Previous: Create a vehicular palette. | Jesse Sugarmann | The Art Assignment
Next: Art Happens at VidCon | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios



View count:59,166
Last sync:2024-03-19 15:30
Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here: This week we answer your questions from our art hotline* and talk about the distinction between art and craft (if any), art world pretension, the proliferation of images, imposter syndrome, and more. Keep the calls coming - leave us a message at 901-602-ARTY!
*bling (for the last time, we promise)

Watch our video How to Learn about Contemporary Art:
Google these and explore their websites:
Tate Museums
Creative Time Reports
Art F City
Smart History
Art Babble
Modern Art Notes (podcast)
Bad At Sports (podcast)
Museum of Modern Art
Artforum Guide (and Diary is fun, too)

You can also follow and check in on organizations that commission and produce projects and stage events like Creative Time, Artangel, Art Production Fund, Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), and others.

These are really excellent print publications that also feature good content online: Frieze,
BOMB magazine, Esopus, Cabinet, ArtAsiaPacific, Parkett, ArtReview, Afterall, Flash Art, Art Papers, ARTnews, and Art in America.

Don't forget to subscribe for new episodes of The Art Assignment every Thursday!

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

John: Hello, and welcome to another episode of our art hotline.

Sarah: Our Artline.

John: Bling.

Sarah: No, no, no, we are not doing that anymore.

John: No, we're still doing it.

Sarah: No more bling.

John: All right, that was the last time. OK? Fair?

Sarah: Fair. So the way this works is that we have a phone number. You can call it with your questions about art, and we will give you our opinion.

John: All right, let's hear the first question.

[BEEP] RICARDO (ON HOTLINE): How do you feel about David Hickey's criticism of American art, that we are obsessed with celebrity artists, leaving us lagged behind Europe and Russia? How can we close the gap in the art race and rediscover the soul and sex of American art?

John: Ricardo, I'm not sure if that voice was French, Russian, German, or fake. But regardless, I thought it was excellent.

We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and part of what art does is reflect culture back to us. And so there's no way to get around the fact that celebrity is important in contemporary American life, and that makes it important in the art world, too.

Sarah: And Ricardo, you mentioned this kind of art race. And I think that that's a false construct that may have been true previously, when American artists were trying to make a name for themselves, maybe in mid-century. But now the art world is so international and dispersed that that idea of one country sort of getting their artists together and becoming great again, I don't really believe in that. I believe in an international art world.

[BEEP] MARISSA (ON HOTLINE): Having taken some art courses, I've been really disturbed by the dichotomy between art and craft. I tend to see them on a spectrum of artistic communicative expressions, but a few professors of mine have insisted on lauding art at the expense of craft. And maybe I'm just biased based on my area of study, but I don't know. I guess I'm just wondering what and if you guys have any thoughts on this.

Sarah: So Marissa, in sum, we agree with you. I think that your understanding of the sort of lack of separation between art and craft is really smart and savvy and the way to be.

John: For me, your question gets at something that's really disturbing about the pretentiousness of the art world. Like, I think it's fine when pretentiousness exists because of academic rigor or because of intellectual rigor. I don't think it's fine when it exists merely to be exclusionary. And I often feel like that's the case with the dichotomy between arts and crafts.

Sarah: I think that in fine art circles today, the division between art and craft is not as strong as it used to be. I think a lot of contemporary artists are engaging with ideas of craft, like Michelle Grabner, who was in a past Art Assignment episode. But that distinction, that harsh line between art and craft, I think it used to be more of a thing, and that now that's kind of loosening up as artists are working in really wide and very different ways.

[BEEP] ISAAC (ON HOTLINE): I was just wondering, how you feel about the inflation of the price of art to help wealthy individuals diversify their investment portfolios? In the same vein, is it wrong for wealthy individuals to amass large amounts of wealth while they're alive while exploiting workers, only to donate that money to build an art museum or a theater after they die?

John: I think that it is flatly wrong for people to amass great amounts of wealth and then donate it to start an art museum. I also think it's flatly wrong for people to take massive tax breaks when they make donations of art from their own collections to publicly funded museums. But I think Sarah probably feels very differently about this.

Sarah: It's complicated. I mean, the money that's in the art world now is disgusting and disconcerting, and creates a cult of a kind of art that is extremely commercial and made for investors. However, in a sense, it's the engine that makes the whole thing run. Our main repositories for art and the way that we learn about art history and have these pieces in the public realm is because rich people have been given all of these amazing tax breaks and are incentivized to give their work-- "give their work" to a museum.

[BEEP] PABLO (ON HOTLINE): With the proliferation of cellphones and everybody being able to capture an image, do you think itself that the image is necessarily dead? I mean, we have things like Instagram, Tumblr, and stuff. Anybody can make an image. Would you say we're at the post-image stage?

Sarah: This is a great question. I don't think the image is dead. Of course, like, what does that mean? We're so awash in images that-- is it-- is it dead if it's so a part of our life that you can't even distinguish it from the soup of life?

John: But I think Pablo's question is, is the special-ness of the image dead? And that's a very interesting question. In the course of normal human life, right now, if you look around, there are a lot of images in our lives.

Sarah: And I think we have to be more sophisticated image viewers. And I don't mean that in a pretentious way, necessarily. I mean that we have to think about, where did that image come from? How has it been divorced from its context? Who originally made it? What's happened to it since it was made?

John: How was it staged when it was made?

Sarah: Yeah, how does viewing it on Tumblr change my perception of it? What happens when I forward it and I add something to the comment chain? These are all super interesting things. And I think that we have to think about that, not just as like a free-floating image, but what it is, where it comes from, where it's going.

[BEEP] ISABEL (ON HOTLINE): What do you do when you no background, but you really hate a piece of art. You think it's terrible. But people who have so much more experience in this stuff like something. Does that make you wrong? Is there somehow a knowledge base that makes you better at appreciating or evaluating art?

John: This is such a great question, and such a complicated one. I think it was W.H. Auden who said that some books are undeservedly forgotten, but none are undeservedly remembered. So maybe there is a case that if lots of people like a work of art that you don't like, that maybe you are lacking something that would help you to like it, or maybe there is something valuable in it that you haven't seen. But sometimes-- I don't know. I strongly dislike works of art that everybody likes.

Sarah: Yeah, I think it's fine to dislike art. And I think it's constructive to think about why you don't like something. If something's really bothering you, then you could start to think about, like, well, maybe I don't like that kind of art. Also, I would definitely acknowledge the fact that your opinion can change over time. There's art that I hated 10 years ago that now I see it, and I'm like, oh, you know, I kind of-- I kind of see it.

But there was something interesting at the tail end of your question, which is whether there can be a base of knowledge that helps you appreciate art. And I think that there is. You may not like something, but the more that you spend time with art and study art, the more you're able to guess at why the artist maybe made the decisions that led to that work of art. That can be a fruitful line of questioning and not just something that makes you look at the piece and walk away.

[BEEP] AHMED (HOTLINE): If art is an expression that's conveying a message, asking a question, or presenting an idea, and et cetera, is art still art even if it doesn't do those things?

Sarah: When you think about art presenting an idea or asking a question, I can't imagine a work of art, or something that somebody has called art, that doesn't do that. If you look at a basic cube that someone has anointed a sculpture or a work of art, maybe it is asking a question. Maybe it's asking a question about what art should be. So it gets really sticky and tricky, and I think that it is still art if somebody wants it to be art and has put it into that context.

John: You know, I thought about the kind of question of mere beauty in art, in that question. I mean, is there something to art being less artful if it is merely beautiful? I think that merely beautiful art has meaning in the way that it makes-- opens up something inside of you. It cracks open-- cracks you open in a way that you otherwise wouldn't have ever experienced.

Sarah: Well, and part of Ahmed's definition was that it's an expression.

John: That's a pretty good definition of art, an expression of an idea--

Sarah: But--

John: Or a question, or et cetera.

Sarah: [laughs] It's all about the et cetera.

John: It's a-- a lot depends on the et cetera. I agree.

[BEEP] CIARA (ON HOTLINE): Sometimes when I go to museums or I talk to people about art, I feel like I'm pretending, because I'm not super knowledgeable, and I'm definitely not pretentious about it, because I don't even know enough to be pretentious. So what is your advice for someone like me, who wants to know more about art but doesn't necessarily want to pursue it as a career or become pretentious?

John: I just-- I want more people like her in the world. I want more people like her looking at art and thinking about art who don't approach it from a "how pretentious can I make this" perspective.

Sarah: This is kind of my mission in life, is to learn about art, be involved in art, and try to not be pretentious. I know some YouTube commenters might disagree with me about the pretentious bit. But I really try not to be that way. And I think that, you know, that feeling is real, though, of the imposter syndrome, of feeling like you don't have the knowledge base, or haven't spent the time, or don't know the vocabulary. And I would really encourage you to silence those voices in your head, and just go for it, and look at art when you have time for it. Read about art when you have time for it. And feel confident about your interpretations. And speak about art in plain terms. I think the more you use art speak, the less likely you are to have people listen to you. So I think just try to silence those thoughts and enjoy art, and forget about the rest.

[BEEP] ANONYMOUS (ON HOTLINE): I was just wondering how you guys find art. I find it very difficult to find new artists, and I don't know anywhere I can look on the internet where I can just, like, type in "contemporary artists" and find people I would like.

Sarah: The internet is a magical place where you can learn about art happening today. But you do need to know where to look. I'm going to put a list of possible resources for you in the comments, so you can see. But the internet is a great place to learn about art, and I don't think you need to wait till it hits you or till you come across it. I think you do need to seek it out.

John: Yeah, a lot of museums now have good websites where you can look at huge collections of art.

Sarah: There are good non-museum websites about art, as well. Those will be in the list. And you can also listen to podcasts. "Bad at Sports" is a really good art podcast, as is "Modern Art Notes." And that's another way to keep up with what's going on from wherever you are.


John: Thanks again for all your questions. You can call our Artline. We'll keep doing these videos. It's really wonderful to hear from you.

Sarah: Thanks for calling.