March 21, 2011  |  Events & Programs
Educator Journal: In the Making—Music for the Eyes

In the Making is a free, ten-week program for NYC teens that offers studio art making as led by various artist-educators in the field. For the past 6 weeks, MoMA educator Mark Dzula has been leading the teens in his Music for the Eyes class through the strange and wonderful world of sound-art and sound-based installations. Drawing from his own background as a musician, Mark has taken the students on an artistic journey through the places in which the visual and the audio art worlds collide. Here, he reflects on a recent project the teens produced based on the idea of turning a piece of music into a 3-dimensional sculpture.

-Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs

A teen creates a sculpture based on Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné’s work

Where can we find intersections between visual art and music? At MoMA, these occur more frequently than you might think. For the past few weeks the teens and I have explored this question and have found a lot of inspiring work not only in the Museum itself but within our own interests as well. As we approach the time in our ten-week program when the students start to focus on their own final projects, it is fruitful to consider the work in the Museum and how it might relate to what we want to do as artists ourselves.

In weeks past, we visited Picasso: Guitars 1912–1914 and Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures, and we went on a walkthrough of Looking at Music 3.0 with curator Barbara London. Students are also finding their way into the Contemporary Art from the Collection exhibition on their own. These visits have provoked many responses in the young artists, positive as well as healthily critical.

This week we focused on three-dimensional work, as many of the students are interested in creating 3-D structures and installations for their final projects but largely lack experience with construction in space. Many of the teens are musicians and/or avid drawers, so this session took most of them away from their typical mode of artistic engagement.

In the Making students visit Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné’s Symphony No. 1 in the fifth-floor galleries

To begin, we went up to see Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné’s Symphony No. 1 in the fifth-floor galleries. We started by sketching for five to ten minutes, using drawing as a way to look closely and carefully at the sculpture. Afterward, these drawings became the basis for discussion between partners. Some students were at first a little hesitant to talk to each other, but after a little encouragement the entire group was buzzing with conversation. How can we understand this structure as it might relate to the idea of a “symphony”? Some students answered it might be like a symphony due to the way in which all of its parts and materials come together, just as all of the instruments in the orchestra come together to play a symphony. Another student thought that the separate forms fit together like different musical ideas.

We walked around the artwork, noticing how it changed as we changed our individual points of view. One student suggested that looking at a piece like this was different from listening to a symphony because sitting in a concert hall, you get a very specific sense of balance between all the instruments and layers of sound, and you might easily miss something. In a visual artwork, however, all its pieces are accessible;  you can “go back” and see something you missed.

Back in the classroom, we used cardboard and paper tape to create our own three-dimensional “symphonies.” The teens then split into groups of five, paired with some friends but also mixed up a little bit, meaning they had to negotiate and work with new people. Oh, the challenges of collaboration, whether in a band, or in a group of visual artists!

Students create their own 3-dimensional “symphonies" in the classroom

The cardboard and paper tape worked well as materials; they were accessible, engaging, and put a lot of people on a level playing field, so to speak. The majority of teens had little 3-D experience, so they had to rely on each other to create their structures. The best structures tended to come from groups that had the best sense of communication. When should someone jump in? When should someone check out? It is interesting to think that a good sense of when to “check out” might actually help collaborative work.

All in all, this was a fun and productive day of In the Making’s Music for the Eyes. Considering their varied concerns and interests, I look forward to what these diverse students will make for their final projects!

Our upcoming In the Making: Summer 2011 descriptions can be found online.  Applications will be available starting April 1, and are due May 27.