PBS Digital Studios has teamed up with Sarah Green, formerly a Curator of Contemporary Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and YouTuber and New York Times best-selling author John Green to bring a whole new kind of channel to YouTube. The Art Assignment is a new web series that introduces us to U.S. artists, emerging and established, and asks each artist to give the audience an assignment. The show does two things really well: It exposes YouTube's vast demographic to artists and art spaces they might not otherwise know and gets people making art.
It has only been in recent years that channels have arisen which fully take advantage of online video interactivity. For everything from transmedia sitcoms like My Music, response video talk shows like Pogobat, and even collaborative storytelling efforts like The Good Stuff. But The Art Assignment promises to utilize this interactivity not just for fan interaction but to bring those traditional "learn by doing" art teaching techniques to the Internet. The show leverages and celebrates the vibrant creative culture already rampant online, but also helps demystify and re-popularise capital-A contemporary art.
The Art Assignment hosts Sarah Green and John Green
The first episode features Flux Factory, a non-profit arts organization focused on fostering collaboration in Long Island City, Queens. Christopher Robbins, self described as a maker of "socially mediated public art," and Douglas Paulson, also a social practice artist, kick off The Art Assignment with a replay of their first meeting. At the time the pair were both living in Europe and decided to meet in the exact geographical halfway point between their two locations. The assignment asked viewers to do the same: choose a friend, determine the halfway point between your two locations, decide on a time and meet in the middle with no further communication.
So not only is the show an exciting addition to the sparse community of videos about art online but The Art Assignment also illustrates a fundamental hurdle to creating well produced shows on YouTube. Not long after the trailer was launched in September of last year, YouTube killed its video response feature, which allowed reply videos to link to an original post to facilitate online conversation. And, since the core functionality of the show is to elicit documented art making, that change in functionality affects how people can interact.
This is an example of a large problem all series, or content, or even app creators face. Shows designed exclusively for YouTube (or any other major content hosting site for that matter) depend on the consistency of the tools they use to maintain the format of their shows. The infrastructure on which these businesses are built, and yes YouTube channels can be profitable businesses, can be changed at any time based on the decisions made by YouTube regarding what they feel is best for their company. There are no guarantees that if you design a show in which the audience will submit reaction videos, YouTube will not then eliminate the functionality that allows that to happen.
But The Art Assignment is also an example of a good solution. The show successfully integrates social media -- that vague yet pervasive mistress -- into the mechanics of the web series from the beginning. They use platform agnostic hashtags to let their viewers spread across Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram etc, which insulates the show from future instability on any one platform. Diversification, collaboration, and flexibility: The Art Assignment is a great new look for art online.