Art is defined as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,” a pretty lofty summation for such a small, three-letter word. And it gets even more complex when you take note of just how many ways art can be expressed.
For example, some might show inspiration through dance and movement; for others, with music. More still bring beauty with paint on canvas or written and spoken words.
And then there are the masters that somehow bring visions to life with hundreds of thousands of tiny, multi-colored bricks. That’s right, masters. Lego Masters.
Acclaimed artist Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see,” and there’s been more than plenty to view on this season of FOX’s “LEGO Masters.” Season 2 began airing June 1, and since then, a dozen pairs of creatives have dug into 5 million bricks, bringing to life miniature moving, interactive Lego floats, epic brick explosions, beautiful block buildings that can withstand even the harshest of quakes and wearable Lego fashion in the form of intricately designed hats.
Three eliminations down, and Jen Smart and Susan Earls, an all-star Lego-creating team from American Fork, are still representing Utah County well in the brick-tastic competition, with the next episode set to air at 7 p.m. Tuesday on FOX.
“Arriving there was surreal,” Earls said of when she and Smart first stepped onto set in Atlanta, Georgia. “It was hard to believe we were actually there when we got there. … It was amazing, and I was in awe of the privilege of being there.”
“There were a couple moments where I said, ‘Susan, we’re here! Look at that brick pit with 5 million bricks!’” Smart added. “I was definitely a little bit nervous wondering, ‘Am I out of my league here?’ Fangirling over all the other teams that are here, and also knowing this is such a unique art form, Lego, and we all have different skill sets.
“I knew I was bringing something unique that no one else had,” Smart continued. “Susan had something no one else had.”
That unique ability and a love for Legos is actually what brought Smart and Earls together. Both members of the Utah LEGO Users Group, an official Lego club, the duo were showing their art at the same show at the Utah County Fair.
Later, when word spread that the first season of “LEGO Masters” was casting, Jen spoke with the casting team and began the search for a teammate.
“She contacted me,” Earls said. “Obviously, who wouldn’t want to participate in something like this? Of course I said yes, and we went through basically the entire casting process for Season 1.”
According to Smart, after working through the casting challenges in Los Angeles, the pair actually did make it on to Season 1 of the show, but the timing wasn’t right.
“The day they called to tell us we got the part, my husband and I were driving home from Primary Children’s after getting a cancer diagnosis with our 10-year-old son,” Smart said.
The news was devastating for Smart’s family, and obviously put a hold on all other plans.
“They sent him a gift basket and kept in touch throughout chemo treatments,” Smart said. As he improved and finished chemo, the opportunity to take on Season 2 of the competition was offered, and Smart and Earls took on the challenge, with ready support from their families.
“It was really fun to see everyone’s not only collaborative efforts, but individual efforts,” Smart said of filming. “It’s an amazing art form.”
More than that, there was a great sense of community between the contestants.
“If they showed the whole cast cheering for everyone, that’s exactly how it was,” Smart said. “We loved the other teams. Everyone there was so phenomenal.”
Talent was a requisite, though, with the variety of tasks each team had to take on.
“The challenges put us outside our comfort zones,” Earls said.
“They were things we’d never do,” Smart noted. “We’d never blow up our own Legos. That’s something we’d never do, and something we’d never practice.”
The unique nature of the tasks definitely kept them on their toes and stretched their abilities in new ways.
“It’s not something I thought I ever would have done two years ago,” Earls said of competing on national television. “It’s all been so amazing, just the experience of getting to do the filming, do the challenges, and now we’re getting to talk to the public and let people see what we can do. It’s just an amazing experience.”
“This whole experience has just been a fun wild ride,” Smart said. “I never thought five years ago, six years ago when I started doing Lego art that it would amount to anything. I was doing it to occupy my brain, to see if I could. For curiosity, not to show it off to everybody. … Then FOX contacts us to see if we want to do this show. It’s such a unique experience, so much fun, and we all get to share and geek out over something we all love: this toy, this brick, these Lego sets.”
From incredible cityscapes to a life-sized Wonder Woman, Earls and Smart were challenging themselves long before “LEGO Masters,” and will continue doing so after. Both will be in attendance at Brick Slopes, a Lego fan event and convention set for Aug. 27-28 at the Sandy Expo Center, and both can be seen at the “LEGO Masters” watch parties set to be held at the SCERA Center for the Arts. The next events are set for July 6 and 20 at 7 p.m. and are free to the public, featuring a contestant meet and greet, photo ops, autographs, a Q&A, on-site Lego builds and Smart’s life-sized Lego Wonder Woman on display.
Locals also can get in on the Lego action as Smart tackles a Lego-size take on the SCERA Shell, with the entire audience in to-scale mini-fig size. For a $10 contribution, the community can take part and have their own mini-fig placed in the design, with money going to support the project and also the SCERA.
“The SCERA has been so supportive to us, this is a memento and thank you from all of us in the community,” Smart said.
When it comes to Legos, according to Smart, the benefits range from a creative and artistic outlet to a unifying factor.
“I love that this playful toy connects so many of us,” she said. “Whether you play with it or use it as an art medium, it’s the perfect representation of the human experience.”