Nao Bustamante, a 40-year-old San Joaquin, Calif., native, is one of the competitors on the new Bravo reality competition series "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist."
The show brings 14 up-and-coming artists to New York, where they compete for a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum and a cash prize of $100,000. Art enthusiast China Chow hosts.
Bustamante almost didn't audition.
"I kept getting e-mails with the link to audition, but I just passed them on to friends who I thought would be more telegenic. They ended up talking me into going with them, so obviously I wanted to be talked into auditioning," says Bustamante with a laugh.
Over the past year she's gone through auditions, meetings and the filming of the episodes. She won't give away any details of what happens except that she was often stunned by the process.
Bustamante, a New York resident and youngest sister of former California Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante, never would have dreamed of being on a TV series when she was younger. While growing up in the central San Joaquin Valley she was so shy her mother took her to the doctor to see what could be done. He suggested dance classes.
Bustamante got involved with band and parliamentary procedure while attending Tranquillity High School. She earned a scholarship to California State University, Fresno to study agriculture economics.
"After about one semester of that I was bored out of my skull. I was taking dance classes and went to a workshop in San Francisco. I got a job and stayed there to develop what I can now call my career," Bustamante says.
Bustamante, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, is a performance artist who works with an assortment of mediums. Her works have been displayed in galleries, museums, universities and other sites around the world.
"The Next Great Artist" pits artists who work in diverse artistic mediums: photography, charcoals, video, silk screening and oil. Bustamante says judging such a competition is difficult.
"There are so many different worlds in the art world and it means so many different things to people. Sometimes people want to judge art on their own understanding of it. I don't think any system of judging art is perfect and maybe that's the point of the show, too," Bustamante says. "I think it'll be interesting for people to have their own perception of art challenged."
Bustamante was less concerned with the judging process than how much the show pushed her to work in new mediums. There was also the show's pace, which required works to be completed in 12 hours.
She hopes that the series will excite viewers to bravely attack their own art projects.
Win or lose, Bustamante calls the experience of being on the reality show one piece of her lifelong efforts to break boundaries and get people thinking of art in different ways.
"I don't see doing the show as a make-or-break moment," Bustamante says. "I see it as a part of myself and a part of what I am already doing."