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Episode 4: “A Shock to the System”

July 1, 2010

The Challenge: Create a shocking work of art

The Winner:  Abdi’s “I.E.D. (Improvised Explosive Device”

The Losers: John’s “The Recluse”

Nao’s “Barely Standing”

Gabriel Kiley, ABN Managing Editor

The artists in this week’s episode managed to shock us – and each other – more with their actions and words and less with their actual artwork.

Unfortunately, viewers were stuck with mostly shoulder-shrugging artwork that ranged from subtle (Jackie Lynn’s “Church in the South”) and strange (Nao’s “Barely Standing”) to disappointing (John’s “The Recluse”) and unoriginal (Erik’s “Sex Education”). Nao and John paid the price and were sent home.

The show started promising with the presence and advice of guest judge Andres Serrano, the artist behind the famous “Piss Christ” photograph. The artists were motivated, but Serrano issued an early warning to the cast: “It’s not easy to shock.”

The show’s producers clearly foreshadowed what was about to transpire.

Instead of taking a fresh approach to shocking art, most of the contestants relied on sexual themes, namely genitalia, nudity and bodily functions. To be fair, it was easy for the artists to default to this realm since they had a limited time to complete their works before the gallery show. Still, you expected more from them.

On the positive side, this week’s winner Abdi continues to demonstrate why he’ll likely be one of the finalists in the show’s final weeks. His “I.E.D.” (Improvised Explosive Device), three sculptures of young black men as bombs ready to explode in response to their troubled lives in inner cities, proved to be thought provoking and effective, although not overtly shocking. He’s clearly one of the show’s most consistent artists, although you always wonder why he comes close to running out of time week after week.

The other finalist, Jacylyn, turned the corner with her “Triple Self-Portrait in Bathroom.” She’s clearly listened to the judges who mocked her “Pride and Prejudice” book cover from last week’s episode and asked her to push the envelope. (Jerry Saltz: “I think you wanted to show yourself and you backed out.”). Allowing viewers to “vandalize” her topless photographs in the bathroom was a stroke of genius – even if Erik advised her to go for that. (Jacylyn says she was thinking about this prior to Erik’s suggestion… What do you think?) The judges were obviously impressed.

Thinking ahead to next week’s episode, we have been left with a new teaser: a potential romance brewing between Miles and Nicole. I guess it was a matter of time before this storyline would make an appearance in “Work of Art.” Unfortunately, like most of the artwork this week, this is not a shocking development in the world of reality TV.


Kristin Stefek Brashares, ABN Editor in Chief

Wednesday’s challenge definitely pushed every artists’ boundaries, which is something I’ve loved about the show from the beginning. I’m just not sure this week’s “Work of Art” episode “worked for me.”

I think the artists took the word “shock” a little too far, to the point of disgusting and disturbing, not insightful. (Seriously, TMI on Simon’s sexual exploits, and I really don’t favor bodily fluids to paints.) But, then again, maybe the fact that I reacted that way means the art, on a whole, indeed “worked.”

As Andres Serrano said in the beginning of the episode: “Any reaction is better than indifference.”

Marylyn Simpson, ABN Editor


I wish I could say I was shocked, I really do. But the latest “Work of Art” challenge to create a shocking piece of art didn’t shock me, not in the slightest.

Auto-fellatio, sorry, but I think that one was covered in the SNL skit where Will Ferrell masters the art after his long-time commitment to yoga. Jacyln’s piece seemed to mimic Vanessa Hudgens’ underage naked photo scandal, without the scandal of being underage. As a regular reader of celebrity gossip sites, it is going to take a lot more than neon stars plastered over an attractive woman’s nipples to make my mouth drop or stomach turn.

Did each contestant make a point with their art work? Yes, there was meaning behind each piece. But this challenge asked for more than meaning, the judges (and audience) wanted shocking. I was hoping I would be shocked by Erik’s idea of depicting Catholic priests and pedophilia, and Mark’s decision to depict sexually abused children, but both outcomes were underwhelming. I agreed with the judges and their critique of Erik’s piece saying that it resembled a Motley Crue poster rather than a shocking work of art. And while Mark’s piece made a point, I didn’t take anything away from it other than its literal interpretation of dirty underwear.

Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe it’s our over-saturated, over-exposed American pop culture that has destroyed my perception of what it means to be shocked. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s a cable TV show. Either way, I was disappointed.

Kate Stieren, ABN Editor

I think the hardest thing for me to come to terms with in this episode was the gray area between a shocking revolutionary work of art and an insulting work of art.

John created a piece that little to no one would be comfortable displaying in their own home.  While some of the artists created shocking work that delivered an important message, I found John’s to be simply disturbing.

I was shocked once again when Miles decided to “finish off his piece.”  Need I say more?

As far as Jaclyn again taking her clothes off, I am not sure if she is doing this for ratings so the producers will want her to stay, or if she truly believes getting naked will produce the best work of art.


Abdi incorporated such a strong message in his work.  I appreciated his shocking art because it was driven by a powerful message.  I hope to see Abdi continue much farther into the season because I think he is deep as an individual and an artist.

Catherine Klene, ABN Editor

The only thing that shocked me about tonight’s “shocking” episode was the results. The judges said they were surprised everyone immediately gravitated towards a sexual piece.  Shocking certainly doesn’t have to mean sex, and it was interesting that Abdi’s piece, lacking of anything sexual, won, while John’s piece involving self-service was given the boot for not being shocking enough.

While I applaud the judge’s decision to give Abdi the long overdue win, I was puzzled by their decisions to send Nao and John home.  Their critiques of Jaime Lynn and Erik’s works were much harsher than Nao and John’s.  Also, Jaime Lynn and Erik have both been in the bottom three in previous episodes, while John won last week’s book cover challenge.  I realize the decisions are supposed to be based on this episode’s work and not the body of work from the season, but to praise John so highly in one episode and then kick him off in the next seemed wrong and arbitrary.

Art is highly subjective, but I wish the judges would explain their decisions on camera a bit more.  Aside from saying, “This shocked us,” or “This didn’t shock us,” I really don’t know what criteria made the judges choose to send Nao and John home over Erik and Jaime Lynn.  None of those pieces shocked them (Although with a judge like Serrano, I’m not sure what would.), but what else?  Why did Erik’s piece, which someone equated to a rock band’s CD cover, squeak past Nao’s crazy bird’s nest of a performance piece?

Clue us in, judges.  Step up and better defend your work.  Just don’t leave us questioning your decisions as much as you question the artists’ decisions.

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