When I began teaching in the early 70s videos were new and students
were excited by them. The technology grabbed them. Even a "dry"
program like the one based on Kenneth Clark's "Civilization." Now
they are blaze. The lights go down and the heads go down. The
programs have to be very well-paced and interesting.
"Art of the Western World" is still pretty good, but the company has
yet to supply it on DVD or remaster it. It is kind of clunky. I
happen to like the narrator, Michael Wood, editor of the excellent
textbook that accompanies the series. But he has floppy hair and it
flies around in the wind. He often seems to be standing in the wind.
Still, I recommend it.
History Through Art has a fairly new wrap-around woman narrator who
introduces the different eras but this wrap-around leads into video
that is from the 70s with a jarring, loud jazz track that sometimes
overwhelms the narration. The quality of my set is not good because
I still have videos and the art works are faded. I do show the ones
on the Renaissance because of the good content. The program is now
out in DVD. I have not seen these.
I can't understand why the companies that make videos and DVDs don't
realize how much a talking head dates the work or even makes it
ridiculous. My students laugh at one video where three talking
heads show what not to do. One man covers his mouth and talks into
his beard, a woman is badly groomed and overly enthusiastic. One
student blurted out that she "looks like a witch." Another woman
has a speech impediment and a veddy posh British accent that is
difficult to understand for starters, even without the strong lisp.
These kinds of experts are just distracting, and students will
always find things to criticize.
Most documentaries are boring. Even Ken Burns's recent documentary
about Andy Warhol (4 hours) could have been a lot better. Material
was repeated as was footage. Andy was portrayed as a stunt. Dazed
and confused Factory folk were just sad to see. There was too much
about personalities and "stars" and experts who told you how great
he was, rather than an effort at making the art accessible. More
time could have been spent on the roots of contemporary art to
better contextualize Warhol.
I showed a video last year about art in Spain and the narrator
actually mispronounced art terms and stumbled over others. The
filmmaker's relative, perhaps?
Whenever I rent an audio guide at the Met and listen to Philippe de
Montabello's narration I wish that he could narrate videos based on
the Met's collection. he has a great voice.
I got a DVD on Jackson Pollock from Netflix that is wonderful. My
students enjoyed it. When they saw his work at MOMA they were
pleased that they recognized it and were able to talk about it.
My photography students appreciated a good DVD I got at the ICP on
Walker Evans. It really enhanced our visit to the current show of
his work at UBS, produced by Yale. It was a good primer on the
difference between digital printing vs. wet lab.
Next semester I am having students make their own programs in Power
Point. I did this a couple years ago and some were very
successful. I have to remember to ask them not to use the sound
Based on the recent experience of an art teacher being fired for a
student seeing nudes (by accident) in a museum I would not show a
program to kids that even mentions the bleak side of Montmartre. I
would have the principal preview it with you. I plan to show that
DVD to college students before we go to France this May. I would
hesitate to show it to even HS students if you are in a
conservative community, at least not without it being seen by
superiors and maybe a few parents. Just respecting them enough to
ask their opinons can open minds.
Speaking of advocacy, the promotions in the NYT full-page about
artists that has very clever headlines won't encourage parents to
ask for more art in the schools. I give you Caravaggio. I don't
think pointing out how much artists suffer and how unconventional
they are is a very convincing promotinal device for more art in the
schools. The "Got Art" ads in our professional magazines show
students daubed with paint on their faces - just reinforce a
stereotype. Other ads show students holding art works that they
supposedly created that could only have been done by older people
and probably by professionals.
Just letting off steam here.
I would be happy to hear more about really good DVDs and even