ARTAHOLICS ANONYMOUS: Ingenious new show uses art to create a community

The world of art has been developing in a lot of ways with the technological advancements of the 21st century, but nowhere is this more perfectly exemplified than with PBS’s “The Art Assignment.”

“The Art Assignment” is a show created for YouTube by Sarah Urist Green and her husband, John Green, a New York Times bestselling author. While John has been writing young adult novels and producing the movie adaptations of “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns,” his spouse has been putting her art history degree to good use in the modern world.

Sarah Urist highlights a new artist weekly, presenting their work and ideals to the viewers before asking the viewers to create a unique piece. The artists come up with an assignment that anyone can do, whether it be to simply move their bodies or develop a GIF.

People from all over the U.S. participate in these assignments and send them to the PBS offices. In a way, it is like taking a comprehensive art course alongside every artist in the United States.

This project demonstrates one of the most notable uses for art—community—while also drawing attention to the diversity and uniqueness of the artists that make up that community.

In the first episode of the series, artists Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins dare viewers to abandon the communicative aspect of technology for a period of time and find a friend in a slightly more natural sense. The project began with a search for artists who “are using art as an excuse to have an adventure,” wherein Robbins found Paulson and decided to meet up. In a series of emails, they made the decision to meet each other in the exact geographical middle point between them.

They assign the viewers to do the same: find a friend and meet in the middle. For Robbins and Paulson that point was a lake in the middle of Serbia, but for the viewer it could be a dense forest or just down the hallway. The twist is that between the moment when the two decide to meet and figure out the location and the moment when they meet, no other communication can take place  between the two.

There are some who say this barely fits into the category of art, so they may be more impressed with Sopheap Pich’s request that the participant cut something.

Pich is primarily a sculptor who gets most of his inspiration from the feeling of his hand connecting with his material. He usually uses bamboo for both sculpture and print, appreciating how unpredictable it is as a “paintbrush.” His assignment is for the viewer to do the same.

Find an object, cut it to make an interesting shape and paint with it. This assignment uses materials that everyone has access to, so there is no excuse for not doing it.

Finally, my personal favorite assignment is presented by musicians Mark Stewart and Julia Wolfe. They are members of a group called Bang on a Can that specializes in experimental music.

Stewart refers to the music he creates as simply “the music you haven’t heard yet,” making use of unconventional objects as instruments or using instruments to create music for which that instrument is not usually used.

The assignment is to find a personal band. Listen to the sounds in the world as the day moves forward, and choose one or more of those sounds to be part of a personal band. “Once you’ve found your band, choose your instrument and join in. Be a part of the band.”

While these instructions may seem vague, they force the viewer to pay closer attention to the things they hear, and to really unite themselves with the world around them.

The space a person calls their  home is not the only thing in which a person lives. People live within a symphony that is not merely auditory or tactile or even visual. It is instead a blend of all human senses combining in the mind to create what is considered a home and a life.

This is my favorite assignment because it forces you to be a part of the auditory segments of the universe, not just those you can see. Instead it demands a sense of unity through music, whether that be in a train station, a park, or alone in the middle of nowhere. There is always sound, and the assignment allows that to replace sight as the constant with which we perceive the world around us.

These assignments challenge artists to fit new molds or extend themselves out of comfort zones and preconceived notions of art. Artists all across the United States are brought together in the exploration of new things and unique experiences through a very simple youtube channel.

While the modern world has surely hindered some forms of art, “The Art Assignment” proves that there is no excuse for abandoning art, because it can never abandon you.


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