becker, Christine. “TV or Not TV: Work of Reality TV.” Notre Dame Magazine 6 Sept. 2010: n. pag. University of Notre Dame. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. <http://magazine.nd.edu/‌news/‌16633-tv-or-not-tv-work-of-reality-tv/>.