Oxygen aired a new reality television show Feb. 3 titled “Street Art Throwdown,” and it has been met with conflicting opinions. It follows a similar format to most reality television shows: there is a group of artists who all complete challenges given to them by a panel of “highly qualified” judges in an effort to win $100,000. The creative nature of the show draws a comparison to other reality television shows, such as “Project Runway.”
Famous art critic Jerry Saltz gave an interview in which he spoke candidly about the new reality show, and it seems as if he has slightly contradictory opinions toward Oxygen’s new street art reality television show. It is important to note that Saltz himself was a judge on an art-based reality television show in 2010 for Bravo TV’s program called “Work Of Art: The Next Great Artist.”
Saltz came off as jaded, telling judges to “eat all the free food you can” because he “was paid $900 per episode before taxes.” When discussing the artistic and creative aspects of the show, Saltz claimed that due to the restrictive time limits on the contestants, the challenges the artists complete do not accurately relay their skill or capabilities to the judges or audience. When asked if he would do anything differently if given the chance to relive his experience as a judge, Saltz said he would “try to [expletive] it up more by publicly telling who the three finalists are before anyone knows.” Unsurprisingly, the critic said he would not be tuning in.
Despite his rather scathing opinions of the show, Saltz stated that there is a market for art-based reality television shows because “everyone thinks they belong on stage.” I agree with Saltz in the sense that there is a niche for art-based television programming. Artists naturally want to create and share their work. Even more importantly, any form of entertainment that gives money to practicing artists or benefits the art industry in some way is valid and worthwhile. Those who have chosen to work within the field are likely to feel the same way.
The current formula for creating an art-based television show, however, is not working. When asked about why the show is following the popular trend of “street art,” Saltz said “many people like so-called ‘street art’ because they think it’s outlaw, renegade and under-the-radar, when, in truth, just as with so-called not-street art, about 99 percent of it is totally look-alike, generic and unoriginal.”
Saltz seems to believe street art is a somewhat unimpressive medium. While I believe street art offers something truly unique to the spectrum of art that is currently being created, using the term in the television show comes off as a marketing ploy. It is as if producers are trying to glamorize the idea of art to appeal to viewers. In reality, confining the contestants to a singular genre of art is doing them and the audience a disservice, just like the time restrictions are.
If the idea of an art-based television show is truly going to take off, it is important that the art, and the creative processes of the participants, is not falsified. The results would be more complex and expose the audience to a greater variety of styles. Perhaps there is an entirely new form of television show that could be centered around art but not be plagued with the issues that Oxygen’s show is. While the general public may buy into its fake portrayal of artists and highly dramatized competition, Saltz, and likely many professionals in the art sphere, think the show is a flop.