As much as I hate to admit it, I rarely take on projects that aren’t assigned to me. I always intend to break the Mod Podge out of the craft closet or teach myself how to code a brilliant website, but I never end up making something until I need a last-minute gift, and I didn’t start learning how HTML works until I enrolled in a class. For some reason, I need that voice of authority to bully me into putting my half-formed dreams into action.
This week, my friend sent me the perfect get-yourself-in-gear YouTube channel. I’m not a huge video watcher, though I can sure get sucked into cat antics when responsibilities roll around, but with a name like “The Art Assignment,” I thought I’d give it a shot.
The show is a weekly PBS production that revolves around curator Sarah Green and author John Green introducing different American artists who propose a project for viewers to complete. It’s a great concept, giving those of us who desperately want to be artistic a way to join the dialogue. In the first episode, the Greens bring Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins (not of “Winnie the Pooh” fame) to talk about meeting in the middle.
Robbins is a proponent of international growth and has built structures all over the globe. Paulson tends toward collaboration, finding people passionate about design projects like creating a city for kittens. The two met when Robbins started reaching out to artists who were “using art for an excuse to have an adventure.” One day, Paulson got one of Robbins’ emails and responded with a proposition that the two meet halfway. Robbins, being devious, said the two should meet literally halfway — Paulson was in Serbia, and he was in Copenhagen. To his surprise, Paulson was in, and the men agreed to meet at the exact middle point: the center of a lake in the Czech Republic. They set some rules, and all communication stopped until the men found one another.
That’s the assignment they propose to the viewer: Find someone, draw a line between you, and meet in the middle.
John Green steps in, wondering how this can be considered art, which leads Sarah Green on a discussion about art that doesn’t end in a tangible object. She points to a quote by Roy Ascott, a British cyber artist: “Stop thinking about art works as objects and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” The project forces participants to turn a place that’s taken for granted into an adventure and, by extension, an artistic experience.
It all reminded me of a class I took a couple years back in a relatively new art movement called relational aesthetics. It’s all about human interaction as art, begging the age-old question of whether putting something in a gallery setting suddenly makes it worthy of the label. The prime example in the class was a show where an artist set up a spread of Chinese food in a gallery and invited people to eat. That was the artwork. Trying to explain the concept to people not in my class always got a little dicey, but I found it fascinating. If art is meant to capture the human experience, then why can’t the experience itself be art?
So, as the show ends with Paulson and Robbins cracking open a beer on the rooftop that’s the halfway point between their stateside homes, I felt the itch of wanderlust. Anyone in? I’ll meet you halfway.