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'Work of Art' recap: Your kid can do better than that

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Work of Art this week was a graphic demonstration of the philistine sentiment uttered about modern art at least since Jackson Pollock first splattered paint on canvas: the old, “My kid can do better than that.” Unfortunately, this was indeed the case for many of the contestants paired off with child artists this night.

The challenge was for each contestant to look at his or her little charge’s art work and make a new piece that “complemented” the child’s piece. There was the predictable initial grumbling from the Sucklord, this time about how he didn’t like kids, which was followed by the predictable Sucklord about-face, a burst of enthusiasm (“She’s a little super-villain” being his term for high praise, but Sucklord has run the “super-villain” thing into the ground). The week’s guest judge was the series’ most prominent executive producer, a glowing, charming Sarah Jessica Parker — the “fairy art-mother,” Kymia has unfortunately dubbed her.

The crucial aspect of this challenge should have been obvious: It was time for each adult artist to set aside her or his own feelings and try to tap into the emotions and ideas of the child artists. And indeed, the pieces that worked best and failed most crashingly followed this pattern. Dusty, who had the slight advantage of being a kids’ art teacher, was praised for the way he turned his piece into an interactive, semi-abstract portrait of young Kei, and Kymia listened carefully to the story Alana told her about her watercolor carrot, and created a narrative to illustrate that.

By contrast, Tewz doomed himself by trying to impose a banal theme onto his work — in his words, “growth and children and growing up” — rather than sticking to the specifics of his assigned student. Sucklord went back to his Star Wars action figure shtick, creating a tree that merely mimicked Reynie’s drawn one. And Sara, well, oh dear: She took Zelda’s big, bright, controlled sprawl of words and narrowed it down to a weepy little autobiography of… Sara, reminiscing about the divorce her parents went through when she was 10 years old, her salty tears mixing with her paint.

These last three artists were ultimately in the bottom three, with Sara heaving up a lot of wracked sobs while hearing her personal story criticized as art material by the judges. (To their credit, her emotional outburst didn’t seem to influence them one way or another.) Sucklord was soundly thrashed by judge Jerry Saltz, who said vehemently, “Create your own world, stop the Star Wars!” Words to live by, adult nerds out there. And the ejected artist this week was Tewz, whose green stalks growing through concrete installation was a limp mess.

The winner? Kymia’s quite lovely drawing of a dead little girl, the tip of a carrot emerging from the mouth of her corpse. It sounds bleak when described, but it was both true to her student’s story and, as the judges commented, a work of technical finesse.

I have to add that in some cases, I liked the children’s art work more than that of the Work of Art candidates, such as Marlo’s silhouette picture, and Josie’s bright flowers. (Josie was partnered with Lola, who let it drop that her mother dated Al Pacino for 10 years. Is Lola’s mom Sally Kirkland?) And Alana’s carrot on the beach watercolor was in some ways equal to Kymia’s winning piece.

This week’s Work of Art gained a lot from the energy of the children. Next week’s challenge involves The New York Times. Will the artists be as inspired by the Good Grey Lady?

Twitter: @kentucker

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