YouTube’s No-Nonsense Art Guru on How to Unlock Your Inner Artist


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How many times have you heard someone in a museum scoff "I could do that" in the presence of a solid-black canvas or an obtuse conceptual installation? You're not alone, and frankly, curator-turned-YouTube-star Sarah Urist Green understands the disconnect between art enthusiasts and art skeptics. But she wants to fix it by guiding all of us, from truck drivers to art historians, into tapping our own inner wells of creativity using the biggest video platform on the planet.

After grad school and a curatorship at the former Indianapolis Museum of Art (renamed Newfields in 2017), Urist Green was well-versed in the ins and outs of the contemporary-art scene. But she eventually began to tire of the insular world built up around the work itself and longed for a way to expand art's audience. When her husband, the novelist John Green, mentioned off-hand that PBS was developing new educational programming, she took the plunge and pitched a show called "The Art Assignment" centered on projects designed by avant-garde artists that everyone, everywhere could complete themselves. Now a weekly digital web series, the YouTube fixture has some 500,000 subscribers, and it has branched out from its core concept to include travel episodes, art-history-themed cooking lessons, and much more.

After six years helming the wildly popular series, Green published her first book, You Are an Artist: Assignments to Spark Creation, in late March, just as millions of people around the world were being forced to retreat indoors for weeks on end. The timing was uncanny. Born out of her YouTube series, the book is brimming with projects dreamed up by such critically acclaimed talents as Alec Soth, Michelle Grabner, and the Guerrilla Girls—each one engineered to be feasible from home with the materials available. It's a perfect solution for our long days of sheltering in place.

On this week's episode, Urist Green joins Andrew Goldstein by phone to discuss her unexpected art-world journey, the serendipitous appeal of her new book, and how you—yes, you—can be an artist, too.

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