“Hi, I’m Jesse. I’m a guy who does scientific math, yet I work at the Getty—known for its art and culture.” That’s how each ten-minute episode of the J. Paul Getty Trust’s light-hearted YouTube video series begins. Getting Artsy.
The initiative began 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 the study of art through the lens of science and history, with recent episodes covering topics such as gunfights 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, Jessie Hendricks, the host of the series, “gets artistic” along with her audience.
The series is the brainchild of Christopher Sprinkle, the lead creative producer at the Getty, who grew increasingly frustrated with the creation of YouTube explainers alongside Getty curators and staff. Although extremely knowledgeable, his expert interviewees were often uncomfortable in front of the camera. “It was like pulling teeth, trying to get emotion and drama out of them,” says Sprinkle.
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 can 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.
Hendrix is not only the host of the series, but also the writer, producer and – most of the time – cinematographer. (She calls herself a “self-made content creator.”) She and Sprinkle are working together on the series, but after the first few introductory episodes, he’s given her the freedom to explore any topic she wants, driving the curators and asking fellow staffers for suggestions in the process . “I was lucky enough to create the episodes based on my interests and follow my instincts,” she says. Both she and Sprinkle are particularly enthusiastic about a recent episode in which she and Getty staff make ultramarine pigment from scratch, just as Renaissance artists did.
Getting Artsy is an unusual YouTube series about an art museum, and not just because it’s run by an art outsider. While other museum videos focus on specific works in their collections and film using what Sprinkle calls a “traditional documentary style,” the Getty’s series is more hands-on. In an episode about skirmishes, for example, Hendricks and Larissa Grolemond, a curator in the manuscripts department, drive more than an hour north of LA to take a skirmish class together while discussing the history of the sport and its description in medieval manuscripts.
When asked which videos inspired the feeling of Getting Artsy, Hendricks and Sprinkle cite history and science sequences more than art ones. Hendrix is a fan of Physics girl, Raven the Science Mavenand The Brain Scoop from the Field Museum in Chicago. 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 Hendrix, YouTube series host
Sprinkle says in her original step about Getting Artsy, he uses the example of a 2017 video about Stonehenge 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 her living room floor. He liked the “anti-stock footage” and “conversational” feel. In the first episode of Getting ArtsyHendricks sits on the floor of his porch, lining a surface, as he talks about the Getty Villa.
It’s clear from the videos that the Getty staff is having a great time, and while some moments come off as laughable, that’s all part of the appeal. “We want to counter the impression that the Getty is an elitist organization,” says Sprinkle. “I want us to make content that both my mom and my daughter would want to watch.”
Broadcasting is the reason for hosting a video series on YouTube in the first place. “It’s the most searched site on the internet after Google and an amazing way to reach a worldwide audience,” Sprinkle points out.
According to Hendrix, Getting Artsy has been seen in more than 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 — almost 10,000. One titled A Beginner’s Guide to Art Appreciation is in second place with more than 7,000 views. “The priority is to attract new audiences, those who might be curious about art,” Hendrix says. And not just at the Getty, but in every art museum in the world.
• Getting Artsy is a free series available on YouTube