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Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: Happy Participant Appreciation Month!!
We're taking the next 4 weeks to show off all the hard work you've put into making responses for The Art Assignment, and recognize the many ways in which you support and contribute to this community -- whether that's by making art, leaving comments, or just watching the videos! This week we look at some of our favorite submissions to Tanja Hollander's assignment Photo a Friend.

Watch the original assignment here:

Get started on the next Art Assignment Book Club book! We'll be discussing it on May 14th.
Art as Experience by John Dewey:

Featured in this video:

1. Meg Gilbert & Betty (ARTiculations): |
2. Lydia: |
3. Goat Eyes and Howard:
4. Aubrey:
5. Hannah:
6. Peter:
7. Elizabeth:
8. The Art of Being Human:
9. trishy199:
10. Laura:
11. LindsfromCO:
12. My Year By Design:
13. Safarox:
14. Wolfs-toeter:
15. Murderbyrosestem:

Follow us elsewhere for the full Art Assignment experience!
Response Tumblr:
and don't forget Reddit!:

(PBS Digital intro plays)

Sarah: Hey, everybody, it's April, which I hereby declare Participant Appreciation Month.

John: Hey!  Happy Participant Appreciation month!  Whoa!!  That was loud!

Sarah: This show exists because you guys make great art in response to these videos, and also because you watch and comment on these videos and contribute to the Art Assignment community.  Because we appreciate you and also because we're really behind on highlights videos, we're gonna have three straight weeks of highlights videos, so we can show off all the fine work you've been doing.  We're also gonna be calling out on Tumblr and Twitter some of you who've been especially productive in your art-making or your general participation in the community, so be on the lookout for that, too.  And because we're giving you a little spring break from new assignments, you can take this opportunity to do some past assignments and/or you can read the next Art Assignment Book Club book, which is John Dewey's Art as Experience.  It's a classic and I think pertains to a lot of what we discuss on this show, but it was also written in 1934, so let's read it together and think about how it is and is not relevant today.

My first act in honor of Participant Appreciation Month is to share with you my favorite responses to Tanja Hollander's Art Assignment.

(The Art Assignment intro plays)

Sarah: Tanja's assignment is to take a formal photographic portrait of a friend, and it's closely related to her ongoing series Are You Really my Friend? where she's traveling around the world taking formal portraits of all 600+ of her Facebook friends.  Her series and this assignment explores what friendship means in the age of the Internet.  And so it was fitting that many of you made portraits of long-distance friends or those who you see primarily via screen.  

One of the responses that captured such a friendship was between two frequent Art Assignment contributors, Meg Gilbert and Betty from Articulations.  They got to know each other through the Art Assignment community and Betty asked Meg to be the subject of her Photo A Friend portrait.  I appreciated the care Betty took with composing the photograph despite their distance, and the seriousness with which Meg took her role as subject.  It was interesting to watch the two of them negotiate their respective roles in this, and I think it yielded really lovely results.  

Other successful portraits of Internet friendship came from Lydia, who posted two portraits, one of Cassie of whom she says, "A friend is someone you'll drive three hours to see and then spend hours in companionable silence making tissue paper flowers for her wall." And the other is of Aimee.  Lydia says about her the following, "Internet friends are different from other friends.  Here on the Internet we don't have the limitation of proximity.  You had your pick of all the other billions and billions of people with blogs and profiles and URLs, and out of all of them, you choose me."  

But there were still many of you who chose people they see in the flesh every day to be the friends they photographed.  Like this one from the blog Goat Eyes and Howard, described by the photographer as a formal portrait of a friend, my sister, with her things.  I love the somewhat eerie color balance in this one, and the narrow depth of focus.  Seeing the subject clearly amid a blurry battlefield of her stuffed animals and the faraway look in her eyes as she clutches the one bear, which must be more special than all the others.

Or there was also this portrait of siblings by Aubrey.  It's a fantastic picture, accomplished in its composition and clarity, and it's just such a dynamic image.  Aubrey says, "I know this was supposed to be a formal portrait with the subject still, but I think this captures being a young boy better."  I thought it was kind of funny Aubrey assumed the subject had to be still for it to be formal, because this assignment made me think a lot about what "formal" means.  Portraits like this one made me realize that formal to me means well-considered and thought out, and not necessarily still or serious.  

I also enjoyed this family portrait by Hannah, who said, "I often find the greatest friends come as package deals.  The entire family for the price of one."  So I like that for Hannah, showing their friend in their environment meant showing them not just with their things or in their own room, but showing them with the people they care about and in their shared family space.  

And earlier, we saw Meg choose her prop to be her daughter Lily, and we also saw some others depict their subject with their children.  Like Peter, who took these two lovely portraits of friends with their babies.  Peter says, "For each of these portraits, it was very important to me to have both them and their children in the picture, because for each of them, motherhood is intrinsic to who they have become.  For each of them, motherhood wasn't something that just happened without difficulty, and they've both faced their own challenges with grace, strength, and determination.  

For the assignment, Tanja told us we could define "friend" however we wanted, and a fair number of you made portraits of people who weren't necessarily your peers or those you talk to all the time.  There was this accomplished portrait by foundonland.  She says, "In a Ukrainian village, this is the kindest lady I've ever met.  She survived the Gulag.  She had been a prisoner from the age of 17 until 28, and despite all of this, she still only has love in her heart."  Or this one by theartofbeinghuman, who says, "A friend is someone who teaches you everything about fishing."  

A fair number of you made portraits of pets, more dogs than cats, as it happens, and I especially like this portrait by Trishy199.  It's not only a great photograph, but I'm so amused by how this dog is completely holding its own and presenting itself in such a dignified manner.

There were also these beautiful photographs by Laura.  She says, "Don't get me wrong, I have human friends, but my dogs will forever be the most loyal.  The friends who will sit and stare at the view with me.  The friends who will always bring back the stick or pose like the diva she is for my camera."  

And speaking of posing, something I was greatly amused by in a number of the responses was the idea that a friend is someone willing to pose for your picture.  Like lindsfromco shared this great picture of her roommate and said, "I'm glad she is a friend and allows my creativity to go crazy."  I like that the roommate is clearly amused by being the subject of this, and I like imagining how she's frequently pulled in to be a guinea pig for her friends' art projects.

Or there was myyearbydesign, who photographed her best friend and husband, Nick, and she depicts him as he's studying at home for his MBA.  She took a few photos, saying "I wanted to demonstrate how Nick sometimes deals with Jen's crazy art projects."  

It's mentioned casually, but as I kept seeing this idea come up with responses, it started taking on more weight.  You can look at it like your subject putting up with you taking their picture, but it's more than that.  A friend is someone you can ask to put themselves out there and be viewed through your lens, and to go through the intimate and possibly awkward experience of having your photo taken.  I was really touched by how generous that act is, of saying yes when a friend asks to take your picture.  
That generosity is on display in other pictures, like this one by safarox of McKenzie.  Safarox says, "The more time I spend with my friends, the more I learn about how to care and listen and be grateful for the little things in life, and most importantly, how to be a good friend, which is a lesson often forgotten."  

And I was really moved by this series of portraits posted by wolfs-toeter, which weren't actually created for this assignment but were taken in years past.  The description says, "So here's some.  All of them completely spontaneous, so no formal portraits and objectively not even very good photos, but they capture the peoples' personalities quite well somehow, or I just have a lot of memories attached to those photos."  I love these portraits and I have no memories attached to them, and I think that's what maybe makes for good photography sometimes, images that communicate the intimacy of the photographic encounter, despite your distance from it, and these do that impeccably well.  

And the last response I'd like to share with you is by murderbyrosestem, and it's a selfie, a splendid selfie, and as far as I know, it's the only selfie that was posted in response to this assignment.  The description says, "While I give my friends slack, I tend to be over-critical of my actions.  While I would give anything to spend time with my friends, I would love to get away from myself.  I want to be friends with myself, though, and being friends with yourself is a process.  It hasn't been easy, but a friend is someone you want to spend time with, trust and love, and I will be my own friend."  

I was incredibly moved by looking at all of your responses to this assignment, and I'm immensely grateful to all of you for sharing these portraits with us.  So keep photoing your friends formally and posting them with #theartassignment, and I'll see you next week to talk about more highlights.