You Are An Artist (a pep talk + book!)

So… you are an artist. You might disagree with that statement, but
hold on let me tell you what I mean. You are an artist as long as you’re making
things that you or anyone else might consider art. And I draw my art boundaries really widely. For me, art doesn’t need to be one of the
major disciplines like painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, ceramics, or the like. Those things are certainly art, and I like
them, too. But for me, art is also a bicycle wheel, plants
growing on a form, fluorescent light, and sound. It’s condensation, purple smoke, gunpowder,
a giant crater, an arrangement of hanging panels, and a bench that moves when you sit
on it. Art can be a crack in the floor, spray paint
on a train, a billboard, pantyhose filled with sand, a multi-story slide through an
art museum. It can be a sunburn, a video game, a cookie,
a meat suit. I could do this all day. There are so many working and successful artists
who make things and experiences that fall outside of the traditional categories of art. And we’ve featured a lot of them on this
show! Over the course of three years, we gathered
sixty assignments from artists all over who demonstrate beautifully and inspiringly how
there are lots of ways to be an artist. And I’m thrilled to announce that many of
those original assignments and a bunch of new ones are going to be a book! It’s coming out next spring, and will be
published by Penguin Books, and it has this amazing cover, and it’s available for preorder
at the handy link below. You do not have to consider yourself an artist
for this book to be relevant for you. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have
to know how to draw well, or even at all, to be an artist or to follow the prompts offered
in this book. There are so many non-drawing related activities
that are ways of making art. Like when Fritz Haeg showed us how he’s
taken strips of old t-shirts and bedsheets and hand knotted them into rugs. We also saw how he brought those rugs into
the notoriously cold, hard spaces of museums and invited others to contribute to them,
as part of his wider practice exploring what it means to make oneself at home. And Michelle Grabner shared with us how the
paper weaving activity her son brought home from kindergarten one day became a multi-decade
art-making endeavor, allowing her to explore pattern, repetition and variation, and how
small changes can affect vast systems of order. The Guerrilla Girls showed us how complaining
can be art. And not just any kind of complaining, but
strategic, original, well-thought-out, and sustained complaining. When we visited JooYoung Choi, she showed
us how she conceptualizes and constructs the characters who populate the paracosm she calls
the Cosmic Womb. Her assignment encourages you to make your
own imaginary friend in whatever medium you choose, and build out their world, and maybe
even introduce them to others. Some of the artists featured in the book are
very good at drawing. Like Toyin Ojih Odutola, who makes astoundingly
elaborate and detailed drawings at large scale, portraits of herself, others, and recently
two fictional Nigerian families whose personas and worlds she’s brought to colorful life. And Molly Springfield, who gave us a window
into her meticulous and laborious process making graphite drawings of photocopied text. And also showed us how you might make art
using only a photocopier and a little persistence. The first artist I ever met even contributed
an assignment to the book! Lonnie Holley is an accomplished visual artist
and experimental musician originally from Birmingham, Alabama, who did a workshop with
my class when I was a kid. These artists are not asking you to make exactly
the kind of art they’re making, but to respond to an assignment that reveals something about
their way of working. If you have mad drawing skills and want to
use them, you will indeed be able to in your responses. But for most of these, all you need is your
attention, maybe possibly your wits, and the wherewithal to source materials you already
have or can easily find. Because to be an artist, all you have to do
is start making things. You don’t need to be touched by the divine
gods of inspiration. Nor do you need to be the type of person that
other people or even you consider creative or “artsy,” one of my least favorite words
in the English language. But what you might need is a prompt, and that’s
where these assignments come in. The thing I really want to pass along to you
with this book is not particular skills, but ways of thinking. By following the leads of these artists, you’ll
do something you wouldn’t normally do, and which might open up new ways of thinking and
making for you. It might be frustrating at times and what
you make might look ugly, but come on people, by following one of these assignments you’ll
find your band. I’m being serious when I say that some of
the assignments in this book have changed the way I look at the world. Like Odili Donald Odita’s deceptively simple
assignment of finding and comparing and observing objects that could all be considered “white.” And Lauren Zoll’s assignment asking us to
look for images in screens that are “off.” The book expands on our original assignment
videos and adds many new assignments from artists including Wendy Red Star, Genesis
Belanger, Dread Scott, Julie Green, Gillian Wearing, and more. In the book, you’ll learn about why these
artists are offering each assignment, how it relates to their work, and what works from
art history might inform the activity. It also includes some of the outstanding responses
that have been made to some of the assignments, as well as a bunch of new tips and cheats
and variations. So whether you’ve seen every single assignment
video or have no idea what I’m talking about, there is something in this book for you. You may not be making art right now. But you could be. The artists in this book are real people,
who do take their work seriously, but who aren’t overly self-serious about it. Many of them have made real life part of their
art, and show you how you might do that, too. When the book comes out in April, we’ll
release some new assignment videos on this channel, and encourage you to make your own
responses and share them with us. In the meantime, pre-order a copy! Because here’s the thing: Art needs you. It needs more voices from more places and
from a wider variety of backgrounds. This whole enterprise we call art can make
your life more meaningful, but it can also be a way for you to share some of what you
know with others. Because you are an artist. Or, at least, you can be soon. Thanks to all of our patrons for supporting
The Art Assignment, especially our grandmasters of the arts Vincent Apa and Ernest Wolfe.


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