Rockwell…well…rocks!


Norman Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. Growing up in a middle-class family in the Upper West side of Manhattan, Rockwell was never comfortable being a city boy. Although he spent the first years of his life in this urban environment, he thrived whenever he and his brother were allowed to spend some time in the countryside.

From a very early age, Norman knew he wanted to be an illustrator. He was hired as art director of Boy’s Life, the scouts’ official magazine, when he was still in his teens. However, he became nationally known after he started his 47-seven-year collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, having painted more than 300 illustrations mostly for the cover of that popular magazine.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Rockwell can be considered a family man in the sense that he was married 3 times and had 3 kids from his second wife, but most of his time he was dedicated to his work: 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. There was never much time for his wives and kids. Many say he was a detached and distant husband and father. He also travelled a lot, within the US and all over the world, always carrying on painting during these trips.

Rockwell never considered himself an artist, but an illustrator, specializing in genre scenes, depicting life in small-town America. His illustrations always have an element of humor, but you never fail to sense the pathos injected in the narrative as well. He was one of few popular realists in the world of modernist art of the XX century, where abstract painting ruled.

Before painting his models, he tended to have them photographed by a professional in the specific positions he wanted them to pose. His studio was full of props and costumes available to the models in the sessions. He was very particular about the way he wanted people to pose for him. In New York he used professional models, but when he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (from Arlington, Virginia) he started to choose models from the members of his own community: his relatives, friends and neighbors. He always had a photographer with him. He would paint afterwards based on these photos.

The paintings of Rockwell are usually regarded as the best representation of simple, pure and strong American values. As a matter of fact, he helped create these values and the American identity itself, in a land packed with immigrants from the most different cultural backgrounds and without much cohesion among themselves in the early 1900s. His illustrations – although not always depicting scenes of an accompanying written narrative – are one-frame stories in themselves. His art is all about visual storytelling. You can infer a whole narrative just by looking at one of his illustrations. No wonder, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – two of the most popular storytellers of the last decades of XX century American cinema – are among his greatest admirers and owners of important collections of his works.

Rockwell was the opposite of the common stereotype of a bohemian Greenwich Village artist. His friends say he was polite, funny and meticulous. Some claim he was a neat freak, who would spend hours cleaning his studio and washing his brushes many times a day. He was a bit of a loner as well.

Together with Walt Disney, Rockwell is the most beloved American artist of the twentieth century. Of course, their work had a lot in common: they were both visual storytellers, capable of charming and mesmerizing their viewers with wonderful drawings, colors and movement. The animation in Rockwell’s work was obviously only suggested, as he dealt in illustrations, but they are never static. His brush lent them an inner life and dynamism that completely won over his audience. The triple self-portrait illustration (1960) we see above is an example of the charismatic paintings he could produce.

After working for almost 50 years as the main illustrator for the conservative Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell transitioned to the more liberal Life Magazine, where he could explore themes more relevant to the tumultuous times he was living in: the sixties. There, he could produce illustrations that talked to the main issues of the era: racial segregation, women’s liberation and the spacial program. In this post, we show one his most important works of this period: The Problem We All Live With, from 1964, where he depicts the first Afro-American child – a girl – to go to a desegregated school in New Orleans in 1961, facing all kinds of bullying, mainly from white mothers and teenagers on her way to class. She needed to be escorted by US marshals to be able to get into the school. Her name was Ruby Bridges and Rockwell’s illustration became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

On November 8th, 1978, at the age of 84, Norman Rockwell died peacefully in his sleep, due to emphysema. He had already begun to show symptoms of dementia in his final years.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1969 and houses the world’s largest collection of his works.

Norman Rockwell is the 5th volume of our successful series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. If you wish to know more about the series, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Teaching English with Art: Norman Rockwell


Teaching English with Art! This ebook is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most loved American artists of the XX century, NORMAN ROCKWELL, famous for his illustrations. The objective of the ebook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of Rockwell This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest and motivation. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.

Click on the image below to download the ebook:

Teaching English with Art: Norman Rockwell

Click to the image above to download the eBook.

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Getting your students to speak in the language class


Despite  Steven Krashen’s famous methodology of language acquisition, in which he claims students must go through a silent period before they can speak, we know how anxious our students are to start producing the target language from day 1.  This silent period is the time learners need to be exposed to enough comprehensible input so they can absorb the language and be able to speak it. It emulates what happens when kids acquire their first language. Having said that, it’s a fact that motivation also plays a key part in language learning, and setting up speaking activities from the very beginning of the language course will not, in my opinion, have any negative effect on the students’ development: they will not be able to do much, though, but that is OK. Motivation will work wonders. The elementary level, which is usually known as A2 in the Common European Framework benchmark, would be the ideal moment to start with speaking activities, but don’t worry too much if you have to do it earlier to please your students.

Teachers usually complain about the same problems when they set up speaking activities: students might not know what to say, they are shy to speak in public, they don’t know enough about the topic, they are not that interested in the topic.

Students don't know what to say.

Your students don’t know what to say.

So, as a teacher and teacher trainer, with many years of experience, and with the help of a number of methodology books I have read throughout my career, I would humbly suggest a few tips to get your speaking activities going smoothly in the language class. See the main points below:

1. Decide whether the activity will be task or topic-based: a task-based activity typically  involves the use of language as a means to an end. The students, for example, are given a problem (e.g. give each pair of students a list of 10 objects and ask them to discuss and negotiate the following problem: you are stranded on a desert island, if you could pick 5 of these 10 objects to have with you on the island, which ones would you both pick?). To pick the objects, they will have to justify their choices.  On the other hand, a topic-based activity requires the students to discuss or talk about a specific subject (e.g. what’s your country’s situation concerning racism?) The more they are able to personalize the topic, contributing their own opinions and experiences, the more they will have to say about it. If you wish to read more on this, please refer to my previous post “Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities”: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ

2. Give them context (input):  Before setting up an activity, expose the students to some linguistic or visual context, so they can rely on some form of scaffold to help them structure their output. The stimulus can be established through a text, a picture, a video clip or a listening passage, for example. But it’s important that the teacher introduce the topic, or brainstorm some vocabulary and ideas about it before having the students talk about it.

3. Brainstorm: depending on the input the teacher chooses to use in the step above, the brainstorm will be more or less controlled. If the students have been given a written text, for example, the teacher should work on it and exploit some ideas and related vocabulary and grammar. If the teacher starts by showing a painting by a famous artist,  the brainstorming will have to be longer and less controlled. The students will probably have to learn some new vocabulary as well, get to know something about the artist and his times, or even his style and technique. Always elicit info from the students before spoon-feeding them with ready-made answers: you might be surprised about the vocabulary they already have or their knowledge about the topic.

4. Get them to work in pairs and/or small groups as often as possible: do not put the students in the awkward position of speaking in front of the whole class right at the beginning of the exercise. Give them time to prepare their answers. The best way to do that is, of course, to put them in pairs or little groups, so they can participate more and not feel intimidated by a big audience. Many times they won’t even have to speak to the whole class at the end, or you could ask only for volunteers to share their work. During the activity, however, make sure you go around not only monitoring the different groups but also lending them a hand.

5. Focus on fluency: the aim of the speaking activities we are discussing in this post is not to drill grammar points or practice vocabulary,  or even pronunciation, in a controlled way. As the students produce their utterances, make a mental note or write down discreetly some of the most common mistakes made, especially the ones that involve grammar or vocabulary already taught in previous lessons. Do not interrupt the students for correction, unless you don’t understand what is being said. Decide on what you are going to focus on for correction in each activity, then, at the end, or in a future lesson, list the mistakes on a handout and pass them to the learners, so they can correct the mistakes in pairs, without  necessarily naming the perpetrators.

6. Personalize the activity:  people like to talk about their own experiences. Design questions that allow them to talk about their own tastes, aspirations, experiences and life in general.

7. Make the questions as opened-ended as possible: to make this personalization possible, try to design questions that allow for open-ended answers, do not look for right/wrong answers, but for opinions and suggestions.

8. Make the activity as relevant as possible:  choose topics or direct the discussion towards a path that is relevant to the group of students you have. The same speaking activity can be slightly changed to reflect the reality and interests of a different group of students. The closer they feel to the topic being discussed or the task being proposed the more productive the result will be.

Some speaking activities will go better than others, as you know. Don’t give up on a well-prepared exercise if it does not work well with a particular group of students. Try it a number of times with other students: it might work better. The important thing to remember is the more the students are exposed to linguistic input, by either reading or listening, the more fluent and accurate their delivery will be eventually. So make sure you focus on receptive skills especially at the earlier levels of the course your are teaching before worrying too much about the success of the speaking activities.

If you need help with materials, we have an excellent series of eBooks with ready-made vocabulary, speaking and writing activities to make your life easier. It’s called TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, with 8 books so far. It features f works by famous artists, such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell, van Gogh and Winslow Homer which will function as a springboard  to contextualize topic and task-based activities, as well a process writing practice. For further info, please click here http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

A Brief History of Caravaggio


Michelangelo Merise was born in Milan in 1571 and grew up in a town nearby called Caravaggio, hence his artistic name.

He grew up in times of severe religiosity, brought about by the Counter-Reformation, whose objective was to stop the advance of Protestantism, having Catholics return to a more austere and simpler form of Christianity, based on the cult of Jesus, Mary, the saints and martyrs of earlier times. They tried to accomplish these objectives through repression (the Inquisition) and propaganda (buildings and works of art). The austere values of the Counter-Reformation deeply impregnated and influenced Caravaggio’s paintings.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio

 

After a couple of years as an apprentice in Milan, Caravaggio moved to Rome in his early 20s, where, alone, hungry and penniless, he had to compete with a great number of other artists who flocked to what was considered the center of the world to make it as a famous painter. His career really took off when he fell under the protection of a very well-connected patron, Cardinal del Monte, who changed his life.

It didn’t take long for Caravaggio to acquire fame. Boosted by his patron’s connections, his network grew steadily. Endowed with a very original and unique artistic style, he was soon considered the best painter in Italy. He became famous mainly for his dramatic use of light and shadows, in a style known as tenebrism (chiaroscuro), in which he painted biblical, mythological and everyday scenes in a very naturalistic way. The mission of a painter, according to Caravaggio, was to represent real life with all its flaws, ugliness, and occasional beauty.

Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus, 1601.

Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus, 1601.

 

Caravaggio, however, had a very difficult personality. Short-tempered and with a violent streak, he was wild. Roaming the mean streets of Rome after nightfall, he would very often get into fights and brawls. He frequented taverns and brothels, always carrying his sword, which was illegal, and he did not hesitate to use it whenever provoked. Those were hard times and he was the object of much jealousy and envy.

Extremely volatile and abrasive, Caravaggio was eventually involved in murder. He got into a fight over a tennis match and ended up killing his opponent. This probably makes him the only great artist ever to commit murder. Banished from Rome, he fled to Naples, where he started a new life and was soon given commissions by important people to paint again.

From there, he moved to Malta, hoping to become one of the famous Knights of Malta, a combination of military and religious order which was formed to defend Christianity against its enemies. Difficult as it was for most people to enter the order, his powerful connections were at work again here and he managed to be accepted. This was meant to be the first step to get him a papal pardon, which would allow him to return to Rome.

Judith beheading Holofernes, 1598/99

Judith beheading Holofernes, 1598/99

However, the circumstances and his harsh personality again hindered his plans. He got in trouble in Malta, and from then on, lived in the run for over 2 years, moving constantly to places such as Syracuse and Palermo in Sicily, and again back to Naples, where more trouble awaited. Finally he seems to have been stricken by a fever and died alone on a beach in Porto Ercole, supposedly on his way back to Rome. His body was never found.

If you are interested in Caravaggio, please check out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out the video on Caravaggio’s eBook below:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Claude Monet


The quintessential Impressionist, Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 but grew up on a beach town in Normandy, Le Havre. His father was a grocer and his mother was a singer.

From an early age he was bored with regular school and spent more time drawing sketches on the blue pages on his notebooks than dedicating himself to his lessons. These sketches were caricatures of teachers and famous people, and he was able to sell them easily for a fair price.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

In 1858, Monet met the seascape painter Eugène Boudin, who would have a huge influence on Monet’s style of painting. Monet began to appreciate nature and wish to paint the effects of light and shadows on water, trees, and flowers. He learned that the ideal way of painting was in the “open air”.

He decided to move to Paris and join the Académie Suisse in 1859. The atmosphere of the Académie was very relaxed, the hours were flexible, and the painters were free to develop their own experiments. Later, Monet joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he made friends with the artists Bazille, Renoir and Sisley.

The most important achievement for an artist in those days was to have his paintings accepted and shown at the famous Salón, an official annual exhibition in Paris, sponsored by the government. Despite the fact that Monet had some works accepted there, he soon realized that the kind of painting he was interested in would never be popular in that traditional environment.

The paintings in the Salón were usually idealized works, representing historical or mythological subjects. They were usually perfectly finished with extra coats of paint added to them. Monet, however, had realized very early on that what he enjoyed painting was the real world: landscapes, seascapes and contemporary Paris, applying vibrant colors, representing the way light was reflected on trees, grass, water, flowers and regular people. He was one of the first painters to paint outdoors from the start to the end of a painting. He thought it was essential to capture real light and the way it changed along the day and in different seasons of the year.

In 1874, his group of friends, who also had difficulty having their artworks accepted by the Salón, decided to have an exhibition dedicated to their own works. Of course, it was hard to compete with the Salón, and their exhibition only attracted a fraction of the public who would go to the traditional event, but that was a start, anyway. Their alternative exhibition was repeated every year for the next eight years.

In 1874 exhibition, Monet presented a painting called Impression: Sunrise (see image below). All we saw in it was a solitary boat on the sea in Le Havre with a red sunset reflecting on the water, painted in fast, diffused brushstrokes. An art critic, Louis Leroy, from the magazine Charivari, mocking the title and the style of the picture, wrote that the artists that painted like Monet were mere impressionists. His paintings looked more like sketches rather than finished works of art. Despite the derogatory use of the word, Monet and his friends boldly appropriated the name and started to use it officially to define their revolutionary new style. Impressionism had been born.

Impression, Sunrise, 1876.

Impression, Sunrise, 1876.

Claude Monet had financial problems for most of the first part of his life, but he started to make real money after he turned forty. By then, Impressionism had already become a recognized and important artistic style, admired and sought after by many art dealers.

He married twice. He had two sons by his first wife Camille, and 6 stepchildren from his second wife, Alice. He spent forty years living in a beautiful house with his whole family, painting views from his wonderful garden and artificial pond, carefully put together by himself with the help of 6 gardeners. This house was in Giverny and can still be visited by tourists today.

When he moved to Giverny in 1883, Monet started to paint what is usually known as the series paintings: he would paint the same subject on many canvas at a time, working on each one according to the right time of the day, giving continuation to each of them on the following day. So, as the light changed, he moved to the next painting matching the right time of the day, in a sequence. He started with haystacks, and then moved on to poplar trees, the Rouen Cathedral and, finally, the famous water lilies. He has more than 200 paintings on lilies, including the huge curved panels kept at the Musée de l’Orangerie, near the Louvre.

Blue Water Lilies: 1916-1919

Blue Water Lilies: 1916-1919

It is important to say that, although Monet was the official founder of Impressionism, he had been strongly influenced by the works of Manet and Courbet, who came before him, and, at a later stage, by the works of Turner and Constable, which he was able to get to know when he lived in London with his family, during the Franco-Prussian war. The group of Impressionists consisted of many artists, such as Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, Degas, Cézanne and others, who strengthened the movement with their powerful contributions. Cézanne was the one who took the movement forward, showing the way to the future, heavily influencing iconic artists such as Matisse and Picasso.

A chain smoker, Monet died of lung cancer in 1926, having worked hard on his paintings and his garden to the very end. Claude Monet is one of most famous and loved artists in history, and his paintings sell for millions of dollars today.

If you are interested in Monet, please check out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out the video on Monet’s eBook below:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

How to work with the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART


Teaching English with art has many advantages: it provides an exciting context; it exposes the students to beautiful and powerful images, making the lesson more memorable; it can easily be linked to other subjects in the school curriculum: history, geography, science, philosophy etc; and, as the response of human beings to different artworks is always unique, teachers can tap into that by personalizing speaking and writing activities. Personalization and freer practice are the most important stages in the language acquisition process.

Our eBooks bring photos of paintings of famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell,  Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. Based on these paintings, each book brings a series of vocabulary, speaking and writing activities, composing a set of 30 items altogether, each divided in a number of exercises. The students are encouraged to work on both topic-based and task-based types of speaking activities, and explore the steps of process writing. Teachers are free to decide how much time their students should spend on each writing activity. Notice that, while the speaking activities should take place in class, some of the steps of the process writing activities, such as drafting and publishing, can be assigned as homework. For further information on these approaches, please refer to the following articles previously posted on the blog LINGUAGEM:  Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ) and Writing: Focus on the Process not on the Product (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1ot)

Click on the picture above for further info

Click on the picture above for further info

The activities in each book cater for different linguistic levels, ranging from beginner (A1) to  advanced (C2). They are correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE, which makes it easy for the teacher to match the eBook exercises to whatever other teaching materials they are already using, providing, therefore, effective and interesting supplementary work on productive skills. These extra activities can be used as a warm-up; whenever the teacher feels the class needs a boost in their motivation during the lesson, through an energizing task; as a filler for a lesson which finished earlier; or as complement or extension to topics already covered in the main coursebook.

Our materials are not meant for self-study. It takes a teacher to monitor and lead the students through the activities, but the eBooks can be used both in traditional classrooms or on online courses. Ideally both teachers and students should have their own practice books – downloaded to the Kindle app on their desktops,  laptops, tablets or smartphones. Whenever the teacher wishes to provide heads-up exercises or have the students focus their attention more effectively, they can project the pages of the eBooks onto a blank wall, and ask the students to switch off their electronic devices.

Most of the speaking activities can be done in pairs or groups. Alternatively, the whole class can be involved. We suggest the teacher give the students some preparation time before they are ready to speak in front of the class. Another important technique would be to have the student repeat the same story, role plays or any other speaking activity with more than one partner, in sequence. He will invariably perform better the second or third time around.

As for the writing activities, we advocate the use of process writing techniques. The student should work on drafts that progressively get more sophisticated and accurate until they reach the final product. Students should be trained to self-correct or peer-correct these drafts. Teachers should establish how many drafts they expect for each activity. The final draft can then be corrected by the teacher before being displayed to the class in some form. Please remember that it’s during the drafting phase that students learn how to write. The final product is only a consequence. The longer they spend on the drafting phase, the better their writing is going to get.

In addition to the exercises, the eBooks bring short biographies of each of the artists featured, the historical context he lived in and the main characteristics of the artistic movement he participated in. The teacher should give the students a brief overview of the artist’s biography, his times, where he lived, and his style. Teachers will not need to go beyond what is written in the eBook, although there is a wealth of information freely available on the Internet if teachers or students wish a more in-depth introduction or to know more about the artist.

Some of the eBooks also contain short texts referring to specific artworks of that particular artist, either because they are prominent in his oeuvre or because they are based on historical or mythological events that, if explained in a more comprehensive way, will enhance the student’s understanding of the painting and help them with their English production.

We are certain these eBooks will prove invaluable in making your lessons stand out and help your students develop their English. For further info on the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS and purchase the eBook about your favorite artist right now.

Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Writing: focus on the process and not on the product


When you read a piece of good writing in The Economist, Folha de São Paulo or The New Yorker, you will probably wonder about the special powers of the writer. How is it possible to sit in front of a laptop and, in one go, come up with such a refined and polished text. The writer must have counted on a potent muse sitting by his side, you conclude. But, for anybody who has attempted the hard task of putting a piece of writing together, the recognition that the path is a little harder will soon dawn on him. Hemingway defined the process in the most dramatic way: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Of course, the Hemingway process would not be very popular in most of our schools and online courses today. As we are concerned mainly about writing in the language class in this post, we need to draw a line. After all, chances are teachers and coordinators would be charged with abuse and put in jail if they expected or encouraged the students to follow anything like the method proposed by the great author of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.

Luckily, there is a third way: fire the muse and follow a step-by-step process to your writing activities. Writing is a skill students must master. We have never written so much as in today’s world. Most of our communication on the Internet occurs in the form of writing, one way or another.

Following the 5-step process we’ll be outlining below is probably the most effective way to come up with a good text. Of course, if you have the privilege of counting on good professional editors, the process becomes a lot easier, but not many people – least of all language students – can afford this luxury on a day-to-day basis, so we must rely on ourselves, and, if we are lucky, on some of our friends and classmates for aid.

Process Writing

Process Writing

 

Therefore, what we are advocating here is that writing should not be a solitary activity: pairs or groups of students should take part in it, although, ideally, each one should be working on his own individual piece. There are very clear steps to follow in what is generally know as process writing. This is, in our opinion, the best approach to teach and practice this productive skill in the language classroom. Let’s cover each of the phases in the sections below.

 

  1. Brainstorming (generating ideas). When you are given a writing assignment, get together with a colleague and think of all the ideas the topic might generate. Don’t censor yourself at this stage, anything goes. If there’s no given topic, your freedom is even greater, and you will have fun imagining all possible topics, points-of-view, arguments or characters that may go into your piece. This is more fun when done with another person or in a small group. Then, each one can follow their own thread of thoughts, after this initial kicking off of ideas, and get down to writing their first draft.

 

  1. Drafting. Now it’s time to prioritize all the wonderful ideas you generated in the step above. Consider the physical space you need for the text: is it a blog post, a story, an essay, an infographics design, a tweet? How many words are you supposed to use in your assignment? Don’t even consider using all your ideas. Pre-select, choose, discard, adjust, change. Cut, cut, cut. Establish what should go into each paragraph, which sentence you will pick as the topic one. Draft and redraft as many times as you feel you should. The more, the better. Change sentences to a different part of the text for stronger impact or more consistency. Decide what should be the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece. It’s always easier to start with the end. Remember the clever words of the Cheshire Cat to Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll:

 

 “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

  1. Revising. Now, possibly with the help of a friend, you are going to begin refining and polishing your text. Your colleague will read the text, ask questions whose answers he would expect to find in it, but does not. He will probably make suggestions. There’s no need to take everything he says into consideration. Your are the writer after all, so the final decision is yours, but try and incorporate some of his feedback. Apply your own critical thinking skills to decide if the text is coherent, well thought out, convincing, logical.

 

  1. Editing. This next step involves going deeper in the process started in the previous step. Time to check for grammar, vocabulary and syntax mistakes. Make sure collocations and register (formal and informal) are adequate. Have the spellcheck on your computer on. Consult a thesaurus, dictionaries, and grammar guides. Read aloud to make sure your text sounds good, to make sure it sounds English. Enter phrases and idioms you wish to use into Google to see if they appear in other texts and really mean what you wish to say. Again, get help from your friends.

 

  1. Publishing. This is the last phase of your work. You will be deciding on the images to use, the layout, the kind of font you find appropriate. This part is a lot of fun, in general. Reread it one more time. Any more changes? If you are using a digital device, be brave and push the button PUBLISH. Next time you write something it will be even easier.
The Steps of Process Writing

The Steps of Process Writing

 

Sometimes these steps may occur in a different order. Writing is messy. Moreover, the number of drafts cannot be stipulated: the more the better. But we all know there are time constraints to be taken into account, and the final product needs to be presented at some point. So let’s use common sense, and work on your piece within a time frame that suits your teacher’s expectations. In a language lesson, of course, it is the drafting that counts: the more you focus on polishing and making your piece more impactful and error-free, by adding ideas, deciding on the best location of sentences, breaking paragraphs in more consistent ways, and finally asking your friends for help to identify grammar and vocabulary problems, the more you will be learning. That’s when learning is really taking place. The final product is only the logical consequence of the hardest possible work you put into the project.

And remember, the final product does not need to be a masterpiece. The secret to fine writing has been repeated countless times by the experts – although both students and teachers seem to resist it: good writing is rewriting. Besides, writing improves over time, and the more you practice, the better results you will get. Good luck.

NOTE: If you are interested in process writing, you may consider checking out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. Click here for further info on the series: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Paintings in the Movies: Art within Art


I’m fascinated by the game of mirrors and metalinguistic reflections reverberating from the use of art inside art inside art inside art, and all the implications and possible interpretations that result from this spiraling labyrinth. More precisely, this post is about famous paintings that feature in movies either as a direct element of the plot, or, more subtly, as an aid to help compose the fabric of the subtext. I’ll cover 3 interesting instances of clever uses of famous works of art and artistic style in the movies, which always cause a jolt of pleasure in the viewer who recognizes them, and, as a consequence, is able to connect the dots and understand the references.

1. The Skin I live In, by Pedro Almodovar, 2011. Let’s start with this brilliant and fairly recently Almodovar, which was heavily criticized when it first came out for its alleged shift of style from what the director had been famous for. Well, if these critics meant the movie adds layers of complexity to Almodovar’s previous works, I couldn’t agree more. However, if they are implying the movie was not funny, I don’t think they got it. It’s hilarious, although in a somewhat dark way. In addition to the humor, one important aspect of the movie is the theme of the contrast between culture and nature, between what is innate and what is fabricated and handed down by civilization; how far can one go to change what is considered natural? Without going into too much detail about the plot of the movie, let’s just say it’s about a surgeon who thinks it’s OK to recreate the human skin in order to improve it. And he tests his theory on an unlikely guinea pig: the man who allegedly abused his daughter, and whom he has turned into a woman, through an unauthorized gender reassignment surgery! Too weird? Maybe. But the point here is to discuss the symbolic meaning of the painting that decorates the surgeon’s mansion in Toledo, and keeps popping up in the scenes where he goes up and down the elaborate staircase: The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538. This painting summarizes the main theme of the movie: the idealization and beautification of the real world. In this case, a beautiful goddess, with flawless white skin, concocted by an artist, conveys the impossibility that she could be recreated outside of this imaginary world. She will not leap off the painting and exist in real life.

The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538

The Venus of Urbino, by Titian, 1538

 

2. Skyfall, by Sam Mendes, 2012. By far my favorite 007 movie. Everything works perfectly to make this a classic: action-packed opening scene, dreamlike credit sequence showcasing Adele’s song, a lot of fighting and shooting throughout, stunning locations (London, Istanbul, Shanghai), sophisticated dialogue, superb acting. And, as the underlying theme, we are to led to confront the universal and always worrying issue of the inexorable passage of time and how human beings cope with it. The main theme is made explicit in an anthological scene (see video clip below) where an aging 007 meets his new and young quartermaster: Q. They are both at the National Gallery in London contemplating Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838, which depicts an old ship being tugged somewhere to be destroyed. These are the best lines of the blistering dialogue that ensues:

Q:    Old age is no guarantee of efficiency.

007: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.

Do I need to explain anything else?

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838.

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, 1838.

 

Q meets James Bond:

3. Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese, 1973. In this movie the symbolism does not come from showing a specific artwork. However, you can tell the cinematography and art direction are heavily influenced by the style of Caravaggio. You seem to be watching the application in movies of Caravaggio’s artistic principles: Scorsese, just like his baroque predecessor, depicts the contemporary world (1973 New York) of the Italian Mob, shown in beautifully staged scenes where the technique of chiaroscuro or tenebrism predominates. Every scene seems to have the lighting coming from a single or, sometimes, two naked light bulbs carefully placed to focus on the foreground, where the action is taking place. The background is dimmed or blackened in shadows. The characters seem to behave as modern versions of Caravaggio and his mates themselves, rambling through the dark streets of VII century Rome (1973 New York) after nightfall, going to taverns (bars, and pool joints) and whorehouses (stripclubs). They are constantly gambling, getting involved in brawls and fights, some of those – in the movie – nicely choreographed to the Rolling Stones or the Beatles songs. In addition to that, you hardly ever see a shot without an element of the Catholic iconography featuring prominently in the setting: images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, photos of the pope and the interior of churches themselves. What would we call this? Post-modern baroque?

Caravaggio's Cardsharps, 1596.

Caravaggio’s Cardsharps, 1596.

Let us know what you thought of this post: write your feedback on the comments section of the blog.

 

NOTE: If you are into art, you may consider checking out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

 

 

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Linguagem: 1st Anniversary. Jan 2015: 100% Growth!


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Jorge Sette.

Caravaggio and the Myth of Medusa


Medusa was a beautiful priestess serving at the temple of Athena. Her beauty attracted a number of suitors, but she had to turn them down, as, according to her vows, she was supposed to remain a virgin.

However, Poseidon, God of the Sea, fell in love with Medusa and appeared to her in the shape of a bird. Being a god, it was easy for him to have his way with the poor maid and sleep with her.

As customary in mythological tales, the victim takes the blame for this sort of incident, and Athena, in a fury, turned Medusa into a horrific monster with the skin of a corpse and poisonous snakes for hair. Besides, anyone who dared to look her in the eyes would immediately turn to stone.

Caravaggio's Medusa

Caravaggio’s Medusa

Perseus, son of Jupiter with the mortal Danae, grew up on the Island of Seriphus. For many years he longed to receive a visit from his father, but it did not happen. His mother would tell him to be patient, as time did not work in the same way for gods.

Danae attracted the attention of Polydectes, king of the island, who tried to force her to marry him. She refused, but the King imposed one condition not to marry her: Perseus must bring him the head of Medusa as a gift.

Perseus, although unprepared and young, did not hesitate to accept the challenge. He knew he had first to find the Grey Sisters, horrible old hags who lived in the forest and shared one eye between them. They kept taking turns at using the eye ball. In a moment of distraction, while one of them was passing the eye to another, Perseus snatched it and told them that he would keep the eye unless they told him where the nymphs lived. The nymphs would tell him where to find Medusa and would give him the necessary weapons to fight her. The old hags acquiesced.

Perseus set out to meet the nymphs, who gave him three weapons: the sword of Jupiter, his father; the shield of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom; and the winged sandals of Hermes, the Messenger of the Olympic Gods. He was also told not to look Medusa in the eye or he’d be turned to stone.

As he approached the lair of the monster, Perseus noticed a number of statues of men scattered in the garden. These were probably men who had tried to get to Medusa before him and were dully petrified. All was rock and desolation around the cave of the monster.

Perseus turned his back to the entrance and walked backwards towards the inner chambers of the cave, looking into the reflection on his polished shield for orientation. This way he would not have to look Medusa in the eyes directly. As he located her, he turned around with his eyes shut and struck her neck with the powerful sword of Jupiter, decapitating the creature.

Using Hermes’ sandals, he flew back to the Island of Seriphus, arriving right at the moment when the wedding between his mother and King Polydectes was about to take place. He shouted: Here’s your gift! And held the head of Medusa in front of the king. The King looked into the eyes of the dead monster and, as a result, was turned immediately to stone. And so Danae was free to go and live with her son again.

Caravaggio’s work, inspired by the myth of Medusa, was painted on an actual shield. It was not meant to be hung, but passed from hand to hand when viewed.

Note: the text above is from the ebook: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: CARAVAGGIO. For further info on the series please CLICK HERE:  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check out the video:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette