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This week we try our hand at one of those top 10 lists we keep seeing on the Interwebs these days. Specifically, we're going to talk about ten ideas that led to the idea of this very show! We'll look at how ideas are cyclical - informed by ideas that precede them AND informing those that follow. And we'll talk about how everything from meme culture and the maker movement to Sports Racers and Yoko Ono, got us to this point. Tell us in the comments, where it's going to go!

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The internet seems to love a top ten list, so today I am going to talk about ten things that inspired us to make this show and are the reason why The Art Assignment exists.

Okay so we all know that ideas seed other ideas seed other ideas. All creative endeavors owe a debt to the like-minded creators that came before. And I've been thinking about the huge range of influences that led to this show and how the new things that you make help feed other ideas in a virtuous circle.

First up: Planking. When meme culture began taking over the internet I couldn’t help but see parallels between things people were doing for an internet laugh and projects by reputable contemporary artists. Like when I saw planking, I thought about photo projects, like Lilly Mcelroy’s I Throw Myself At Men. Where she goes into public places, like bars, and photographs herself literally throwing herself at men. And I when I saw Old Me, Now Me I couldn’t help but think of Cindy Sherman’s exploration of herself in other roles and identities. And when I saw animated gifs embracing the possibilities of looping video and pop culture appropriation, I couldn’t help but think of early video art of artist Jack Goldstein who looped the MGM lion roar into this piece.

And Dara Birnbaum who mashed up clips of Wonder Woman spinning into a mesmerizing and purely enjoyable video work. What meme showed us was that people were willing to play freely with the glut of available media, copyright infringement or not. And humiliate themselves in the name of shared enterprise. And if you can do that, you can make art. That’s where we saw our in.

Learning to Love You More was this absolutely amazing online collaborative project Harold Fletcher and Miranda July started in 2002, before the internet was anywhere near what it is today. They issued assignments like, take a picture of your parents kissing, make a protest sign and protest, photograph a scar and write about it. And they invited people to respond and submit documentation that was posted on the website. I know, I know our show is a complete rip off of Learning to Love You More. But in my mind, The Art Assignment is an homage to that project and one that takes into account how much has changed in the internet world since their project concluded in 2009. You guys share what you make on your social media platform of choice and hashtag it with theartassignment. So that you are sharing what you make not just with us or even the Art Assignment community but with people you know. We want this to be part of your life and not something that lives in its own separate art realm. And Miranda July and Harold Fletcher are truly brilliant and had loads of great ideas of assignments but I wanted to see how their idea could continue and what a wider variety of artists would give us as assignments. There are so many ways of making art and I wanted to see what would spring from the minds of not just from me or a few other people but from a limitless number of artists.

In March of 2006 internet denizen and programmer Ze Franks launched his yearlong video project “The Show with Ze Frank.” That spawned a community called Sports Racers. I enjoyed the videos and was fascinated by how Ze used online video to build a community and so were many other people including my husband John who co-founded the Vlogbrothers channel in 2007. The Nerdfighter community, which grew out of those videos, has been a huge inspiration to me. Especially when it comes to building things together in virtual spaces.

In 2011, John and Hank sent out a census to the Nerdfighter community. Tens of thousands of Nerdfighters wrote in. When asked what kind of shows they would like to see more of online, the number one answer was videos on art. And to be honest, I couldn’t believe it at first. The view count for existing videos on art was abysmal but it made us start thinking how we might approach the subject differently. And about the potential for a genuine community to develop around it.

So in 1970, John Baldessari came up with a list of optional class assignments for his students at CalArts in a class he called “Post Studio Art.” It was a really flexible class with no real format, no assignments, and no grades, but he gave his students a hand out of optional assignments, just in case anyone needed the structure. There were more than a hundred ideas including “disguise an object to look like another object,” “make up a list of distractions that often occur to recreate on video tape,” “describe the visual verbally and the verbal visually,” and he suggested writing out “I will not make any more boring art” a thousand times which he executed and turned into his own art work in 1971. Baldessari is well know for being an amazing teacher and it’s because he let the students take the lead. He said, “For me the sign of success as a teacher was feeling invisible. I wanted to know that I could leave the room and the conversation would continue.” And that is just the sort of thing you guys of proved is possible with The Art Assignment community. The assignments we give out are only loose staring points for you to make your own work and have your own conversations.

Okay, this one’s pretty obvious but this show wouldn’t exist without PBS Digital Studios. The other week I attended a gathering of PBS Digital Studios producers and I was once again so impressed with what they are doing. PBS’s support of free educational video is extremely impressive and if you haven’t taken a look at the many other great YouTube channels in their family, you really should. Sitting in the room with Mike Rugnetta from Idea Channel, David Garnock of Blank on Blank, Vanessa Hill of BrainCraft, and Joe Hansen of It’s Okay to be Smart, just to name a few, I was astounded by the incredibly bright and generous and unpretentious people that PBS is giving us access to for free. And I am really proud to be part of it.

And another artist who’s ideas were foundational to this series is Yoko Ono. Before John Lennon even entered her life, she was a successful artists whose 1964 book Grapefruit consisted of instructions like, “Listen to the sound of the earth turning,” “Stand in the evening light until you become transparent or until you fall asleep,” “Smoke everything you can including your pubic hair.” It’s playful and poetic and reflects the time it was made but it also helped form what would later be called Instruction Art or art that could be reduced to a set of rules that anyone can execute. Now, The Art Assignment is not instruction art because we are asking you to create your own art works in response to a prompt, not create the artwork of the person giving you the assignment. But it still is an idea that influences this show, the artist who are creating your prompts, and you guys as you interpret them.

The next idea that led to this series is the Maker Movement that has proliferated abundantly in recent years. Seeing what creative and skillful things people are hungry to create on platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr and Reddit puts further evidence to us that people want to make things. We like to get our hands dirty and to surround ourselves with well-made or at least interestingly-made things that are fulfilling to create improve our daily life though functionality or strangeness or beauty. The internet is full of helpful tutorials on how to do just about anything and all in the embarrassment-free environment of your own home. We thought, why not seize on this desire to create and inform that process with the ideas and direction of some of the best artists working today.

So New York Magazine has this thing in every issue that I know is silly but I still really like and it’s called the Approval Matrix. In March 2012 they featured John’s Crash Course videos and we were pleased to find out that they were situated in the brilliant, lowbrow quadrant of the chart, between the four poles of highbrow, lowbrow, despicable, and brilliant. You of course want to be on the brilliant side of things, but it was that highbrow/lowbrow spectrum that really got me thinking. Art museums, art history, and contemporary art are notorious for being highbrow. But why does it have to be that way? Most of the artists I know are deeply unpretentious and actually hate the bits about the art world that tend to alienate people. So we wanted to strike the same brilliant lowbrow tone of Crash Course and present well researched material but in a way that was welcoming and that you might actually want to watch. The internet is a fantastic arena for navigating that right side of the matrix and it’s exciting to see the potential for educational video unfold. 

And the primary idea that seeded this idea was that artists have great ideas. I like being a contemporary art curator because I get to work directly with artists and get a brief glimpse into the way they think about things and approach problems. When I worked in a museum, it never seemed fair to me that when I’d stand in a gallery and realize that I was the only one who got to see that artist’s work space or to talk to them about their ideas behind a piece, to know how they agonized over the little details or to learn their dog’s name. Some art does speak for itself but our experience of art is almost always improved with more information. Whether it’s from a label or the artist speaking to you directly. My favorite part of the show is we not only get to see the featured artist's ideas but we also get to see your ideas. You have great ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing many more of them.