Bravo's Work of Art: In Defense of Jaclyn Santos

Much ado has been made of artist Jaclyn Santos' sexuality on Bravo's Work of Art this season, so much so that it has become a running secondary theme throughout each episode. As the remaining artists inch closer to the finale, it's been something of a missed opportunity for Bravo that the show has not chosen to open a real debate about female provocation and feminist ideas in art, particularly in regards to the television format, where the exploitation of women is a constant. Instead, they have often edited the show for maximum titillation purposes, even taking clips of Ms. Santos working in various states of undress for frequent teaser ads and showing the other contestants discussing her incessant need for attention through nudity and suggesting that she is incapable of her own ideas.

I know Jaclyn Santos personally, and she is cerebral, thoughtful, immensely talented and incredibly knowledgeable about fine art. One only needs to read her blog to see this. ( She has worked as an assistant to master pop artist Jeff Koons and is very sensitive to the use of sexuality in art. Santos' genius (and the main reason why I believe she continues to advance on the show with a strong possibility to win) comes with her quiet awareness that her body is a medium in and of itself since it stirs up so much controversy. Yes, she is an attractive woman. And with that comes a lifetime of learning how to personally deal with the infamous "male gaze." As a good feminist artist, she refuses to separate this essential part of herself from her work. She has been successfully able to let this attention on the show fuel around her, and then harness it back into her pieces.

It is mainly a male perception that an extremely attractive female artist would revert to nudity as an act of overt power or "control" (such as contestant Miles Mendenhall has suggested)...rather it is only through personal vulnerability that she can finally gain control of the male gaze. One only has to be in the room of a Vanessa Beecroft performance piece to understand the massive power of that kind of female exposure. There is a difference between the creation of the work and the final piece itself. She is not undressing for the camera/television audience but rather for the ultimate artwork.

I am reminded of Gustave Courbet's 1866 graphically sexual realist painting, "L’Origine du monde" and then subsequently Serbian feminist artist Tanja Ostojić's 2005 satiric "EU Panties" poster, suggesting that "foreign women are only welcome in Europe when they drop their underwear." They both still have the uncanny power to shock even though they are over 100 years apart, and both are still discussed as pornographic. This is because a woman's nude body will continue to be seen as a controversial and political statement artistically as long as our culture continues to treat it as such, still debating about what are her acceptable moral choices as an individual, and debasing it for entertainment's sake. Bravo's Work of Art could have taken that theme and educated. Ms. Santos is aware of this and for that she is on her way to becoming a feminist artist to watch.

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  1. Jaclyn Santos

    This is such insightful article, thank you!
    I think there are some things that any good artist is particularly sensitive to, and most artists return to the same themes over and over throughout their career - almost out of compulsion.

    you write: "she is not undressing for the camera/television audience but rather for the ultimate artwork." Exactly. There have been some ignoring remarks that I am "not an artist, but a porn star." How many A-list celebs have stripped down for a film they really believed in? I have never been involved in any type of pornography, though I may reference it in my work.

    I love that you referenced Corbet's Origin of the World. Coincidentally, I worked on a painting for Jeff in which he appropriated this image as the background. Jeff once said something to the extent of: everything in life is about procreation. In the piece i made on work of art, I fused elements of sexuality and spirituality (by making my piece freestanding like an altarpiece, using wood, and the white background)

    July 29, 2010 at 6:37 AM

  2. Jaclyn Santos

    correction: "ignorant remarks" I just woke up :)

    July 29, 2010 at 6:39 AM

  3. Steven W

    The American Public is very Sexual but associates being naked with Porn now a days. Jaclyn is sharing herself in total with her work not just her body. Many don't see that because they have been condition to see Sexuality as Porn. I would love to see other aspects of her work but appeciate what she is offering.

    July 29, 2010 at 6:57 AM

  4. trinity weiss

    the show is odd to watch because you are forced to reconcile each "character" as they are being edited and constructed with their work. who are we as viewers? when you put art into the bravo reality competition format it becomes confusing and unfortunately, people like jaclyn are dragged through the mud. it's unfortunate because her work is clearly some of the best and most consistent on the show yet the show is clearly editing her into a mindless bot with breasts. she is a thoughtful, provocative artist who seems to be conscientious conceptually and aesthetically. as a student of art history and theory, it has been frustrating to see so many artists on the show who seem to have little ability to be critical and create a work that feels up to date and compelling.

    from mark's cheesy photo shopped nightmares to miles' work, though beautiful and interesting seems almost superficial in that he is clearly unable to be honest or to look within himself to create a work that is truly personal... imagine the sigh of relief when jaclyn created her piece in the shock was self-reflexive, challenging and addressed the male gaze on a complex level. this is the strength, in my mind, of a woman artist...rather than constructing something unrelated she concerns herself with the process of viewing, being seen, and seeing herself. thanks for this, and thanks to jaclyn for putting yourself out there in your work and your blog. you are creating another narrative to combat this lame one that has emerged that you are some bimbo. it is much appreciated by someone who loves art and wants to think about it and view it in a manner that isn't as sedentary as tv watching typically is... rooting for you!

    July 29, 2010 at 11:00 AM

  5. robbergirl

    well put trinity, thanks

    July 29, 2010 at 12:13 PM

  6. robbergirl

    There is one other link I forgot to add, and that is a link to the site of contestant Mark Velasquez. It seems especially strange to me that his comments were so derogatory towards Jackie when CLEARLY he has a very concrete idea of using the female form for shock value.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:16 PM

  7. trinity weiss

    great point about mark! especially in conjunction with his discomfort in revealing his own body...props to peregrine for noting that revealing himself would bring strength to his body of work

    July 29, 2010 at 12:31 PM

  8. Standingforward

    Oh please. Bravo missed an opportunity? Are you completely unfamiliar with their broadcast schedule? Jaclyn is talented but she's on COMMERCIAL television and expecting to be treated as more than a body? This show is poorly conceived and about editing and story-telling (like every other Bravo reality show). Art is secondary. How many people are looking to accumulate the work of these artists as opposed to how many are discussing storylines? You want appreciation for an artist, film a documentary or, better yet, buy his or her work. Go to a gallery or a museum and take a friend. THAT'S an opportunity to open up discussion. GET REAL!

    July 29, 2010 at 9:56 PM

  9. EscapePod

    When you are on a show like this and your art revolves almost solely around a single theme, it does present a bit of shallow nature - from the viewers perspective.
    I thought it was rather shallow to actually post on the blog that Miles apologized, it does not validate Jaclyn being right or Miles being wrong. Miles Facebook post sure thought the show was good, didn't see any remorse there.
    Naked body, naked body, naked body... I understand art but would Abdi or Miles get away with using a single theme repeatedly? No way. It's also a little obvious that she is adored by at least one judge/critic who always seems impressed by the nudity & her form more than the art.
    Jaclyn is a good artist but I do not believe the next great artist.
    simply my opinion. blast away

    July 29, 2010 at 11:10 PM

  10. Tom Baird

    Through merely watching the Bravo show, a part of me was disappointed in Jaclyn. After the previous episodes, I thought, "o.k.'ve given the producers what they wanted. Now, tuck your sexuality away and really stretch out. Blow them away with something that shows your abilities in a more multi-dimensional way.". But I've gone through Jaclyn's mission statement and her portfolio and a couple of things stand out to me. First, Jaclyn is remaining true to her present artistic theme. Its no wonder that she does so well on the show when addressing sexuality and spirituality. Second, she's still in her 20s (of course these are strong influences for her) and has plenty of time to move on...or not. It depends on how hard the same issues always call to her. As Cindy Sherman's work matures, her themes remain consistent, but I like that, and can see myself following Jaclyn's art to see where aging and life experience alters it. As a man, I am as conflicted about the male gaze in art as anyone. I've been raised as an "American Man" and have lived 60 years trying to come to terms with lust vs sensitivity toward women in a society that still rewards objectification. When a man views Jaclyn's work on the show, he may be titillated, but he KNOWS (or damned well better know) he needs to be looking and listening more deeply. Without provocation, the old attitudes remain. Nothing changes. Our society has to be provoked, if not embarrassed into changing. If only the producers at Bravo could understand that, or care about it.

    July 30, 2010 at 6:48 AM

  11. trinity weiss
    This comment has been removed by the author.

    August 2, 2010 at 7:28 AM

  12. Nini

    I've only managed to catch a few episodes of that show up until the final one last night which I watched. To be honest, I do not know why Jaclyn made it as far as she did. In all the episodes I caught, she was naked in some form or another. She came off as one dimensional with a lack of any originality/talent other than "I will take a myspace photo in the bathroom and show my body to everyone" and sometimes even lazy and rude (sleeping her work time away then wanting to take an off-time pic in the shower? that was so rude.)

    When I saw her presentations half the time I felt like I was viewing soft porn or the "edgy" dribble nudes you'll find slathered to the walls of places like DeviantArt with its slew of wet-behind-the-ears artists.

    I'm not a subscriber to the belief that posting one's nude body to the public forum gives them any form of "Control". It's more along the lines of "Selling out" a cop-out easy ride to surely gaining attention whether it's good or bad. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to operate a camera, blow up a picture of yourself, print it out, slap it onto a board and call it "Art".

    After the show ended I just felt disappointed with what I saw from her: The same rehashed imagery like an endless recycling of a single, over used pop can.

    August 12, 2010 at 8:17 AM