Teaching with Contemporary Art

Listen to This! (Films to Listen To… Before You Watch)

May 8, 2023
Charles Gaines standing inside his sculpture "Moving Chains." He places his hand on the wall next to him, and his looking up at the oversized chains above.

IMAGE: Production still from the Extended Play film “Charles Gaines: Systems & Structures.” © Art21, Inc. 2022.

Look at This! focused on films that can be initially shared with the sound off and the picture on. In this playlist, by contrast, we will explore a selection of Art21 films that can be used in the classroom with the picture off and the sound on. Utilizing this strategy gets students to focus solely on what the artist is saying and, much like how a teacher might read the text aloud before showing their class the accompanying illustrations, allows students to develop their own thoughts and impressions on what the art may look like based on what the artist describes before they see it themselves. Art21 advocates for active viewing of all films when used in educational settings; this strategy allows for a different kind of active viewing. Students get the opportunity to listen closely to the artist’s words and make a few predictions before the artist then unveils the work to everyone in the room.

Aki Sasamoto holding a green elastic wrapped tight around her hands and in front of her face.

Production still from the Art21 New York Close Up film, “Aki Sasamoto is Feeling Stretched.” © Art21, Inc. 2017.

Give it a try! Here’s a small selection below of our Extended Play and New York Close Up films that you can share with your students. All films are less than 10 minutes, and can easily watch just part of the film if you want to focus on a smaller portion of the film. The first time through, simply play the video with the picture turned off. Then, while students are listening, ask them to think about these key questions:

  • Based on what you’re hearing, what might this artist’s work look like?
  • As you listen to what the artist is describing, what other kinds of predictions can you make about the way this artist goes about creating their work?

After listening, go back and play the film again with the video on. As students watch the film, ask them to reflect on what they’re learning:

  • How does the presentation of this artist’s work compare with your initial impressions?
  • What kinds of things did you learn once the audio and video were played together? How is the work similar to, or different from, what you imagined when listening through the first time?

Here are a few films to get you started, but feel free to try this strategy with any Art21 film, or even a segment of a film. And remember to preview all films before sharing them with your students.

Watch Joe’s playlist, “Listen to This! (Films to Listen To… Before You Watch)

EXTRA CREDIT: Do you have an idea for another Art21 film that may work well with this strategy? Email me at [email protected]; I would love to hear your suggestions!

Joe Fusaro is the Education Advisor at Art21. He is an exhibiting artist, educator, and director of the Teacher Center for the Nyack Public Schools in New York. He served as the visual arts chair for Nyack from 2003-2022, and prior to his work there he was an art educator and staff developer for the New York City Schools from 1990-2003. Fusaro is a member of the adjunct faculty at New York University’s Graduate Program in Art and Arts Professions and has led staff development workshops in contemporary art education for schools and museums across the country including MASS MoCA, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum, Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the National Art Education Association.