Star Portraits

For years now we have been inundated by reality shows which spotlight “the arts”… and to no surprise. The reality of the increase in creativity on the earth recently is hard not to notice, so it is no surprise that shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance have been so widely celebrated and enjoyed. These shows are clearly filling a void desperately needing to be filled. All this fresh creativity is spilling over and it needs a stage. But as an artist, I have for a long time been perturbed by the fact that the fine arts, ie. visual arts, have been seriously lacking any sort of representation in the area of television and reality shows. Late night talk shows are another example of a type of programming that likes to think it has its finger on the pulse of popular culture, spotlighting celebrities from the music and acting industries (and more recently branching off to include politics and dancers). And yet there are famous artists out there – I speak here of visual artists – photographers, painters, sculptures and the like – who you never see being interviewed by Letterman or Conan. Now I don’t actually condone the glorification and idolization that these shows basically feed off of, but I’m using late shows simply as a means of making my point. When will fine arts begin to catch up and overflow the way dancing and music has?

Today as I was vegging on the couch and channel surfing, I caught my first glimmer of potential breakthrough when I stumbled upon a Canadian program called “Star Portraits”. The show takes three Canadian artists and gives them two-weeks to create a portrait of whoever the celebrity guest is. The episode I watched, featured figure skater Elvis Stojko. Future episodes will be featuring the likes of such Canadian well-knowns as Margaret Trudeau, Debby Travis, and Alex Trebek. They are given a few hours with the celebrity, to talk and get a feel for their personality, take photos, etc. At the end of the two weeks the three portraits are revealed and the celebrity must choose the winning portrait. Though the show still uses celebrity to hook audiences (to a degree – I’ll be honest that I didn’t know it was Elvis Stojko until near the end when the host said his name), it introduces us to canadian artists who – let’s face it – we otherwise wouldn’t know existed. There’s a plus there, but it would also be nice if unknown artists were featured (ala American Idol contestants), rather than artists who have been working in the art scene for several years already. I forgive this, because even Canadian artists who have worked in the art scene for many years are sadly underexposed in our society. Something else that could work even more to benefit the arts community would be if they gave a brief overview of each of the three artist’ past works. The artists are presumably chosen for their differing styles (which result in three very different but equally interesting portraits at the end of the show), so I think giving us a taste of their past work at the beginning of the show would help us identify with their individual styles in the show.

What I would praise more than anything about Star Portraits, is that the majority of the program is focused on walking through the creative process with each artist, from conception, to the application of paint, parafin wax, pastels, what have you. Each artists explains their process, what they are doing and why, and how that process will produce the desired effect for the finished work. Since all artists work differently, for me it was exciting and stimulating to watch them at work and see the pieces come to life. It may not have the flash and pizzaz of 25 year old dancers in skin tight costumes, or the sadistic hilarity of watching some young singer’s hopes and dreams get crushed when his voice cracks in the wrong part of a remake of your favourite top-40 hit, but those who place value on the creative process of the visual arts and don’t require theme songs featuring electric guitar to keep them interested may find something worth savouring in Star Portraits.

Dates and times listed at:

Ashley Macisaac

Elvis Stojko

Measha Brueggergosman

Debby Travis


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