Get your art-start here: Recharge by Rachel Lopez
YouTube channel The Art Assignment is possibly the most patient, plain-speaking guide to contemporary art, even the squiggles you think have no meaning.Updated: Jul 20, 2019 18:38 IST
It’s funny. When people tell me they don’t understand a particular subject — the stock market, conflict of law, Japanese kanji — I sense their respect for it. But when it comes to art, most people not only admit readily to knowing nothing, they believe there’s nothing to know. They’re convinced that art, somehow, is a long-running global conspiracy to monetise pretentious gobbledygook; that “the Italians already painted all the good stuff anyway”, or worse, that art has no connection to reality.
Whom might we blame? Schools that limit art education to drawing lessons? Breathless news reports that list auction prices, not how a painting is valued? The art community, which does little to make itself better understood? Or the Italians, whose works in one style, in one region, at one point in history, were so stunning and so straightforward that they became shorthand for all art everywhere?
Curator Sarah Urist Green blames no one. Instead, on her YouTube show The Art Assignment, she uses her energies to address art questions we all have but don’t dare ask out loud. Does every painting have a ‘meaning’? Why make a fuss about squiggles and splotches? Why so many nudes? How can a performance be art? Why are Picasso’s ugly faces famous? And is it ever okay to touch an artwork?
The five-year-old show (new videos are posted every week) takes baby steps towards decoding artistic works, people, movements, ideas and preoccupations. Green is the kind of patient, nutty teacher you wish you’d had at school. She’s conversational, freely admitting that art can be pretentious: “More bad news, the only difference between expensive and inexpensive art is name and reputation”. Her visual references range from Elvis to Fashion Week and the Holocaust.
Start with Better Know, a series that features familiar paintings you’ve probably seen either in the original at a museum, as a print, or on your friend’s phone cover. This is a good place to figure out why the Mona Lisa’s smile is made so much of; the hidden clues within Starry Night; and why everyone wants a print of The Kiss in their home.
Move on to The Case For, which explores the worlds of video art, artists who copy, and contemporary and political artist like Ai Weiwei. Along the way, you’ll come to realise that you’ve probably been interacting with art all along, you just didn’t know it. And you’ll still have questions. Plenty of them. But they’ll be different questions than the ones you had before, and you might feel more willing to ask them out loud.