Art for the Ears: Students Learn By Listening to Their Peers

Student-created audio tours add a fresh perspective to modern art.

Student-created audio tours add a fresh perspective to modern art.
jArt for the Ears
Credit: Mark Todd

You stroll through the museum toward a colorfully dappled painting by French pointillist Georges Seurat and, with the push of a button on your Acoustiguide, listen to a robotic voice drone on about dots and stippling. Not really all that interesting, is it?

But visit the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, in Long Island City, New York, and you'll bypass the typically boring audio tour. Instead, you'll hear the frank and fresh comments of seniors at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, in Flemington, New Jersey. The auditory ruminations are a creation of the Media Project, a group of aspiring artists who recorded audio tours for their classmates as well as any interested Web surfers. The tours can be downloaded from the PS 1 Web site (as well as that of the Art Mobs, a student collaboration at Marymount Manhattan College) onto portable MP3 players and brought to the museum.

On the recordings, the kids are casual yet confident about discussing the art critically. They often laugh and joke, but throughout the presentation, they chat about organic forms in abstract paintings or how a photograph reflects issues of overseas labor.

"They have casual conversations -- discussing art as it fits into life, using everyday language and insight," says Mary Jo Rosania, Hunterdon's visual arts teacher.

In a commentary about Hank Willis Thomas's Scarred Chest, for example, they swap ideas about sex and racism while studying a nude male with Nike emblems covering his chest. And in their talk about an abstract show, called The Painted World, the students are concerned with how the art -- and the world -- makes them simultaneously laugh and learn. Not bad for a day at a museum.

This article originally published on 3/1/2006

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