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This week Mike Rugnetta joins us to share five of his favorite works of art. Thanks, Mike!

See more of Mike over at PBS Idea Channel:

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

 (00:00) to (02:00)

This episode is supported by Prudential.

(PBS Digital Studios intro)

Sarah: This is Mike Rugnetta.

Mike: Hi there.

Sarah: This is what his set looks like when he's not in it.  It's pretty cool.  This is his favorite item on set.  His friend made it for him by hand.  He hosts PBS Idea Channel, which he describes like this.

Mike: It's a YouTube show where we apply philosophical and critical concepts to things in the pop culture canon.

Sarah: It's a really great channel.  You should check it out.  Anyway, to the point of the show.

Mike: These are five of my favorite works of art.  Private Parts by Robert Ashley.

Sarah: So Private Parts is a 1977 album by Robert Ashley containing two parts of his larger opera "Perfect Lives".  

Mike: They're these really simple stories about everyday situations that are told just very poetically but also weirdly very simply, and just the way Robert Ashley pairs his language with the music, it's really effective even though it's also very simple.

Sarah: We can't play the album for you because copyright, but Mike says your first time hearing it is kind of like this.

Mike: You know like when you pick up a cup that has liquid in it and you think it has one kind of liquid in it, but it actually has another and you just take a like, really deep swig and then this weird just sort of thing happens.   That happened when I lis--when I first listened to this record.  I could feel this part of my brain go, oh, you, your expectation was completely wrong and you had, you had no previous built up, built up no previous basis for what you're currently experiencing.

Sarah: Mike only listens to this album on vinyl.  

Mike: I will put it on and I will sit there and it will be the thing that I do, like, you know, watching a movie or watching a TV show.

Sarah: I'm not sold.  Why should I give this a listen?

Mike: This is actually a really good, I think, entry point into experimental music because it has a lot of the hallmarks of experimental music but it is actually I think really kind of easy to listen to.  After you get past that first layer, there's a lot more to dive into and you can spend a lot of time with it, which I think is another facet of experimental music.  

 (02:00) to (04:00)

It repays investment.  Concret PH by Iannis Xenakis.  

Sarah: Technically speaking, this is a piece of music.

Mike: Though some people might say that that is being charitable.  That is very short, it's, I think it's less than three minutes long.  It is basically just the sound of coals crackling.

Sarah: He first heard it in college through his experimental music professor.

Mike: Who introduced me to the idea of music concret, which was the first use of prerecorded non-musical sounds in a musical setting.

Sarah: A lot of people might say this about the work.

Mike: You could easily make this today in 25 minutes using stuff that comes on your computer.

Sarah: But to the naysayers, Mike would respond.

Mike: There are two possible answers.  The first is, okay.  That it's alright for people to not like things, especially, you know, things like this.  I recognize this is a challenging piece of music, but that I would also say, you know, to a certain degree, people like Xenakis and his contemporaries allowed us to do things that are currently happening in popular music.  It just took us 50 years to catch up to their ideas and so to ask, you know, to point at his work and say like, ugh, what's the point of this, is to kind of ask what the point of a lot of the adventurous, you know, noise for lack of a better word, is in modern music.

Basically anything by Agnes Martin.

Sarah: Put simply, Mike describes her work like this.

Mike: A lady draws lines on a canvas, mostly with a pencil, sometimes there are dots.

Sarah: He most recently saw her work at the LA County Museum of Art.

Mike: It's great.  If you have a chance to go see it, you should like, spend all day.

Sarah: I agree.  You should see it if you can.  It's currently at the Guggenheim in New York, and if you do see it, Mike has some tips.  

Mike: I think the right kind of mindset for going into an Agnes Martin show is the mindset that you are, you are going to almost, like, invade her artwork.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Stand as close as you possibly can and look at all of the little details and then stand back and look at the painting and try to figure out how all of those things come together and I think that that's the little like, that's almost like the little puzzle to try to solve, that you're gonna like, look at all these little parts, you're gonna inspect all of the tiny little differences, and then see as you slowly step away from the painting how they disappear and think about why that's cool or important or boring and stupid if you end up not liking it.

Sarah: Hey Mike.  It looks super boring on screen.

Mike: I think it is super important to see Agnes Martin in person.  I think for the same reason it's really important to see Rothkos in person, that there's a, there's a lot of detail that just isn't captured when you're not standing in front of this thing, and a lot of them are really big, and that's the other part of it, that it, they just have this presence.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of novels by Douglas Adams.  

Sarah: If you haven't read them, here are the basics.

Mike: A man who is evicted from his planet and goes on great adventures to the edges of the universe with a cast of just incredible characters.

Sarah: Mike first read these books in middle school.

Mike: They were both interesting and funny, and that was a thing that I had not experienced up until that point.  They had a lot going on, there were a lot of characters that I really liked, but that I also tended to laugh and I don't know if I knew that that was possible, especially in literature.

Sarah: And he didn't stop reading them when he no longer looked like this.  

Mike: And the reason that I returned to them over and over and over again is that they are a piece of, they are undeniably popular culture but they also contain really complex and deeply philosophical ideas and these were a set of books where I got to realize that and I got to work through the difficulty of it, but was also entertained the whole time.

 (06:00) to (08:00)

Sarah: He's learned some important lessons from the books, including...

Mike: Being alien is kind of relative and that you, like, home is essentially arbitrary and I think that a lot of those novels, a lot of those books sort of work through that idea in as many different ways as you could, and I think Douglas Adams also had a lot of really interesting ideas about what technology is and how it works and its relationship to people and cultures and he dove into so many different corners of those concepts that, you know, stuff I still pull from today.

So this one's a little weird, it is a specific Global Threat punk rock show that I went to in the basement of Emerson College in, I think it was 1999.  

Sarah: I think it's best if Mike explains it.

Mike: At this point, Global Threat had been around for probably about maybe a year or two.  I really loved them.  I loved their records, you know, they were one of my favorite punk rock bands.  I was super psyched to go see them at this show.  I like, wore my new leather jacket and they played.  I had a great time, you know, in the mosh pit and everything, and as soon as the show was done, the frontman didn't exit the stage.  He just stepped off of it, into the audience.  His friend handed him a beer.  He turned around to the stage, opened the beer, and then just watched the rest of the show.  

Sarah: And this blew little Mike's mind. 

Mike: Because it was in that moment that I realized the distinction between creator, creative, artist, and audience member was one that I had made and I had given it to them, and so to watch him just completely eschew it and just transition seamlessly from artist to audience member, I still think about it today. 

 (08:00) to (09:03)

I probably think about that show once a week.

Sarah: Thanks, Mike.

Mike: Oh, it's my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

Sarah: This episode was supported by Prudential.  The time between when people think they should start saving for retirement and when they actually do is known as the action gap.

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