The Indispensability of My Art

Your art assignment, should you choose to accept, is one that I guarantee will be filled with adventure, intrigue, and quite a lot of laughter.

Since The Art Assignment premiered on YouTube in February, it has become a massive success. Hosted by curator Sarah Green (and wife of novelist John Green of The Fault in Our Stars fame, aka that guy I won’t shut up about), this show is a visual embodiment of what Arts at Michigan strives to be. The Art Assignment, Arts at Michigan. Seems like a perfect match.

But what IS The Art Assignment? Well, there is no concrete definition provided, but in general it’s a show where different artists are interviewed and share their stories, which ends up in a place where the artist engages and challenges the viewer to an assignment – possibly relating to art, possibly challenging them to redefine their meaning of art, but always pushing the viewer to really examine art and what it means to them.

While there are currently three Art Assignments on YouTube, the third one released only a couple of weeks ago struck a unique chord in me. The artist featured in this episode is Toyin Odutola, a woman living in New York that creates beautiful, textured portraits, often self-portraits that constantly define and redefine not only her visual image but the image she has within her.

And while I have yet to do an Art Assignment, Toyin’s challenge to create a gif of something indispensable to you sounds like a great place to start.

I like Toyin’s assignment the most because of its reflective nature. It asks the viewer to look at themselves and really figure out what is indispensable to them – something that I can honestly say no YouTube video has ever done to me. And even more amazing is the portrayal. For Toyin, it was her hands, and in a beautiful selection of frames she drew her hand clenching and unclenching, and even in that small motion I was fascinated at what her hands had birthed – a representation of herself that was true and vulnerable and yet gave her power in strength in its creation.

It makes me envious in the best way possible. I hope, even though I’m not that kind of artist, that someday I can think complexly about myself and those around me in order to create something groundbreaking, such as her art.

Honestly, I have to admit, this is not my usual coherent blog post and more a jumbled mess of words about how complex and fascinating art – in its grandest venn diagram – is, but if you get anything out of it, it’s that you should take some time out of your day and do The Art Assignment, even if it’s just thinking about what you would do if you were brave enough to bare your soul in a 24-frame gif. Think about what you define art as, and how you can continuously redefine it every day of your life – because that changing nature of art is what makes it art. And yet, art will always be an extension of you, and that paradox is what makes The Art Assignment so impactful.

What is blackness? It’s whatever I make it. What is being a woman? It’s whatever I make it. And that’s the beauty of being an image maker, you can do whatever you want, you can create whatever you want, and it’s all in the realm of how, you know how vivid and how like broad your imagination is – Toyin Odutola