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Illustrator and artist Christoph Niemann joins The Art Assignment to give out the challenge of finding the emotion in furniture.

Sarah also looks into art history as she dissects Edward Hopper's Nighthawks with other works, and how emotion can be conveyed beyond figures.

INSTRUCTIONS - Emotional Furniture
1. Arrange furniture in a way that conveys envy, melancholy, and confidence
2. Take 3 photographs, one for each emotion (no figures or faces allowed!)
3. Upload it to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work may be featured in a future episode)

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:
Today we're meeting with illustrator and artist Christoph Niemann, whose work has graced the cover of many a New Yorker magazine, the front page of Google, and can be found regularly in the New York Times Magazine.    With text and image, Christoph has chronicled the World Cup, the Venice Biennale, the New York City marathon, as well as his love-hate relationship with gummy bears. He's the author of several books and created a most excellent app called Petting Zoo.    Christoph has the remarkable ability to find the emotive and expressive potential in the most everyday bits of the world around us. His work is an absolute pleasure to behold and contains equal parts humor and depth. Christoph spends most of his time in Berlin, but we've caught him at his studio in Brooklyn. So let's go meet him and see what kind of assignment he has for us.   My name is Christoph Niemann and this is your Art Assignment.   You know, the first thing you draw when you're a kid, you draw people. It's the most fascinating thing. There's nothing greater than a face with, like, emotion. You can do something smiling or weeping, and this is--this is great, and it's, like, the most direct way, I think, to communicate emotions. But I realized after a time that it's also limiting, because the moment you show a face, I'm so drawn to that face that I actually don't look at anything else.    So I realized there is a beauty in doing inanimate objects. Because they're not like a girl or a boy, and they're not young and old, and they're just like a thing that is boring, that's completely devoid of--of emotions, and then you can start putting things in context. You can have something small versus something big. You can have something far away to something close. And if this is only a building, or a car, or a leaf, or a piece of fruit, then all of a sudden, you can create tension in a very pure way, in--I think, in a way that you could never really achieve with people. 'Cause the moment you have some--a person in there, you think, "Who is this?" like, "Is he beautiful?" "Is she, like,  smart?" "Is--" There are all these things are starting to blur this picture.   So I think inanimate objects are great because they're so pure, and they give you the chance to use them as, like, actors, and put them into context, and tell very, like, precise and, I think, really beautiful stories.    I started working much more with photography recently because it's, you know, it's a fascinating medium. You can also often do things that are more objective. The moment I draw a chair, it's my chair; it has my handwriting. The moment I photograph a chair, it feels more like it's from real life. Drawing always exaggerates or simplifies, and sometimes a photo of a chair just gives you a lot of kind of, like, background meaning to, like, ease you into the story.   So the assignment is called "Emotional Furniture," and you have to do three photos, and each of the photos should convey one emotion: the first one, envy; the second one, melancholy; and the third one, confidence. And the elements that should convey that emotion should be pieces of furniture. And you should arrange them in your shot that, um, only through composition, not through altering, that I as a viewer look at these things and go, "Oh, this is envy, this is all about confidence," and so, "Oh my God, this is so melancholy, I can't even believe it." That's your assignment.   Christoph's assignment for me really emphasizes the absolute tyranny of the human figure in art. Pretty much if there is any sort of face or figure or creature with eyes in a picture, you are sucked immediately into it, unable to escape, to notice anything else that's in the picture. So I like that no people are allowed in the photos, and you shouldn't add faces to your furniture either to give them an emotion. This challenge is showing us the expressive potential of the inanimate. And this is something we see all the time in art. A still life can very much impart a mood or an emotion, despite containing no people, as can scenes of interiors.    Christoph and I talked about a variety of paintings that show this, like this lovely interior by Adolf Menzel. Or Van Gogh's super-famous Bedroom in Arles painting. Or a number of Matisse's paintings, like The Window from 1916. Or even Roy Lichtenstein's Step on Can with Leg, which, come to think of it, doesn't even need the leg to be interesting to me. And that makes me wonder what other paintings are lurking around out there with superfluous figures distracting us from perfectly adequate settings and backgrounds.    Let's take the well-known 1942 painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Hopper was an absolute master at creating a mood, and is talked about as capturing the ethos of wartime and post-war American culture. Your attention probably goes right to the figures, but what about those fantastic other items? Look at the attention paid to the coffee urns, the salt and pepper shakers, the cash register in the shop across the street. I would argue that the emotion of this scene would be just as strong without the figures, letting the setting, the furniture, the lighting, and the perspective communicate the emotions of loneliness, distance, and numbness.    There are figures in a lot of Hopper's works, like this one from a couple years earlier. You definitely want to figure out what's going on between these two, but for me, the impact of this picture is in the artificial lighting, the somewhat awkward arrangement of furniture, and the angled viewpoint. With this painting and Nighthawks, there's something distinctively human-like about the furniture, and something furniture-like about the humans. They are all props for the artist's arrangement, coalescing into place and creating strongly evocative scenes.    The great thing with furniture is that they ultimately have so much to do with us. Not only are they an object of daily life, but, you know, they have legs, there's something kind of, like, human about them, but on the other hand, they're so abstract.   I think for this assignment, there should be no altering, there should be no painting, no signs, no type, and really, the idea is to work with the object as one, and as a tool, instead of paint and type, use scale, use arrangement, composition, like, how far do I put something. Maybe tilting something, or leaning a chair against something. Putting a chair upside down. That's totally fine, but it should be done without props. There should really--every scene, even if it's arranged, should be possible in, kind of, like, real life. It should have something of, like, you walk into a room and you see this arrangement, and then you call it, like "envy," or--or "happiness," and then, all of a sudden, you go like, "Oh, now it makes sense," and it's like drama played out with furniture.    I work here--I sleep here, and I work here, and I make coffee, so it's like, the--the essentials of life happen right here.