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Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: This week we share some of your excellent responses to two assignments -- Geof Oppenheimer's Embarrassing Object and Diana Shpungin's Object Empathy.

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Embarrassing Object:
Object Empathy:

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[PBS Digital studios theme]

Hey guys! Today I'm gonna share with you some responses to our art assignments, starting with embarrassing objects. And boy, are they embarrassing.

[Piano flourish]

Jeff Oppenheimer's assignment asked you to create something that makes you feel uncomfortable out of a material or group of materials. Now, John and I guessed that many of you would use the body as a point of departure, and we were right. Like, high-waistedpantaloons shared with us this series of images and GIFS, and a text that recounts the unfortunate digestive disorders that have resulted, through no fault of her own, in hemorrhoids.

She's explained that she's not afraid to talk about the disorders, but she would never say a word about the hemorrhoids. She says "there's just something so discomforting about having to apply a cream to them, having to acknowledge them directly. That is what is embarrassing, having to acknowledge my own brokenness with actual physical contact, and then being left to wait it out. There's no cure for this condition, only management, so the embarrassment will never end."

I mean, what to say? It's incredibly evocative and effective, and the unendingness of the application is nicely mirrored in the cyclical foreverness of a GIF.

And then we had pointtothesky, who also used foodstuffs to represent the human posterior. They say they wanted to, quote, "create a sculpture that celebrated something that I am embarrassed about, which is my cellulite and stretch marks."

I like to think of this sculpture as perfectly imperfect, just as my own body is. The female body is amazing, and I want to move past the idea that something so normal as cellulite and stretch marks are, "flaws."

I love that the list of materials for this one specified strawberry jelly so you can basically taste this thing as well as feel that gelatinous texture as you're looking at it. It's such a good combination of feelings, of both repulsion and seduction.

Flapjackmcricecake made this terrifically terrifying backyard installation about the embarrassment not of breastfeeding, but of the paraphernalia for expressing and bottle feeding. They say, "I suppose without the baby, it all becomes so clinical. Thoughts turn to machines and bodily fluids instead of natural care and nourishment."

I mean, the sadness of that horrible, looping contraption succumbing to gravity. And it's so judiciously shot from below. And you can hear just a brief baby noise in the background. The inhumanity of such a thing--bravo.

We have another empty garment from Iamdonutwizard, who said, "I think we all think we're fat or skinny or thin or thick. I've always hated when my Nan would comment on it. So, I took a pair of shorts and made a flag."

The darkness here is excellent, as is the floompy drape of those well-worn shorts. And turning it into an object of public-facing pride is such a marvelous act of ownership. I salute you.

Kenton Visser gives us whitey tighty and says, "There's something uniquely embarrassing about underwear, the garments that cover up our bodies' most shameful regions. In a way, underwear is more embarrassing than nakedness."

And it's not just about the drawers here, that hang so expertly about the stick legs. It's those tiny little papier-mâché socks, propping up the whole construction that really made it work for me.

Minnesbeta shared this splendid object, so masterfully photographed as if being encountered in a low-fi horror movie. Minnesbeta says, "hair is only allowed in certain places."

And oh, boy, this one really made my spine tingle. The material that covers the handle is shaped and pricked with such attention to detail, the hairs emerging so regularly from the pore-like impressions. And that hand just out of reach. Shivers, all I can say is shivers! And I mean that as an extreme compliment in this case.

Tyler Graham shared with us his process of creating this thing in his bathtub. You see him open a condom, unfurl it, and then begin to fumblingly stuff it with coffee beans. He wrestled with this awkward combination of incompatible materials, and you can just feel the sticky frustration of it. Then he ties it off in this gross knot, and there we have it. It's peculiar and unpleasant, and for me, the awkward performance of making it is embodied in this abject little object.

We see more decontextualized sex paraphernalia in mandelart's contribution. They say "I chose to showcase something embarrassing in a beautiful way. It is a subtle representation of me and my sexuality. My object makes me both uncomfortable and proud; I need that. I also believe Queen Victoria would be incredibly embarrassed to have a sex toy in a carafe with her face on it; I like that thought."

This response made me realize how for many of us, embarrassing objects don't need to be made, so much as identified in our lives, and brought into juxtaposition with certain settings or other objects that draw out something about them. Like the surrealist tactic of unexpected juxtaposition, i.e., Dali's lobster phone, or Merret Oppenheim's fur lined teacup.

Kristen shared with us this remarkable series of images, saying: "This is a representation of the time I spent in doctor's offices. I took one photo for every appointment within a three-week period. As someone in the first half of their twenties, having my life be largely guided by chronic illness isn't something I talk about often. It's uncomfortable, and messy, and awkward. It's hard to contribute to a conversation with friends who are moving to new cities, getting engaged, starting new jobs, without diving into my medical history. That is my job right now, this is my study. Then it makes other people uncertain to delve into, too. That I am not uncomfortable in my own skin, but in the places we have to carry and care for each other. It's an ongoing exercise in learning that all of this is okay. And publishing this adapted art assignment is a small part in that."

She claims it's adapted because she says she skipped the sculpture component of this, but I argue she did not. It's not traditional sculpture, no, but for me, her body serves as sculpture here, in various settings and frames and lighting, showing how it can look and feel, and the ways it functions and malfunctions.

And okay, so maybe a couple of you didn't evoke the body with this assignment, like banal-adventures, who argues that embarrassment isn't necessarily a corporeally-based emotion. They say, "to me, a major locus of shame has always been behaviorally based. I've always been awkward and not very good at social interactions. The feeling then, that I wanted to capture here is that moment right after one has mad a faux pas, a verbal wrench in the gears of the conversation, a thought pose not quite right, placed wrongly among the comments of others in the room."

This small sculpture is incredibly successful for me. It's so perfectly executed to be imperfect, showing control in so many ways but also capturing so well that which we cannot help, that which is beyond our control.

Also Sci Joy confessed a non corporeal embarrassment, saying: "School taught me that not knowing things was embarrassing." She goes on, "In Johannes Keplar's first book, he thought the planets moved according to platonic solids, and used meticulous math to prove it. However, he is remembered for his later books, where he proves himself wrong. I made two failed tests into platonic solids to remind myself that learning isn't knowing everything at once. Knowledge should be pliable. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that isn't meant to be done alone."

Okay, so maybe these two weren't so directly about the body. But I'd argue that they still kind of are. Our bodies are embarrassing objects par excellence. You have all demonstrated this, in so many glorious ways. We leak, we jiggle, we suffer, we get things wrong.

But we can also fix things, guys, and that's where Diana Shpungin's object empathy assignment comes in. She asks you to find an object you feel bad for, and fix it in your own style. Like ilikecrocscuckit's repair job for a broken rubber band using staples. They say: "It's obviously not going to help restore the function of the rubber band, but I somehow feel a sense of relief." Or there's forsaken7jack's stitched up ketchup packet that for me, is a similar small, but cathartic gesture.

Artemish24 said: "I felt bad for my bunny not having eyes and a mouth. I guess bunny is happy now, lol." Of course, they've used pills for the eyes, which adds some complexity. It appears to be amoxicillin. So maybe bunny had an infection?

Jenna110011 is one of a number of you who use Band-Aids while expressing object empathy. But I'd argue Jenna did it the most successfully, putting to use more unexpected juxtaposition. They said: "I had an empty tape dispenser and felt bad for it. Now with this object feels empathy, it can fix it too." What I particularly liked here was the Band-Aid resting just so on the sharp cutting edge of the dispenser, bringing together both the thing that cuts you and the thing that heals it.

Goldengrahamsam took some broken earrings they used to love and made this jaunty delicate little repair. What's great for me is the simultaneous care taken in the handwork, with the impossibility of actually wearing them. There's something quite beautiful to me in fixing something by creating a prosthesis for them that serves only the object and still can't be used by you.

And yes4poe found a book at a thrift store, "From Survival to Recovery," and a bookmark someone left in it, one of those saccharine ones that recite empty sentiments. Yes4poe says, " to get a full understanding of someone's or something's feelings/condition, you must have imagination. But the best way is to submerge oneself into that being or object."

So reading the title, the pages that were marked, and they bookmark text, they decided to repair the bookmark by rearranging the words, and, for me, creating a much more satisfying, complex sentiment, without belittling the subject.

My yearbydesign also found a book to empathize with. This one was a recipe book, discovered on the shelf of their basement pantry when they moved in. They say: "This book is beautiful and sad. It's both weathered and unfinished. I wonder who started this recipe journal, and why they left it behind when they moved. Did they abandon it? Or was it forgotten? I guess most people in my situation would just throw this book away, but I just couldn't bear to do it. Now I have a reason to use it. I'm going to add my own favorite family recipes into this book."

I love this empathetic action, focusing on not so much the book's former owner, but on the book itself, taking something discarded and outmoded and making it relevant again, and creating a new narrative that picks up where another dropped off.

And finally, we have kariaja's delightful video, accompanied by this explanation: "One nice evening, crushing and eating hazelnuts, I felt sorry for them. I glued one back together. The pieces don't fit together, they're probably from three to four different nuts, yet together, they create one shell."

It's such a small and objectively unsuccessful repair, but like with many of these responses, it's so lovely and enjoyable regardless. With each of these I kept wondering whether people were just being lazy with their choices of what to repair, or if there was something to that smallness of action that made it more meaningful. And I decided that they were evidence of major fixes in the world everywhere, and that smaller actions were somehow more powerful in the face of the largeness of all the brokenness around us.

[Swoosh sound, Art Assignment theme begins in background]

Both of these assignments emphasize how sculpture and objects can be really effective at generating feelings, and you guys really did this well. We got to revel a bit in the ways objects can make us feel embarrassed and awkward and weird and sad, and then we got to try to fix them. Both of these challenges give us a different lens through which to process the objects and materials around us, and I hope you'll continue to look for opportunities to do these assignments as you encounter embarrassing objects in your lives, and those in need of empathy.

Thank you for making such great work, and thanks for watching.

[Art Assignment theme music]