I Would Not Be Making The Cut
on the Amazonification of art
Confession: I love a good fashion competition show. It’s fun to critique people’s outfits, I enjoy watching designers do their craft, and it’s a way to turn my brain off to the world for a bit. Sometimes I just need to fill my head with trash television. But something about the third season of Making the Cut is making me think, and I don’t like it.
It’s a Project Runway spin-off hosted by Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, where every episode they send a designer home by repeating their cheesy little tagline of a pun, “I’m sorry, you’re not making the cut.” Every time Heidi says it (wearing, I must add, increasingly more hideous outfits with every episode) I just think, that would be me!
Actually, I probably wouldn’t even make it to the first elimination, because I’d have a complete breakdown trying to work as fast as they expect and walk out before I finished anything. The time pressure they put on these designers is absolutely horrifying — even watching it stresses me out.
7 hours to design a dress. Two days to create a high-fashion runway piece and an “accessible” piece (their term for something the proles could buy) that are both cohesive as a pair but different enough to be interesting on their own AND in line with whatever theme they’ve thrown at them for the week AND perfectly representative of their brand AND new, fresh, and “urgent”, whatever that means.
It doesn’t seem like they get much sleep or rest in between, either — in episode 6, while the contestants are working in the studio, one of them says, “I’m getting a bit confused. Am I being stupid?”, and another responds:
This is directly after a challenge in which Moschino director (and millionaire) Jeremy Scott literally screams and throws his book at the designers for disappointing him, something that would count as workplace abuse in any other context. But honestly, Jeremy, what do you expect, when you treat human beings like little production robots?
Good art takes time and requires mistakes — artists are not machines. But the show itself, owned and operated by Amazon, is a sort of factory:
What makes it different, beyond watching designers get snipped from each episode, is that you can shop the looks on Amazon’s Making the Cut online shop — right after we see the looks on-screen. The winning look from each episode — as we watch 10 designers compete for $1 million to invest in their fashion brand — is available to buy instantly. The final winner, who will create an exclusive line available on Amazon Fashion, will be announced in the season finale.
Much of the show’s focus is on the designers’ business acumen and marketability. They’re not just being judged on their art, but on their entrepreneurialism. Nicole Richie, one of the judges, said:
"So, for us, we're like, what are your plans to do with the money? Where are you going to use it?" she continued. "There's all of that behind the scenes of really building a brand, and I think that's what this show is so great in showcasing is that you of course have to be an amazing designer, but you also have to be business savvy, and really roll with whatever is coming your way, which is parallel to what happens in real life, too."
Richie is, unfortunately, correct. Artists have to also be their own marketers, accountants, and business strategists these days to make any sort of living. It doesn’t matter if your art is good — can you turn it into a successful TikTok account? Can you build a massive email list? How many brand deals can you land on Instagram?
In a 2015 piece in The Atlantic, critic William Deresiewicz traces the historical evolution from artisan to High Artist to our current form, the “creator”, who is both artist and entrepreneur. The creator has no buffer between themself and the market, as High Artists had with their publishing houses and gallery representation.
The creator has become the producer, and what they create has changed:
Works of art, more centrally and nakedly than ever before, are becoming commodities, consumer goods. Jeff Bezos, as a patron, is a very different beast than James Laughlin. Now it’s every man for himself, every tub on its own bottom. Now it’s not an audience you think of addressing; it’s a customer base. Now you’re only as good as your last sales quarter.
This GIF of Heidi’s reaction to a designer’s piece on Making the Cut perhaps says the same thing in fewer words:
Is it good art? Who cares. Will anyone feel like they need to buy it? That’s the real question now. Deresiewicz makes no hard predictions about how this will change art, but he does say this:
It’s hard to believe that the new arrangement will not favor work that’s safer: more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please—more like entertainment, less like art. Artists will inevitably spend a lot more time looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out what the customer wants rather than what they themselves are seeking to say.
Making The Cut is a study in this new creator landscape. It shows us what happens when corporations take control of art-making, dangling a cash prize over working class people, forcing them to spill their saddest stories about their traumatic childhoods for entertainment purposes while pushing them to compete at such an irresponsible speed that they injure themselves (two contestants had needle-related sewing injuries this season — one refused to go to the hospital until he’d finished his garment).
It’s hard to call it a show about design when it doesn’t operate on design thinking principles at all — there’s no time for iteration, and failure is unacceptable. You sit down, you draw the thing, you get the fabric, and you make something amazing in 7 hours, or you go home and disappoint everyone who loves you.
Ultimately, what they end up making is pretty disappointing — the judges this season seem desperate to like something. After one runway show, Heidi says their designs felt “tired.” But this is your art on capitalism: rushed, uninspired, pinned together with your sweat, blood, and dreams.
It doesn’t make me feel excited or motivated or emotionally moved when someone wins this show, it sort of just makes me sad.
There goes my no thoughts/head empty trash TV, I guess.