The Art Assignment
Sarah Urist Green, an accomplished art curator and wife of author John Green, is the series' host. (Image via The Female Gaze)
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The Art Assignment

Led by curator Sarah Urist Green, the series is all the intrigue of art with none of the pretense.

Do you love art but don’t know where to start? Was your only art credit satisfied by a modern art class that grabbed your attention? Did you know nothing about art history, but now, find that it’s a world that intrigues you beyond explanation? If you answered yes to any of these, then you should definitely check out “The Art Assignment.”

PBS Digital Studios’ own online YouTube production “The Art Assignment” is a massive exploration of and lesson in the world of art, perfect for anyone searching for more information on this most quintessential of humanities. Hosted by art curator Sarah Urist Green, John Green’s wife, this YouTube series is extremely educational, informational and intriguing. Over the past five years, the small but growing channel has become the perfect tool to up your knowledge on all things art, regardless of whether or not you’re an art major.

To begin, the thing that got me hooked on “The Art Assignment” was “Art Cooking,” in which Green attempts to recreate recipes from either art cookbooks or paintings from famous artists like Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali, as well as art movements like the Italian Futurists and Dadaism. If the smallest foodie lives within you, this series will leave your creativity boiling with excitement.

In the videos, which range from 10 – 20 minutes long, Green brings humor into the picture by tossing in puns or even making fun of herself while cooking. In the first video, Green works from an Italian “formula” cookbook from 1932 and chooses to recreate two recipes, “Sculpted Meat” and “Like a Cloud.” Not knowing anything about “The Art Assignment” upon watching this first video, I was instantly amused by the fact that Green managed to create what was basically a meat log filled with various veggies, all sitting on top of even more meat — judging by the name, I guess I could have seen that one coming. Because the cookbook is so vague about its instructions, Green was forced to interpret their meaning, which is why parts of re-creation are so funny.

The second dish from this futurist movement, “Like a Cloud,” was also shocking to me, as it was simply a great mound of whipped cream streaked with orange juice, mint, strawberry jam and Asti Spumante. While Green makes this, she explains the backstory of the Italian Futurist movement, elaborating on the importance of each ingredient. She describes other famous artists of the movement to provide context about the time period, and she discusses contemporaneous historical events to demonstrate how they affected the art world.

In the “Art Cooking” video for Frida Kahlo, Green follows a recipe from a cookbook by Diego Rivera’s daughter, who spent many of her childhood years living with Rivera and Kahlo. Green bravely tackles the long feat of making chiles rellenos, white rice with plantains and a nopales salad. One of the first steps in the recipe is to thinly slice an onion and carrots. If you’ve ever had to thinly slice anything, you understand that it is not the easiest thing in the world, and she jokes about her ability to do so evenly.

When she coyly makes the dish meatless, Green makes a joke by referencing her first video, “Futurist Meat Sculpture,” and says that she is making amends for the horrendous meat sculpture. Despite all the puns and jokes, though, Green brilliantly ties in food to the history of its artist and its time period, which adds an interesting perspective to Kahlo’s biography.

The channel has also offers “The Case For … ” videos. In this series, Green breaks down different periods or concepts to briefly explain them. She details periods like minimalism and surrealism, focuses on major artists like Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol, and even touches on controversial modes of art, such as political art and nudity. A brave step in this category was when the channel uploaded a video titled “The Case for Kanye.”

In her Kanye video, Green tries to address why the successful rap star isn’t taken seriously in the world of art. When West was given an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, both he and the university received waves of criticism. Though no one doubted that West was a successful musician, many critics claimed that his status as a music-maker did not make him an artist. Green highlights different parts of his life, from his start to his Yeezus tours (the video was posted in 2016), pointing out artistic feats in his career that had nothing to do with music and making the case for him as an artist.

Though still rather small, “The Art Assignment” is dedicated to educating its viewers about art, something that a lot of the general public will never get the proper chance to learn about. With the rise of STEM and technology, it is terrifyingly easy for the arts to be left forgotten, especially art itself. Channels like Green’s, however, help preserve these important facets of humanity.

So, if you find yourself wanting to know more about art, get a refresher on a period or simply absorb some wonderfully creative knowledge, go ahead and support “The Art Assignment” on YouTube the next time you’ve got 10 minutes to spare.

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