The Backstory



When I heard that Sarah Urist Green was working on a PBS Digital series called the Art Assignment, I hoped some creative minds from Indianapolis would make the show.

Sure enough, the latest episode features Big Car's Jim Walker along with French "Urban Hacker" Florian Rivière.

Here's the episode:

So, your assignment -- should you choose to accept it -- is the following:

1.Surf over to and click Try Me.

2.The randomizer will give you a "unique to-do." Do that.

3.Capture yourself doing that in some manner.

4.Share it on any social media using #TheArtAssignment.

Look for me to "drum on something in a store with a pen" sometime soon. Though, heck, the chances are pretty good I'd be doing that anyway. "Wipeout" anyone?

Now, I'm under no delusion that I even remotely qualify to make the show with a proposal, so heck, why not try it here? So, here's my Art Assignment proposal.

You're hanging out with a good friend at lunch, over drinks, eating dinner alfresco or, best yet, hanging out on a Sunday afternoon in your local coffee shop. My experience tells me that coffee shops are particularly well-suited for this exercise.

There's a lull in the conversation, and you both notice someone else (an exasperated parent with a misbehaving child, a couple who looks like they're breaking up, coworkers at lunch talking about nothing but work) and they're out of earshot.

You know what comes next, right? You both start making up dialogue and even guess the backstory of your unsuspecting targets. From experience, this can be a game where you both try to come up the most plausible scenario, but sometimes, let's admit it, the scene can get quite contrived or even snarky.

Hipster guy: Dude, do you see how well my sweet mustache is coming in?

Girlfriend (unimpressed): I'm not a dude, dude. Did you get tickets to Forecastle yet?

Hipster guy (looks up from his Samsung Galaxy): Friday, I get paid on Friday. Black Lips and Tune-Yards, yeah.

Girlfriend: Sharon Jones. Can't wait to see Sharon Jones. (returns to texting)

My inspiration for this idea came from Art Assignment #2: Stakeout!, and I, like Sarah, was really struck by the sensitivity of the submitters with something so public as people-watching.

The beauty of the exercise comes when you don't just guess, but observe acutely. Yes, I could say that the brilliant contemporary adaptation of the BBC's Sherlock series serves as a second inspiration.

But I also had an actual inspiration a few years ago when two men sat down at a table near me at Hubbard & Cravens in Broad Ripple. The shop was noisy with steam and banging of the espresso cup, so I couldn't quite make out the conversation. From watching them, the two men were about 15 years apart, but they did not look related. And by the way they asked each other questions, it was clear they were making conversation, exploring commonalities. They appeared to know each other in some arranged manner with one seeming like a mentor of some sort.

What was their relationship? I wondered.

My imagination thundered with thought experiments examining which types of relationships might apply to this conversation I'd been observing. Finally, the older man pulled out a coin and showed it to the younger man, who seemed impressed. Then, I remembered my surroundings: a coffee shop, a mentor figure and a coin.

Can you guess their relationship?

So try it out, and post your observations, descriptions, conjectures and imagined conversations in the comments below.

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