What do Work of Art: The Next Great Artist and Leonardo DaVinci have in common?

I admit it. I watch The Next Great Artist, and Project Runway. My husband comes in while I am watching and asks “why do you watch this crap?” Sometimes I fantasize about being the oldest contestant in the world on the show, and just cursing at the younger whippersnappers in their own vernacular. Other times I see myself creating original pieces in response to the ridiculous challenges as if to say “bring it on” or “who gets paid to think of these things” or “what, are you kidding me, I can do this in my sleep”. But mainly I watch to see how the human brain responds to challenge. Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks with all of their intellectual fits and starts on mechanical weaponry, the life of a wave in an eddy, the various expressions of the elderly, horses, or man’s physical mysteries, show us the human brain in its creative, curious, and contemplative state. We see how Leonardo is peeling away layers of the conventional in his quest to create, to show, to enlighten, and ultimately to survive financially. So it is with Project Runway and The Next Great Artist. We, the public, are in effect like the Medici’s, laying down our order for the artist to create for us. Like patrons of the past, we have time, subject and media constraints. And they, the artists are scratching and clawing and creating, dancing to our tune. Lest you think that Leonardo didn’t dance the dance or have issues with other artists of the time, just read about his contempt for Michaelangelo, whom he called dirty. Look again at Leonardo’s sketchbooks and you will see that some of the experiments in design are not fully realized. He didn’t have the luxury of time to work out any kinks or build models, he was busy working on his next commissions. And so it is with our contemporary contestants on Project Runway. While they are making dresses in one day out of confectionary products, their minds being stretched from inception to completion, I get to see how they respond to the challenge. What will they choose to make the dress? Muffin cups or colored sprinkles? While not exactly inventing the flying machine, in this day and age of tweets and qwerty keyboards, I am thrilled to see a show or two on tv that explores creativity, and dare I say it…working with your hands.

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