Judging the Judge


Several years ago, I had an on-camera audition with a casting director for a role as an on-air judge for a new reality competition show airing on a major network. The working title was, The Furniture Design Show. Each week contestants build furniture based on a design challenge and its the judges job to evaluate the results and eliminate the weakest contestant.

The audition went well, as I had prepared answers to questions I assumed they would ask, and they did. I spouted witty analogies, historical references, visual aids and bon mots. I was well rehearsed.

Question: Why are you qualified to judge furniture design?

Answer: Furniture is functional sculpture. Therefore, it has to be judged on the basis of not only how aesthetically pleasing the design is, but also how it functions as a utilitarian object in our homes. I have all the ingredients in the recipe for the perfect judge. My background in both the professional and academic design fields makes me uniquely qualified to evaluate furniture design and construction. People don’t realize how crucial the invention of furniture was to the development of civilization. For example, without the humble chair, we might still be squatting around the communal campfire.

The leader of a country sits on a special chair called a throne. And speaking of thrones, the French designed a chair that is perhaps the most used chair in the world today, we call it the toilet. There are many different kinds of chairs, a captains chair, an armchair, an easy chair, a lounge chair, a folding chair, and we never give them a second thought, until we have to design and build one.

Question: Will you be able to give a negative critique and call a contestants furniture a piece of crap?

Answer: I will judge each design on its merits and faults. I was a lot harder on artists when I was a graphics producer at ABC. They were professionals and could take it, but with my students, after a bad critique, I would always try to find the silver lining in every black cloud. Let me give you an example of what I might do on the show.

Tony (the casting director), this chair you made has all the hallmarks of a great design. It’s attractive, well-made, and comfortable to sit in. So why doesn’t it work? None of the elements work together. Its like a boat where everyone is rowing in different directions. The boat goes nowhere. And that’s why this chair is a failure. Its dead in the water. You’ll have to do better than this if you want to stay in the competition.

Question: That’s great, but can you be mean?

I also worked on my future on-air look. I got a professional haircut, not a backyard flowbee job. My friend Barbara styled me before the audition. She is a 30 year veteran Hollywood makeup artist who did Dylan for the cover of Rolling Stone, De Niro, Scorsese, and covers for Vogue etc. She did my hair and applied makeup! I was concerned when she started dabbing it on, but she said, no one will be able to tell, it will just make your face look better on camera. She was right. I looked groomed and felt confident.

The interview lasted about 25 minutes and I felt strangely deflated afterwards. It seemed anticlimactic. I had put so much energy into preparation and the idea of imagining myself as a reality show judge, that after I performed I felt like, was that it? There didn’t seem to be any payoff that justified my expenditure in the equation. It was an emotional letdown.

The whole experience made me re-evaluate myself and my goals as an artist. I was amazed at how easily the possibility of getting one gig changed my feelings about the direction of my career. The allure of TV exposure and fame, even at a rather dubious level, was enough to eclipse all my projects and plans. Suddenly, my pending public sculpture and National Park residency applications seemed very inconsequential, like small potatoes. After all, my imminent 15 minutes of fame would be enough to catapult me to even greater and greater heights of TV stardom. All this and I hadn’t even washed off my makeup.

Will I get a callback or will the phone never ring? This is the dreadful predicament of the aspiring actor. Not that I am an aspiring actor, just an artist aspiring to find a bigger stage, a larger audience, and greater publicity, even if it is via a reality TV show.

I have to wonder, would a gig like this be a credible addition to my artistic reputation, or could it sully my image in the opinion of the legitimate art community? In the final estimation, I don’t think reality show appearances on the CV go very far in enhancing your reputation in the eyes of museum and gallery curators.

If Jeff Koons can show ultra-explicit close-up photos of his junk while engaged in sex acts with his Italian porn-star wife, one would assume anything goes in the art world. But, he is Jeff Koons, and it is possible that a TV reality show ranks lower than artistic porn on the scale of culturally redeeming offerings.

Gotta go, I think I hear the phone ringing… Dang wrong number!

Donald Gialanella, March 30, 2014


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