May 28, 2005

The iPod and the art museum.

I love these new iPod museum guides, which rival those pompous, official museum audio-tours.
[David Gilbert, a professor of communication at Marymount Manhattan College wants] to teach his students to stop being passive information consumers - whether through television, radio or an official audio guide - and to take more control, using as his model the guru of so-called remix culture, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School.

"It's not incumbent on us to, you know, praise the art necessarily," Dr. Gilbert said recently at the museum, wearing neon-green sunglasses and leading a group of students through the underground tour. "That's part of the playfulness and fun of this project. If we want to say something irreverent or something scathing about the art, that can come out." ...

So far, the unofficial guides cover only a few of the [Museum of Modern Art's] works - by artists like Pollock, Cindy Sherman, Francis Bacon, Picasso, Max Beckmann and Marc Chagall, whose well-known "I and the Village" comes in for a critical pummeling by Jason Rosenfeld, a Marymount professor of art history, who calls it "the worst, most reductive kind of art" and blames Chagall for all the "ugly menorahs" and tacky stained-glass windows in modern synagogues.

"It's the worst style that ever developed in the history of art," he declares.
Art museums can be so stuffy, so entombed. I love the idea of walking around with some brilliant, witty character talking in your ear. I don't even necessarily want someone knowledgable talking to me. Just say something interesting that goes with the experience of seeing the picture. It can even be counterpoint. Talk about life or talk about art. Riff on the images or gossip about some person you happen to see while you're there.

Next time I go to a museum, I expect to see people with white "earbuds" laughing inappropriately in front of serious masterpieces. Those who want to experience the art museum as a religious pilgrimmage are going to be disturbed, but let them buy a tiny iPod Shuffle and load it with Gregorian chants or Bach and they won't have to hear any of the irreverence that would spoil the spiritual ambience.

UPDATE: The Times article gives two websites to download these podcasts. I went to the Wooster Collective site and listened to a little of the Basquiat commentary mentioned in the article. This commentary had the same kind of problems that those Adam Curry soundseeing podcasts have: the people don't have much to say and aren't articulate. If the "uhs" don't drive you away, maybe you'll stay around long enough to notice that these people seem to have a vocabulary with only one adjective: "interesting." This was like having people near me in a museum who would cause me to look at paintings in a different order to avoid hearing them. I was imagining much better speakers!

Uh, here we are, uh, on our, uh, way, over to the, uh, show, which is really interesting, uh...

Let's try the other site mentioned in the Times article, Art Mobs. I'm listening to the Chagall one, the one that the Times singled out as sharp and witty:
That was the problem with Russia, is that it was full of orthodox religiosity and Christianity. That's why, you know, Lenin (a great Jew), Marx (a great Jew), had it right... Or was Lenin Jewish? ... I don't think he was, but we'll claim him, because he was a good egg... is because they wanted to get rid of religion, you know, religion was the opiate of the masses to Marx, who was a self-hating Jew, I guess, essentially. But my point about this painting is ...
You may find us screaming or groaning in front of those paintings and not laughing, I'm thinking.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Podcasts undoubtedly have their share of idiotic and contemptible statements. But you can't Google for them or see them in Technorati or link to them and critique them. I happened to transcribe one just now, but that's not much different from transcribing something I heard someone say down at the coffeeshop.

Thus, podcasting is not like blogging. It lacks the inherent structural safeguards that make the blogosphere work in service to the truth.

12 comments:

Ron said...

Wow, Ann, I couldn't agree with you more about museums being tombs. It seems odd to see that you love, art exploding with life and joy, in enviroments that have the solemnity of church without the grace, befitting your latter remarks.

Maybe iPods can link up rave culture with the art world more..."This Goya exhibit brought to by Red Bull"

Evan said...

Other musea ought to consider this, especially those like the British Museum or big art galleries which are huge and lack a compelling narrative. Perhaps there could be a central website where people can upload commentaries and guides for any major museum in the world - organized craigslist style, with brief descriptions so that those who want a particular perspective or style can choose. Then museum visitors can plan ahead, download the commentaries they want and visit.

This seems like the blogospheric, 21st century approach to visiting a museum. I know there's an organization in London which puts on a "Biblical history" tour of the British Museum every few months; what if specialized tours like that could be simply downloaded?

lindsey said...

If you're going to have podcasts to explain the art and history, can we at least make sure they're fact-checked? That quote at the end of Ann's post is positively embarrassing. The official audio tour may be boring, but at least it's not ignorant.

Ann Althouse said...

Lindsey: This shows how podcasting is not like blogging. It's not interconnected and searchable and thus not exposed to fact-checking.

lindsey said...

It's just that I'm shocked people would take the time to put these things together and still not know the subject they're discussing. If I was making one of these, I'd spend quite a bit of time preparing my remarks. Perhaps these sites should post transcripts of the podcasts for art museums, so they can be critiqued via blogs for greater accuracy.

Ann Althouse said...

It's not easy to transcribe things though. Podcasting is awfully transitory. The most worrisome thing about that quote is that it's a professor, and he's talking to a student. Makes you wonder what kind of things professors are saying to students all over the place, doesn't it? But no one can check that either.

dave said...

It's interesting to read how others are receiving our project. We are neither comics, nor professional audio engineers--just a group of students and professors who love art and love podcasting. One of the things we love about podcasting is that it's raw, and it offers real human voices, foibles and all. When Prof. Rosenfeld allowed us to record his banter about Chagall, he graciously permitted us to preserve the hesitations, self-corrections, and even mistakes that are inherent in situated human discourse (or if you like, "everyday talk"). As far as the passage you quote, Ann, I think there are several bon mots in that interview that are more representative of what works about it. And as far as it's facual accuracy, what exactly was innacurate about what Prof. Rosenfeld said about Lenin? Lenin's maternal grandfather was Jewish, but Lenin did not identify as a Jew and was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a niggling issue, I realize, which is exactly why I don't understand some of the reactions in this thread. Nevertheless, we'd love to host any audio guides to MoMA that any of your readers produce, and we'd be thrilled to find that some of you could do a better job.

Best,

Dr. David Gilbert
Dept. of Communication Arts
Marymount Manhattan College

Ann Althouse said...

"What exactly was innacurate about what Prof. Rosenfeld said about Lenin?"

I'd say it was the part about Lenin being a "good egg"!

Ann Althouse said...

I've made a separate post out of my response to David Gilbert.

Bennett said...

On Blogging vs. Podcasting

On the issue of googling a podcast, here is one way to do it.

See http://accessexcellence.blogspot.com/2005/05/instapundit-vlogs-blognashville.html

"Unfortunately, most rich media-- video logs included-- are essentially Google nonevents: because they can't be searched, nobody can search and find your video content.

Unless you get it captioned, that is. Captioning allows you to really get in touch with the Long Tail-- the niche audience that is interested in your specific content."

Bennett said...

Sorry. It looks like the link did not come throug.

If you're interested in the page I was trying to link to, it is http://tinyurl.com/d7bwp ("InstaPundit Vlogs BlogNashville")

chxiao said...
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