Can this “outsider to the art world” attract an art-curious YouTube audience?
“Hi, I’m Jessie. I’m a science math person, yet I work at the Getty, famous for its art and culture. So begins each ten-minute episode of J. Paul’s light-hearted YouTube video series Getty Trust Become artistic.
The initiative was launched a year ago as an introduction to the Los Angeles-based organization’s museum, research institute and gardens. In its recently released second series, it has evolved into a program that promotes learning about the art through the lens of science and history, with recent episodes including topics such as jousting and human anatomy.
The goal is to make the Getty (and the art world in general) less intimidating for people who don’t know much about art but are curious to learn. As a science writer and actor with little knowledge of art history, series host Jessie Hendricks “gets artistic” with her audience.
The series is the brainchild of Christopher Sprinkle, the Getty’s lead creative producer, who grew increasingly frustrated creating YouTube explainers alongside curators and Getty staff. While extremely knowledgeable, his interviewed experts were often not comfortable in front of the camera. “It was like pulling teeth trying to squeeze emotion and drama out of it,” Sprinkle says.
That’s how he came up with the idea of hiring a host who could “lighten the air and ask questions in a way that people without an art history background could relate to.” Hendricks says, “They wanted a host who wasn’t afraid to ask simple questions, like, who is Ed Ruscha? I asked this question.
Hendricks is not only the host of the series, but also the writer, the producer and, most of the time, the cameraman. (She calls herself a “one-man content creator.”) She and Sprinkle work on the show together, but after the first two introductory episodes, he gave her carte blanche to explore any subject matter that she wanted to, bickering with curators and asking fellow staffers for suggestions in the process. “I was lucky enough to design the episodes around my interests and follow my instincts,” she says. She and Sprinkle are particularly enthusiastic about a recent episode in which she and the Getty staff make overseas pigment from scratch, just like artists did in the Renaissance.
Become artistic is an unusual YouTube series for an art museum, and not just because it’s hosted by an art stranger. While other museum videos focus on specific works from their collections and film using what Sprinkle calls a “traditional documentary style,” Getty’s series is more hands-on. In an episode on jousting, for example, Hendricks and Larisa Grollemond, a curator in the Manuscripts Department, drive over an hour north of Los Angeles to take a jousting class together while discussing the history of the sport and its representation in medieval manuscripts.
When asked which videos had inspired the sensation of Become artistic, Hendricks and Sprinkle cite more series on history and science than on art. Hendricks is a fan of Physics Girl, Raven the Science Expertand The scoop of the brain of the Field Museum in Chicago. They both mention explainers from American media company Vox as some of their favorite videos.
They wanted a host who wasn’t afraid to ask simple questions, like who is Ed Ruscha? I asked this question
Jessie Hendricks, host of the YouTube series
Sprinkle says in his original pitch for Become artistic, he used the example of a 2017 Stonehenge video by Vox producer Joss Fong, in which she explains the history and significance of the prehistoric monument while making a scale model of it on the floor of her living room. He loved the “anti-stock footage” and “conversational” feel. In the first episode of Become artisticHendricks sits on the floor of her porch and squares a surface while talking about the Getty Villa.
It’s clear from the videos that the staff at Getty are having a great time, and while some moments come across as twee, it’s all part of the appeal. “We want to counter the impression that the Getty is an elitist organization,” Sprinkle says. “I want us to make content that my mom and daughter would want to watch.”
Launching a wide network is why a YouTube video series was hosted in the first place. “It’s the most searched site on the internet after Google, and an incredible way to reach audiences around the world,” Sprinkle points out.
According to Hendricks, Become artistic was viewed in over 50 countries, with the two main audiences being the US and the UK. The first episode, released on October 5, 2021, currently has the most views – nearly 10,000. Beginner’s Guide to Appreciating Art comes in second with more than 7,000 views. “The priority is to attract new audiences, those who might be art-curious,” says Hendricks. And not just at the Getty, but at any art museum in the world.
• Become artistic is a free series available on Youtube