WOA: The Vast Middle

Posted on October 17, 2011

Hey, remember that show Work of Art? Turns out, we still have a ton of pieces to talk about. You know, the ones the judges didn’t want to talk about. Hit it, artsy types:



A technically very strong piece but one without a lot of aesthetic value, as far as we’re concerned. He essentially replicated needlepoint effects with paint (making for a distinctly paint-by-numbers piece) and inserted his face into it.



Again, a technically well done piece but it seems to miss the mark on interpreting the original, which, thanks to commenter Gotham Tomato, we now know is based on the work of Jewish folk artist Jovan Obican. Jazz-Minh didn’t need to know the history or references behind the piece, but it seems to us she completely eradicated any folk art sensibilities from it and just did her own thing.


Sarah K.

We thought this was quite clever and one of the pieces that most closely adhered to the original concept of the challenge as it was stated at the beginning of the show: to rethink and re-use the original piece of kitsch and turn it into something with more value. We can’t say we completely understand what she was going for here, but we loved the interesting shapes the shadows took on the wall.



We didn’t really get this one at all. Just looked like a science fair project from the dirty, weird kid in the class.



We’re starting to sound like a broken record here but we didn’t really get this one either. We’re beginning to suspect that these pieces were all waved through because the judges didn’t want to keep having to say the same thing. We thought she was going in an interesting direction, but in the end it was just a bunch of modeling clay slapped on top of the existing piece.



We give him a lot of credit for going the performance art route and we think, based on his self-portrait with his dying parents, which was shockingly personal and haunting, that he’s not just being a poser to get attention. This served as a cheeky commentary on the idea of producing art within the confines of reality television using reality TV stock phrases. Not the strongest piece in the room but one of the strongest among the middle.



We would have liked this a lot more if we didn’t already know that this is what she does all the time.  Sure, you can roll your eyes at the idea of “visceral tableaux,” but she took something bland and made it something extreme, which seems to be what she’s all about.



This comes dangerously close to “craft” and away from “art,” but we have to admit, it’s astonishingly beautiful. We’re very interested to see if and how his deafness will inform his art in any way. He’s definitely established himself as a thoughtful artist with a beautiful aesthetic.


[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

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  • Amanda B

    TLo, I like making and looking at art, but I have to admit I have very little understanding of the art world.  What are your definitions which set art and craft apart from each other?

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps art makes you think whereas craft doesn’t? 


      • Amanda B

        Yeah, I came up with something similar: that art has a deeper purpose/message which the artist is trying to convey while craft is about an aesthetic impression. On the other hand, I can also see crafts as being highly tied up with questions or at least statements about identity like Jewish folk art piece shown in the episode.

    • Anonymous

      You have posed one of the eternal questions. There is no one right answer.

      Craft could be looked at as the technical skills required to successfully present a creative work made by hand. But then again, machines and tools may also be utilized, as long as a person has manipulated a very large part of the work.

      Defining Art is like walking into an unmarked minefield. The internet and wikipedia will do more to enlighten and confuse you than TLo would want us to take the bandwidth here to explain.

      In my mind, it is often impossible to set Art and Craft apart from each other. In most arenas, they are intrinsically intertwined. For an example that I have always heard, Picasso learned early in his life the technical skills of drawing and painting, he could depict a person or object well enough to be easily recognized by others. One could say he honed his Craft at this period. Later, when he produced the works of Art that he became famous for, he was using his Craft, along with the creative genius of his mind to move beyond technical merits and produce Art which moved, enraged, amused, or otherwise brought out strong emotion from the viewer.

      In sum, vastly oversimplified:
      Craft: technical skills
      Art: provokes emotion

      • Now I am The Bee

        Your post reminds me of a quote: 
        A man who works with his hands is a laborer.
        A man who works with his hands and head is a craftsman. 
        A man who wworks with his hands, head and heart is an artist.  
        –Louis Nizer

        • Anonymous

          Like 🙂
          It’s an awesome quote.

    • Anonymous

      The Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, across the street from the White House, and part of the Smithsonian Institution, devotes itself to answering your question, Amanda B.

    • Now I am The Bee

      Being in the quilt world where there are many that have cross-overed to the art world, this is an un-ending debate.  Even “carfters” have a distinction between pure craft–such as the clown–and useful crft, such as a quilt or a pices of furniture.  And even those objects can transcend to high art. 
      Maybe art is more like pornagraphy.  You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it! 

    • Now I am The Bee

      Being in the quilt world where there are many that have cross-overed to the art world, this is an un-ending debate.  Even “carfters” have a distinction between pure craft–such as the clown–and useful crft, such as a quilt or a pices of furniture.  And even those objects can transcend to high art. 
      Maybe art is more like pornagraphy.  You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it! 

    • As an artist, I believe that creating art comes from the combination of combining the technical with the emotional. Artists must choose what they want to convey, yes, but they also must decide how that will be conveyed. How will the piece draw the eye? How does it make the eye move around it? How does it accompany the space it’s in? How does color affect it? So on and so forth.

      Craft, in my opinion, takes no consideration to that, its only aim is “making something pretty/cool/nice.”

  • MilaXX

    I thought the frog one was them making a franken-frog  or something. I liked the performance art but none of the other ones really leaped out at me. Blood and guts girl is going to get really old really fast. Leon’s piece looked a little too crafty to me. Like something Martha Stewart would create.
    I have to think in a gallery the only ones that would make me stop is the frog piece, the cat and the performance art.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, I loved the Frankenfrog ! I immediately started thinking about ways to make that a Hallowe’en costume.

  • Anonymous

    I have to say, I actually really liked Kymia’s concept, but I think she undermined it a bit by not covering the whole original sculpture.
    Her aim was to evoke the protective feeling of the original, and I understood that was supposed to be the part she wanted to ‘keep’. The two types of clay together with the title were enough to achieve that. Leaving parts of the sculpture uncovered that gave vital information about the position of the ‘protector’ felt a bit like pulled punches. I think I understand it from an aesthetical position but had the end piece been more abstract and not quite so obvious it would have been far more interesting.

    Also, it looks like a Wookie mom.

  • brett spivey

    we need Bustamente back, she was season one’s only artist seriously questioning the motives of the judging and the involvement of the meddling producers.  she was funny and rare in a reality cast.

    • Anonymous

      I had a sad that Nao was there for so few episodes. Loving this season at the same time though.

  • I’m assuming the sliced cat was a reference to Damien Hirst. Probably been done a million times before, but I still thought it worked for this challenge.

  • Anonymous

    I have a friend who does art and works in the museum world….I always have to call her after the show and ask about all the new adjectives that seem to be created on the show — for example — “performative”..she then explains to me the whole concept of what is art…..and what isn’t…..and then we give up and talk about Runway.

  • Anonymous

    Kathryn has my vote to go home next week, if she again produces a similar take on whatever the subject is. Doesn’t resonate with me at all.

    I agree with TLo that Sarah K. and Young gave us the most to think about among the middles.

    I’m interested to see where Leon will go from here. His *craft* required a large degree of skill, precision, eye for design and beauty, and was an original interpretation of his piece. Qualifies as *art* for me.

  • Anonymous

    Is this show online anywhere? Looks interesting, I have to say. Loved Leon’s wreath–my favorite piece.

    • Wasn’t able to find it free, so I pay a buck.99 per episode to stream next day on Amazon. It’s $1.89 per if you buy season pack.  

      • Anonymous

        Ok, thanks. Will look into that. 

  • Anonymous

    Really don’t have a strong feeling for anybody yet, but the details of Young’s piece are interesting–I really didn’t have a sense of what he was doing during the show.

    And Leon’s is just beautiful.  I know that’s not necessarily a good thing in art, but there’s a contemplative aspect.  I’d like to spend time with it.

  • Love Young’s rendering and I’m partial to the original. The face on the brown dog is melancholy itself. Somebody help me, though  – what game are the pups playing? 

    • It almost looks like mah jong, but we are missing two players. I like how the dog on the left looks like a boxer.

    • Zi Jie Tan

      It’s definitely mahjong – the four rows of tiles stacked on a square green table. 

  • Joshua

    The frog thing was definitely one of my least favourite of the night. He spent far too much time with the story he didn’t realise he was presenting some rather dingy molds any teenager in an art class could have whipped up. I am intrigued by Kathryn’s piece. At first I wondered why she would want to photograph what she had made at all because it looked kind of interesting, but the photograph seemed to work and made it an interesting play with 2D and 3D shapes. If that becomes same old schtick for her, though it could get old fast.

  • Anonymous

    This may be a moot point, but that cheesy clown picture is actually a portrait of the great Ed Wynn.

    I think Tlo is right that much of this approaches craft rather than strictly art. But there is Craft as art and then there is arts & crafts. As long as they stay close to the former I don’t think it matters (for the purpose of this show).


    • Anonymous

      I bow to your superior depth of knowledge, GT, and I can sort of see Ed Wynn in that original painting. But it sure isn’t a *good* portrait of him!  I precede his name with “the great” too–he was a brilliant clown.

      I agree with your take on the arts/crafts question about work produced on this show.

      TLo, I am so glad you are covering all the art on this show, and not just winner/loser.  Young and Sarah K were the middlers I found most interesting also, and I give big props to Young for doing a performance piece. In a dog mask. On the first challenge. I loved Sarah’s cat slilces and the shadows they made on the wall. And I also liked the title she gave her piece.

      If Kathryn can do something other than these bloody pieces–which I actually like–she’ll be fun to watch too. But if this is all she does?  ZZzzzzz……

      • Anonymous

        I’m wondering what will happen if they try a repeat of the “shocking” art challenge again. Kathryn’s work is already a somewhat there. What would she do to shock us? Paint a little girl and a puppy in impressionistic pastels?

      • Anonymous

        I agree it’s not a good portrait of him – but none of those black velvet Elvises are good either. Most people probably only know him as Uncle Arthur in Mary Poppins, but if you google images of him, you’ll see some of his clown character pop up. He played that character for years.

        The painter was only able to make a picture that resembled him, rather than capturing him.


    • Anonymous

      I thought the Ed Wynn clown portrait also bore a resemblance to judge Jerry Saltz.  I’d loved to have seen Dusty take that on!

  • scottyf

    I dunno.
    For me, I like my art like I like my men: strong, passionate and telling me very specifically what they want me to know about themselves. All these pieces remind me of a nice, but rather timid dude on a first date. It all seems very general–just enough to give you a scant sense of who he is, but no real exploration into what he specifically thinks or feels. Like most of those first dates, I forgot the majority of these pieces the day after the show aired. 

    Now you know why I’m single.

    • Anonymous

      I wouldn’t necessarily use the same parameters to judge the pieces on the show as I would in the ‘real art world’ (which is kind of fictitious in itself…). The limitations of the challenges will be too constricting to allow them to express themselves to the fullest. But I thought some showed promise to at least give it a good try.

      As to the men, isn’t a Grindr profile supposed to tell you exactly that? ;P

    • Anonymous

      What’s a date?  Gee, maybe that’s why I’m single, too…

    • Anonymous

      This is why I actually thought Ugo was one of the better contestant artists. I went today and found his work online — aside form the canvas itself his work is used on surfboards, cases for iPods and laptops. Well maybe that’s not “art” so much as commercial but it didn’t realy surprise me at all that he’d already be out there making it.

  • Anonymous

    “Tlo said: Jazz-Minh didn’t need to know the history or references behind the piece, but it seems to us she completely eradicated any folk art sensibilities from it and just did her own thing.”

    Yes, her painting seems more like an interpretation of Groucho Marx and his You Bet Your Life duck.
    (And thanks for the shout-out.)


    • yeesh, GT, how do you know all this stuff?! I genuflect…

      • Anonymous

        I have a brain like a steel trap. Or maybe that was mousetrap. Or something.

        • Anonymous

          I’d love to see you as a guest judge on the show. 

        • Scott Hester-Johnson

          I also have a mind like a steel trap, and I have been gnawing at my leg for years trying to escape it.

  • Anonymous

    I loved Dusty’s self-portrait made from the crayons, but that clown piece? Really, the only clown I’d consider art to come along in ages was the Heath Ledger take on the Joker.

  • Anonymous

    One episode of this show provided me with enough of Kathryn and her renditions of bloody guts to last me a lifetime. 

    • Pennymac


  • Logo Girl

    Something about Young’s performance piece appeals to me. Maybe because I’ve always had a weird fondness for those dogs playing poker paintings, despite being brought up in an “art” household. 

  • Anonymous

    “And Mouse” was my favorite.  Showed some real imagination, wit, and presence.  I also liked the wreath and thought it stayed on the art side much more than the craft side.  

    I am already tired of the self-portraits.  I know that artists willing to go on a reality competition show are already a self-selecting bunch, but it would be nice to see inspiration coming from inside themselves rather than the outside.  One self-portrait should be the limit, otherwise we get that woman from last season who couldn’t find any subject matter more interesting than herself.  One and done should be the rule.  

  • Anonymous

    I’m rooting for the deaf guy, but his entry really didn’t give me much to justify why I’m rooting for the deaf guy. I just am.

  • Anonymous

    I finally got around to watching this, after refusing to watch last season because I assumed I wouldn’t be able to not take it seriously (that’s the right amount of negation), but I was, in fact, able to watch it and enjoy it and take it every bit as seriously as show with a cast member named The Sucklord deserves. I see a good deal more craft than art, and a fair amount that was probably still kitsch, but I wasn’t utterly horrified.

    Of these, I have to say, in general, I think agree with your assessments: Young’s and Sarah K.’s appeal to me the most.

    It seems like kind of an irrelevant thing, but if the mask that Young had created were more polished looking, I think it would have helped a great deal, but I tend to be particular about these things. His idea had a wit to it, I am interested in what he has to say – so far.

    Sarah’s was an interesting, if not remotely groundbreaking, approach (and oddly, perhaps worryingly, similar, I noticed, in its basic structure to her self-portrait). And she had one of the more clever titles. I do think I understand what she was going for – forcing the audience to look at something in an in-depth way that they would never pay any real attention to in its normal state.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, and just as a geeky side comment, for some reason Kathryn herself reminds me of the illustrations in the Old World of Darkness rulebooks – as though an ink drawing of her would accompany the description of a Clan or Tradition.

      • Anonymous

        Toreador, probably.

        • Anonymous

          Oh, but the Toreador can only appreciate, never create. How sad for her.

  • Anonymous

    None of the pieces blew me away but I am always intrigued with the process.  Tewz piece was undeniably 8th grade science fair material and I’m already over Katherine’s bloody organs.   As for Young, I like performance art as much as I like spoken word, which is to say not at all.   

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know what it is…but I love those frogs. 

  • Anonymous

    I watched the first season of this show. After looking at these examples, I”m seriously thinking on giving S2 a pass.

  • John Manson

    With the whole art/craft separation – the traditional understanding is that art participates in art discourse (process, exploration of materials, development of concept, social commentary, etc.) and craft is only about the use of a specific technique (or several techniques) to create an object (usually this craft object has a specific function or is simply decoration and art lies in between these two things). However, people have been blurring the lines between art and craft for the past 30 years and it is now widely accepted that the language of craft works it way into art work and art discourse. The distinction is on the road to becoming a moot point, at least on an aesthetic level. The paper-cutting tradition (traditionally a form of portraiture practiced by travelling artists) has worked its way into contemporary art in a particularly strong way as it relates well to drawing (the cut marks as drawing line) as well as sculpture. 

    On another note, people have a tendency to view something decorative as “not art”. While there are decorative elements in Leon’s work, it is presented and realized in a very thoughtful way so that we can recognize that he is using the ideas of decoration and ornament to say something. 

  • I didn’t watch season 1, but I have to say, I enjoy the process of watching people work transformations, whether it’s with clothing design, food, or art.  It may succeed, or it may fail, but it takes guts to put your creativity out there for other people to judge. Even the ones whose work I don’t like have that going for them.

  • Anonymous

    With Sarah K’s piece I think we were ripped off by the cameramen, because with the examples of her work that they showed you had to be at a very specific angle to really understand what you were looking at. I’m almost 100% positive that if they had filmed it from the side, you’d see the cat. It’s all about perspective with her work and I really love what she does.

  • Lauren M.

    I don’t know, I don’t think I want to see the way Bravo will use Leon’s Deafness (it’s with a capital D in reference to culture as opposed to medical deaf) as a sympathy card as opposed to understanding the culture. They don’t even try to link up his signing to the voice over.

  • Ledasmom

    I think what I like about Young’s piece, on reflection, is the grotesque, crude mask (which ends up looking distractingly more like a cat mask, due to it being shaped to a human face) combined with the title, which sounds like it ought to belong to an exceedingly mannered short story or poem.
    If there are wires and frogs, there should be violently-twitching frog legs.
    Regarding Kathryn, I hope we are not in for a whole season of bloody organs, though I suppose it could be entertaining: “So, Kathryn, when we said ‘design a piece of art for children’, you thought ‘puppy intestines’?” Rather reminiscent of that Patrick Stewart SNL skit with the cake shop.

    • I wish we had actually seen more of Young’s performance, because it seemed like they almost completely glossed over it. I don’t suppose there is extended video of it somewhere?

  • vmcdanie

    I like Leon a lot and I hope he sticks around. I didn’t really get his piece though.

    I like Young a lot too and I sort of got his piece to the point where I wish I could have been there to interact with it. The performance art last season made me cringe a bit but this felt natural and unpretentious not self-indulgent (Miles, of course) or weird (Nao.)

    I’m not feeling anything from: Kymia, Sarah, Tewz

    I’d like to see more from: Jazz-Minh, Kathryn