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Yet I love Face Off, The Voice, the Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge, So You Think You Can Dance, and similar shows. It's clear to me that some people would call this a paradox. I've seen facebook rants, generally very well written, that these shows miss the point of creative pursuits, and even that they will give our young people the wrong idea of how to succeed in and even why they might want to engage in creative pursuits.

Yet I grew up hearing, over and over, that people need a "real" college degree and a proper adult career, that the arts, while not valueless, were frivolous or at least not profitable. That artists had to get very lucky to make enough money to eat. The subtext was don't be an artist--artists don't get respect.

And, you know, there are certainly a lot of artists who live sale to sale, and even more who squeeze a tiny bit of art into their spare time, having essentially set their dreams aside to pursue a more lucrative career. Even in this magical future world where the internet lets people go directly to an artist to buy things, it's so very easy to be living the life of an unknown artist, making things and stacking them in a corner to gather dust, and getting no respect from your more conservative friends and relatives.

Enter reality shows. At first, I was more than underwhelmed. Take a bunch of people, put them in a fruitful and marvelous tropical setting, give them meaningless challenges and watch them starve as if there's no food there while being filmed by camera crews that have plenty to eat. All set up as an excuse to get them to scheme and lie and act badly on camera. Ugh. What a waste.

But I was lured in to Face Off by the chance to watch artists work. Oh, sure, the camera focuses on the stupid drama as much as it can, but it still shows people making really cool stuff. It lets them talk about why they make the choices they do, choices about material and color and technique, and then it shows us the results they produce. It shows artists learning from each other. It shows them taking the time to help each other, despite ludicrously short deadlines. The artists are not starved and are not allowed to work 24-hour days, even if they want to.

Additionally, the artists who enter the contest get a chance to meet and get pointers from award-winning professionals and to show off their skills to the world. In a world where the actors get lots of recognition and the artists used to be just names that flashed onscreen while everyone walked out of the theatre, it's a chance for those artists to get some recognition and respect. Sure, it's a contest, but it is more than that. Over and over, the weekly loser says that being on the show was a great experience and they learned a lot. Some come back again in a new season, while others go on to get jobs in the industry.

I've been talking about Face Off, but I see the same thing with singers on The Voice or American Idol, and I see something else too. I see how many of them gain enough fans to get recording contracts and start touring. The big winner is supposed to be the Next Big Name, but even as little as I follow the charts, those other singers (the ones who worked hard before and on the show) go on to be as big or bigger names than the winners.

Being involved in the arts, I know how much of a person's creative career hangs on finding a way to reach the people who like the art you do. You work to be good, better, excellent--but even an excellent story faces a very real chance of rejection from an editor who bought something similar, or who loves the story, but it doesn't fit well with the other stories she received for the anthology, or other similar reasons. You need luck, or to have enough fans that will buy an anthology just because you're in it that the editor wants your name on the cover.

John Denver wrote about being a young musician, sitting with his guitar and aching for people to sing to. He eventually found his audience, but how many people, like Vincent Van Gogh, died before their work became popular? How many writers don't break through because they haven't yet found their "people to sing to"?

So I look at these shows, and I see creative people creating, learning, and finding opportunities to do more of that--and finding ways besides taking a day job to not starve while doing it. I also see audiences who value the creative arts. Those are wonderful things, even if the corporations that run the shows feel a need to add an artificial structure of conflict to the framework of the show. And who knows--maybe that "costume" really does bring more eyes and ears (and wallets) to the performance. I'll forgive the costume because, for me, it's far less important than the heart of the show.

The other reason I love these shows is more personal. I see these people working so hard to create things with the camera on them, and I am inspired. I watch the dance shows and move more--certainly a good thing for my health. I watch the music contests and I sing more--and I get to hear the experts' advice on singing, and learn a bit about one of my own arts. I watch the artists on Face Off and I think, "I could try to do that someday!" and I get a bit more ambitious about my own efforts with paint, sculpey, and costuming. Similarly, I read the Hugo packet and get inspired about my own writing.

I am strongly an adherent of the statement that art is not a zero-sum game. It is not about winning and losing, but winning and winning. It is exactly because art is not a zero-sum game that I love these shows. Regardless of who wins and loses (the Hugos, the Pegasus Awards, The Voice, or whatever awards we are considering), by experiencing the art created by others, my world is enriched. I'm inspired to push myself to create, and to gain more skills, and to seek out ways to sell and share my art, so my own creative endeavors will reach more people. I am also reminded to push myself to excellence so my work will be more satisfying to me as I create it.

No matter how much the producers try to shoehorn the arts into the bitter, futile reality-tv-show format, the arts and the artists showcased cannot and do not fit neatly into that square hole. They remain something that transcends and inspires.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 23rd, 2014 10:22 pm (UTC)
All good points!

It does feel kind of magical, how you can work and work and work at something in a song or painting, and never get it right, but then the next effort, or the one after that, just works.

I love seeing how the different artists take the same challenge and come up with such different results, but I would like to also watch more of the artistic process, or at least see the work-in-progress highlighted in more stages along the way. If it were me, I'd do a time-lapse of the sculpting and painting instead of a computer morph between the artist's face and the final finished make-up, for instance. I'd also love to see the artists doing a "how I did it" bit as part of the show or on the web.

At least some of the artists I follow here do work-in-progress posts or even live-stream art.

I will have to check out Star's post!
Nov. 23rd, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
I pretty much only watch TV shows via Netflix. Face/Off is the only reality TV I've seen (I watched some episodes at a friend's house), but this:

It shows them taking the time to help each other, despite ludicrously short deadlines.

is what made me enjoy the show. The stereotype of reality TV shows creating drama by making the various competitors out to be each other's enemies is repugnant to me. The episodes I saw of Face/Off had absolutely none of that: it was all good-natured competition and helpful advice and actions. The competition may be completely artificial, but I didn't mind that part at all because the "let's all just do our best" attitude was so charming.
Nov. 23rd, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
The shows that focus on creative endeavors share this aspect of cooperativeness and respect, for the most part. It's a great relief as compared to the usual crap shown on TV. It's also not (or not completely) accidental.

One of the twists in The Voice is that at one stage of the competition, two singers have to do a duet. They have to cooperate, to try to make the song done by their rival as good as possible.

In the Henson Challenge show (where the big prize was to win a job at the Henson Studio), two of the contestants who were paired had acrimonious communication issues, and the Judges reprimanded them for unprofessional behavior.
Nov. 25th, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
You might also enjoy Gordon Ramsey's Kid Chef show! He's really nice to the kids, and when every once in a while, one of them starts having a meltdown due to the competition and the cameras, he comes and talks nicely to them and calms them down really sweetly. He's a parent and it really shows! It's actually really heartwarming! No drama at all!

Also you just get to watch kids make really cool foods. Yummy!

Nov. 25th, 2014 03:01 am (UTC)
Wow--sounds like quite a different persona than he adopts for the adult shows!
Nov. 25th, 2014 10:54 pm (UTC)
It's true! He's very nice to kids. I hear that the adult ones, especially the US one, he's told to be extra-unpleasant, but no, the show for kids is totally sweet and heartwarming! ^_^

Nov. 25th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
That just underscores how much of the stupidity on the reality shows is staged.
Nov. 29th, 2014 03:08 pm (UTC)
I used to say that reality tv was Not My Thing. Then the Property Brothers [hot, hunky, Canadian twins--yes, please!] had "Brother vs. Brother" where their teams competed on remodeling houses. There were different challenges & short deadlines & some needless drama. Still, folks of different backgrounds working together to do creative things is always cool. Plus sledgehammers.

This year, there was also the Great American Bake-Off, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, a favorite. Best Dessert Porn Ever. No bad guys, lots of different folks doing creative things, being supportive & helping each other, in spite of competition, getting good advice from pros. The snooty Brit pro discovering in spite of his pretensions that he adored the sugary, pecan-laden southern dessert--his dismay was priceless. The pros learned something, too. Tee hee hee.
Nov. 29th, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
Those both sound good too.

This season, Face Off had the three judges compete (with assistance from two past contestants each). Even having judged the show for years, they were amazed at how much their teams got done at the last minute.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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