How A YouTube Channel Is Helping Viewers Around The World Understand And Explore Art

Posted on October 20, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Surangya Kaur:

“What is not art?”
“Not much.”

-Sarah Urist Green, Host and Curator, The Art Assignment

art assignment

The first image that comes to mind at the mention of the word art could be perhaps a painting or a sculpture or some other tangible object. A broader, but still a conventional definition will include photography, music, film, books, food, fashion, etc. There are various complex and simple forms into which art materializes. But the notion that artists on this YouTube channel called The Art Assignment and contemporary artists the world over have begun to question is: does art have to materialize into anything necessarily?

“Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” -Roy Ascott

The purpose of art is not to reach a final product; rather it is to realize the thought that goes into the creation of a new idea. It is to begin questioning our perceptions. It is to observe the roots of age old traditions and practices and the relevance of their existence. It is to evolve those ideas into something better. It is to dive deeper into ourselves and to evoke the urge for new experiences from the collective power of the old ones. It is to remain curious.

The Art Assignment is a weekly PBS Digital Studios production where the host Sarah Green, accompanied by her husband John Green (author, The Fault in Our Stars), takes the viewers to the studios of a diverse array of artists across the United States. It provides a platform to these artists to share their work, methods and materials with the viewers and to give them an insight into their individual creative processes. Each episode consists of a different artist giving an assignment to the viewers and an idea of how to go about it. To provide a deeper context to these assignments, the hosts indulge in a discussion about the historical precedence of the task assigned.

The assignments in question require minimum resources and labour. They are more of a product of the mind and hence difficult to comprehend as art at times. This is where the channel works at expanding the idea of what we perceive as art to include almost anything and everything. It shows how artists work surrounded by questions that are derived from the experiences and knowledge we all hold in common. This common experience then provides a base from which anyone can approach and understand art.

Appreciation of art is as important as the creation of it. Reaching an appreciation of art is a process which first involves observing it and allowing it to elicit an assortment of emotions and reactions from within us. An important question to ask during the observation is- what does this art piece do to me? Does it make me angry? Or happy? Or nostalgic? It is the evolution of thought in this course which ultimately aids in the creation. An instance of this is recorded in the book Still Looking: Essays on American Art by John Updike in a poignant recollection of his feelings while gazing at a painting (Alice W. Davis Untitled [Cape Cod Dune]) in his childhood home:

“… the painting spoke of distant freedoms; of giant dunes it would be bliss to run up and down, inhaling great gasps of salt air. No human figures in the vista competed with the viewer for enjoyment of it; thus sandy valley seemed both vast and intimate in its loneliness.”

These art assignments through their easy and stimulating tasks push you on a transformational path which slowly and steadily results in the development of a deeper understanding of these concepts.

Another feature of the channel includes giving its viewers direct suggestions on how to go about exploring art. For instance, this video provides excellent advice on how to critique art:

The entire playlist titled Special Topics can be viewed here. So without further ado, I suggest you have a look at the channel and the first assignment: Meet in the Middle, where the objective is exactly as simple as the title.

And most importantly, remember to have fun!