Work of Art
Judging a Book By Its Cover

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DeAnn Welker: A- | Grade It Now!
Writing the Book on Narcissism

Between two sets of commercials, we get that weird Bravo thing of a tiny scene that is out of place and doesn't mean anything. It's Simon telling Jaclyn a joke about a dog who liked the movie Doctor Zhivago, but not the book. Erik laughs like a maniac from across the room.

Gallery. China reintroduces our judges: Jeanne, Bill and Jerry. And this week's special guest judge: novelist and artist Jonathan Santlofer. She also reminds us of the challenge and the prize. Then the gallery show begins. Miles's cover looks like some sort of weird circuitry board, with the title and author names so tiny you can't read them at all. The judges think it's weird and witchy, and wish it would have related to the book somehow. I think we're going to be hearing that a lot. Nicole's little "Eat me" cookie for Alice in Wonderland is cool, but not really a book cover, according to the judges. One of them thinks it's weak. Jaime Lynn likes her watercolor a lot, but we don't hear the judges' thoughts.

John's bright time machine seems to appeal to the judges. Nao's self-portrait, with some sort of weird thing in front of half her face, doesn't impress the judges enough to even speak (although Jerry does make a face that seems less than impressed). They think Abdi has great lettering and a great image, but that they don't go together. Abdi thinks his piece is sad. Peregrine's okay with hers, but doesn't love it. The judges seem to think it's more Little Mermaid than The Time Machine. Ryan thinks his picture of a guy's face in a few different expressions, with lots of paint and color on it, captured and modernized the story. The judges say nothing. They don't think Jaclyn's would jump off shelves. Like many of them, her type is way too small and doesn't serve the book. Erik feels good about his cover, but we don't hear the judges' thoughts. The judges laugh about Judith's book, since you can see Jane Austen, but can't really make out the title. They like John's very commercial-looking book cover. I think he'll win it. It looks the most like an actual book. It has blood dripping off the top, and it forms the line in the D in Dracula.

The Penguin honcho, Kathryn, gives them her input and then leaves. Which means it's time for the judges to call the artists for the crit: John, Judith, Peregrine, Mark, Jaclyn. So, only five this time. Everyone else is safe. They start with John, who tells them he thought of what his time machine would look like and came up with this. Jerry likes that it's the way a human head might look in the future. They like the title, and the small ladder. They ask Judith what hers is, and then they tell her it's not okay to make people feel stupid. She says she's a fine artist and doesn't work on assignment. They ask if she's better than everyone else, and she says she's not, but she totally thinks she is. Mark's next. He says he wanted to make it a contemporary image and not clichéd. Bill says it's the most commercial work, which was the challenge. They really like it, but think less blood could have made it more sophisticated and less pulpy.

Jaclyn's next. She lies and says she thought it was serendipitous she got this book because of its morally ambiguous characters. Wait, is Jaclyn saying she's morally ambiguous? And also, is she saying that Elizabeth is? They think Jaclyn backed out of showing the photo of herself, which would have been better. China also asks why she didn't double-check the spelling of Jane Austen, which she spelled Austin. They ask Judith's opinion, and she says it's "really not skilled at all." Well, of course, but that's because she knows she's in the bottom with her. Peregrine tells them about the shadow behind hers. They tell her it's a complete failure as a book cover, but is a nice object or cutesy wallpaper.

They send the artists back to the studio, where Jaclyn cries about how they are just trying to teach her by questioning her. The judges discuss the art, and point out that a book jacket is a respectable thing for artists to do, and people like Picasso have done it. They discuss the ones they like: Mark integrated the text well with the image, and will probably win. But they also love John's too, because it's instantly arresting. Maybe they'll both get Penguin book covers. They move on to Jaclyn, who they think is in middle school both because of her drawing and the misspelled name. They cringe about Judith's cover and think it's just her way of saying she's not going to play. Bill says if you're going to break rules, it has to be interesting. They think Peregrine just totally missed the point of the dark book by making it a happy, fairytale arts-and-crafts project. They've made their decisions, which means it's time for a commercial or three.

When we return, they've brought John and Mark back in. China tells them they like both, but there can only be one winner. And it's John, so his book will be published by Penguin and sold nationwide. John's dad is a librarian, so he's overjoyed. They send them back to send the losers back out. Jaclyn's still teary-eyed when the three ladies line up. China tells them their work would put these classics out of print. They tell Jaclyn she started to work on something special but gave them a cliché. They tell Peregrine she should have given them something dark and sci-fi, but gave them a fairy tale. They tell Judith her piece failed as art and a book cover. Then they kick Judith out: "Your work of art didn't work for us." She says she wasn't able to adapt to the situation, but she thanks them. Only she doesn't mean it. They tell her they'll see her on the Lower East Side, and she says, "probably sweeping the sidewalk." She's sad to leave and didn't think this piece would send her home with Jaclyn's piece there. "I mean, please."

Next week: They are assigned to make their own shocking piece of art. Jaclyn gets naked with Ryan or something. Then Simon has shocking news for them. Jaclyn and Erik fight while waiting to go back and be either winners or losers (it looks like). Judges check stuff out and wonder if something in one of the pieces is a bag of shit. I'm taking next week off, and very sad not to get to write about the possible shitbag. I mean, how often does an opportunity like this come along? But you'll be in good hands, so stay tuned.

DeAnn, a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon,. You can contact her at

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Work of Art




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