“Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” contestants, judges, host and mentor. (Photo: Bravo)

Sebastian Smee, a most thoughtful and open-minded art critic who writes for the Boston Globe, has written a review of the oft-discussed, highly charged topic of Bravo’s new reality art series, “Work of Art.” For many of us, making art couldn’t be farther from television audiences, hosts donning cocktail dresses (China Chow) and token appearances by the increasingly irritating and unctuously insincere Sarah Jessica Parker. But reading Smee’s review this morning—which is basically a thumbs up—was the perfect antidote for my disaffection.

And besides, gotta love home boy Jerry Saltz in whatever form he delivers his high energy view of the world.

Plus there’s a nice bonus: Smee’s succinct description of where a huge portion of the art world has landed itself by way of Warhol’s legacy is, IMHO, right on.

From Smee’s review:

If everything I’ve described so far sounds like a familiar ingredient in the depressingly formulaic world of reality TV, it has to be said that “Work of Art’’ somehow rises above the formula. What makes it so engrossing is the way it brings out into the open, with brisk, unblinking efficiency, all the questions about art that most people feel too intimidated to ask.

It starts with the obvious ones: How do we judge art? Are artists like you and me, or are they different? Is success in the art world about vision and skill, is it about knowing how to sell yourself, or is it just a lottery?

Even within the first episode, the questions get more nuanced. For instance: How on earth do you go about capturing someone’s “essence’’ (as opposed to their appearance) visually, in a portrait? Is it enough to be told that an artwork is underpinned by various ideas, or does the work itself need to express those ideas? And can the process of creating a work of art be as important as the finished product?

I scribbled down a list of at least a dozen such questions the first episode nonchalantly tossed out. It was refreshing.

The whole subject of contemporary art often seems surrounded by invisible tripwires. There’s an inside and there’s an outside; and those on the inside often protect themselves from the task of explaining it to those on the outside by feigning superiority. “Work of Art’’ makes great play with this inside/outside dynamic by simply striding right through those invisible tripwires.

In his brilliant book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again),’’ Warhol said that at a certain point he stopped feeling emotions; instead of caring for people, he was fascinated by them. That describes more or less exactly where we are in our culture today. “Work of Art,’’ as well as any other reality TV show, taps into our need to be fascinated without the inconvenience, the risk, of further emotional investment. But curiously, within the show itself — in the tussle between Saltz’s eggheaded passion and Chow’s erotic calm, and in the conflicting attitudes of the various contestants — we observe a struggle over the carcass of a deeper idea of art.

All in all, it’s fascinating — and certainly good for more than 15 minutes.

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