In what could only be characterized as a giant leap backwards for critical artistic thought, episode 3 of Work of Art: NGA asked its artists (and viewers) to judge a book by its cover.
Firstly, why do we just jump into challenges? Unlike most other competition based reality shows there is no warm-up task, personal color, or any other attribute that might make this feel like a well rounded show. Nope. Straight to the action.
Week 3’s challenge was to make cover art for a famous novel. Six novels were randomly distributed to the 12 remaining artists, resulting in two covers per book. The contrasting interpretations were played down as direct competition, but the random pairings proved interesting yet again. Meeting for a third straight week, Abdi and Miles both had Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and in a week one rematch Jaclyn and Judith locked horns over Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Miles chose to use most of his time (8 hours) to read Frankenstein. Abdi played around with many mediums before scrapping it all and dashing off a composition in less than an hour. Both were safely on to next week, and their actions reinforced the frivolity of this challenge. The real fireworks came from Jaclyn & Judith.
Only 5 artists were brought back for crit, Jaclyn, Judith, Mark, John, and Peregine. Mark and John were the top of the class, while the women fought it out in toilet time. Photographer Mark had an easy go of it, being well-versed in commercial assignments, photoshop, and print layouts. His Dracula cover was rendered in black and white with dripping blood red. This professional, if not boring cover had all the components of book design and lacked any kind of fine art sensibility. John skillfully brought H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) into the dayglow present. His cubist spaceship was a 1970’s meets 2000’s pink and lavender affair- it was easily the best work done and won him the challenge. His reward? Not immunity (as in the first two episodes), instead Penguin Publishing will magnanimously use John’s image for the cover! Well done Penguin! A free book (expired publishing rights) with free cover art- now if you could only find someone to donate the paper…
Peregine, Jaclyn and Judith were deemed the worst this week, although it could be argued that all of the designs, except John’s, were unabashed failures. Peregine’s fanciful Time Machine was a pretty enough construction, but had nothing to do with the book. While Peregine made a confused and misleading arrangement, Jaclyn and Judith fell flat on their faces.
Jaclyn is obsessed with the visual pleasure associated with visual art. Due to her own middling attractiveness, this leads Jaclyn to putting herself in all her work; even if that means her posing topless for the cover of Pride and Prejudice. Jaclyn was so preoccupied with herself that she actually misspelled Jane Austen’s name on her piece, writing Austin instead. I mean, what could be worse than that? How about spelling the words wrong on purpose? Enter- Judith Braun.
Judith was super upset from the start (rather rightly so). Saying that the challenge “Felt more like a job” adding “I’m a FINE artist”, Judith’s mindset was pronouncedly negative. Her indignity manifested itself in a bafflingly large and inscrutable book cover that held no appeal to anyone. Judith defended her decision to spell out “Edirp and Ecidujerp” (Pride and Prejudice backwards) as an intellectual one. Even if that did make sense (which it didn’t), the aesthetics of the piece were just horrid, prompting judge Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn to volunteer “I have not seen pink look so drab in a long time.” Doing a bad job out of incompetence is one thing, doing it out of spite is another, and for that Judith was kicked off the show.
Judith’s piece was indefensible, but her position was not. This challenge is a worst-case-scenario for the “Art Show” naysayers, and it only took 3 weeks to get here. Tasking a group of supposed Fine artists to execute commercial illustrations is a joke. Why don’t you ask them to paint a house? Does that not also require a strong palate and a faculty for craftsmanship? Illustration, typography, layout and design are all tools that an artist can exercise in employ of a greater whole. Forcing the use of these modes for the expressed purpose of generating a commercial utilitarian object is not art. The show’s creators knew this, and bent over backwards trying to justify its validity. Pointing out Damien Hirst’s recent cover art for Darwin’s On The Origin of Species at the challenge’s start, they revisited the notion of “Real” artists doing book illustration at the end stating, “Picasso did it”, “Miro did it”. In actuality, artists and writers have had long-standing relationships, lending their talents in back and forth in a generally collaborative nature. Those reciprocal exchanges were born of mutual admiration, not complete happenstance. The artists were not asked to riff on themes in the books, the periods, or the emotions contained therein. They were told to make a cover. They were assigned homework. Like most artists Judith hates homework, so she did an extra shitty job. I’ve always believed that there was a difference between failing a course, and earning an F. Congratulations Judith for a well earned F, cya on the Lower East Side.
PS- Special Guest Judge Jonathan Santlofer (Artist/Author) condemned Peregine’s piece saying “Just burn this. It looks like an arts and crafts project.” So lemme get this straight, illustration is art, but arts and crafts aren’t? Calling a piece of art “illustration” isn’t an insult, but calling it craft is? Bullshit.
PPS- Special Guest Judge Jonathan Santlofer (Artist/Author) describing Nicole’s piece “Its sorta like real art. I don’t know that it’s like a real book cover.” So maybe there is a giant difference, moron.
Jaclyn fumbling in front of Simon de Pury, when asked if she’s read Pride and Prejudice responds, “I read the synopsis.”
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn on Jaclyn’s amateurish figuration, “I am seeing her in a live model drawing class, in middle school!”
Simon de Pury telling a particularly salient, and downright hysterical Dr. Zhivago / Dog joke.
Preparing to drop the axe China Chow prefaces, “The art world is fickle. Your work would put these classics out of print!”
# of Koons references, 0.
# of Hirst references, 1.