The Sounds of Art

“Close your eyes…now what do you see?” Think this is a breathing exercise for yoga class? Think again!  This weekend in the Center for Creative Connections, we had a Sound Design Family Workshop where children used their ears rather than their eyes to make sense of a painting. Guest teacher Frank Dufour from the University of Texas at Dallas is an expert on the science and art of sound, and he helped us “look” at art in a whole new way.

We started by watching a clip of the Walt Disney classic, Fantasia. I don’t think I’ve watched this movie since I was a child, but it was fascinating to watch it again as an adult and notice how the animation brings the music to life. You really do seem to “see” sound. Now the trick was to try to reverse the process—find something beautiful to look at with our eyes and imagine the sounds it would make.

We went up to the fourth floor of the museum into the Tower Gallery where several abstract paintings are on view, and the children chose Delta Kappa by Morris Louis as their inspiration.

"Delta Kappa," 1960; Morris Louis; Acrylic on canvas

We spent some time brainstorming with the children about what they saw and what sounds the painting might make. Some of the kids were shy at first, but soon they warmed up to the activity and were “shushing” and “whooping” and “oooing” their hearts out (obviously I can’t quite capture their wonderful sounds with words alone!). I watched them as they looked closely, made motions with their hands, and gave voice to the painting, and was truly amazed. These kids were connecting with a painting in a way I haven’t seen before.

Frank and the children trying out their sounds

After our jam session in the galleries, we went back to the Tech Lab and recorded the soundtrack the children had created. One child was the conductor, and the rest formed our orchestra, each making his/her own favorite sound for the painting. Frank showed the children a visual image of the soundwaves in their recording, which was remarkably similar to the shapes in the painting. Our art-inspired child orchestra was a huge success!

The "orchestra" practicing

Art museums in general rely heavily on a visitor’s eyes to take in all the works of art in the galleries. But getting the other senses involved not only makes the experience more vivid, it allows us the opportunity to turn on our own creativity. And for those with low or no vision, it makes art accessible to all. The next time you are at the museum, give it a try—listen to the art. I won’t say a thing if you are humming, whistling, and “ooing” as you walk through the galleries!

Posted by: Leah

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Filed under Center for Creative Connections, DMA Programs, In the galleries

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