Create to live : perceptions of contemporary art in reality TV




Macknight, Lauren

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Within the field of art education, there has been little to no research into the knowledge afforded by discourses around popular culture, especially those specific to reality television, into how the public conceptualizes contemporary art and artists. This kind of foundational knowledge is critical to our own development and evolution as a field as we learn how to most effectively reach our students and advocate best for the value of arts in education. Through an investigation of the television program Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, I asked: is the perception of contemporary art and practice altered by the lens of popular culture and, specifically, the reality television format? Is this an entryway to a broader dialogue about art’s value in the 21st century and to young individuals’ lives and careers? Results from this study were threefold. First, results pointed to a pattern of progressively nuanced insight and descriptive talk, indicated alternative access to art’s interpretability through the lens of popular culture. Talk in the focus groups functioned as a way for participants to perform access to interpretive authority over subjects of contemporary art to varying degrees of success, whether that meant adopting art terminology or modeling the language of judges and artist-contestants. Secondly, analysis displayed the discursive work involved in the meaning-making around understanding the artist as a figure, as a myth, and as a profession. Participants’ interactional speech performed a balancing act between critically examining the competing discourses of the artist—as contestant and creative laborer—and an understanding of who they are and their own identity in relation to the character of the artist. Lastly, analysis uncovered situated meaning of art and its value, where participants conducted a critical negotiation of what is and what was not art unfettered by lack of art historical knowledge of access to art’s interpretability.



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