Oscar and Lucinda is one of those books that grow in the reader’s mind over time. The unforgettable and powerfully written novel by Peter Carey, winner of the 1988 Man Booker Prize, tells the improbable love story between a religiously obsessed English young man and a compulsive Australian heiress.
Oscar has a gambling problem. He loves horse races. Lucinda, on the other hand, adores glassworks and cannot resist a game of cards.
Lucinda purchases the oldest Glass Factory in Sydney. The story takes place in the 19th century and culminates with the couple’s joining forces on the biggest (and strangest) bet of their lives: gambling on the transportation of a glass church across the Outback from Sydney to the remote Bellingen, 400 km up the coast of New South Wales. This is certainly one of the most outlandish and beautiful literary visions I’ve come across as a reader in a long, long time.
In 1997, the novel was made into an acclaimed movie directed by Gillian Armstrong, starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes.
Cate Blanchett – who plays Lucinda in the movie version.
The questions below are fairly open-ended. They are intended to be incorporated into the list of others you are possibly already using during your book club’s sessions. It helps to have a mediator to conduct the discussions. There are no absolute right or wrong answers, so I would recommend the members of the group be flexible, welcoming and respectful of other people’s opinions and interpretations. Enjoy:
1. Where did Oscar live as a child (country, region, city)? Where did Lucinda live as a child (country, region, city)?
2. Why did Oscar start moving away from his father’s religion to become an Anglican?
3. What did Oscar do for a living? What about Lucinda?
4. Where/When did Oscar and Lucinda first meet? And what was Oscar’s greatest fear at that point?
5. What feelings developed when they decided to play cards for the first time, and how did the storm change the situation?
6. How did Oscar morally reconcile religion and gambling?
7. How does a Glassworks or glass factory reflect Lucinda’s own personality?
8. Would you consider Lucinda a feminist ahead of her time? Give us three examples of her behavior in the story that would justify this idea.
9. What is the passage (or passages) in the novel that will probably linger in the readers’ minds after they’ve finished it?
10. If you were Peter Carey, the author, list three things you would have changed about the novel before it was published. Your answer can be about the characters, the plot, the location, the times or the ending.
Choose a couple of the questions above and answer them in writing in the comments space below, if you wish.
“Mr Hemingway says a lot of things I don’t understand, Matilda said to her. ‘Especially about men and women. But I loved it all the same. The way he tells it I feel I am right there on the spot watching it all happen.’ ‘A fine writer will always make you feel that,’ Mrs Phelps said . ‘And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”
Vincent van Gogh was born in the village of Groot-Zundert, south of the Netherlands on March 30, 1853, to upper middle class parents. His father was a protestant pastor and the family lived in the parsonage near the border with Belgium. His family: father, mother, and five siblings were very important to the artist all his life. He had a love-and-hate relationship with them, especially his father Dorus, breaking up with him a number of times, but always patching things up and trying to reconcile with them. Reliving the peace and harmony of his childhood days in the Zundert parsonage, when the whole family lived together remained an obsession and an impossibility throughout van Gogh’s life.
Before he launched his career as an artist in 1880, van Gogh worked as an art dealer in the business of richer members of his family (Goupil and Cie), a teacher and an evangelist, never quite managing to succeed in any of these jobs. He was not lucky at love either, having been rejected by a cousin, which caused him, heartbroken, to decide to live with a prostitute, Sien, and her son for a couple of years. He claimed it was his duty to rescue her.
Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait
He considered himself a failure for not being able to find a place in society and to follow a proper career, blaming sometimes himself and other times the lack of support and vision of his family and acquaintances for not finding a professional role. His parents were in fact ashamed of his lonesome and difficult eldest son. In spite of all this, he spent most of his life living off the financial support of his father and, then, his brother Theo, 6 years his junior, with whom he developed a strong bond and carried out an extensive written correspondence. It’s through these letters that we know so much about the convoluted life and inner feelings of this artist.
Vincent van Gogh lacked interpersonal skills, was awkward in society, and full of contradictory feelings. Having trouble getting along with people in general was perhaps the main reason he was not able to keep the many jobs he held. He was eccentric, explosive and reclusive. Under the advice of his brother Theo, he finally found his true path as an artist. But, at the beginning he refused to produce anything commercial, so he could not live off his craft and talent. He focused on painting the human figure, especially members of the lower classes. And he didn’t like to use color. His drawings were mostly in black and white, made with pen or charcoal, or paintings in drab colors. He only drew and painted what he wished, never making any concessions to the market’s taste, which made his financial life very hard.
As we mentioned before, his favorite subject at the time was the human figure, and he was always striving to hire models among the common people of the various towns he lived in: peasants, miners, weavers and prostitutes. Most of them found it very hard to work with him, and he was always requiring more money from Theo to be able to hire more professional models in places like Antwerp, where he lived for a while.
Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer by Gogh, Vincent van
Only when he moved to Paris in the late years of his short life, sharing a space with Theo, he started to fully develop as an artist, incorporating in his painting traits of the Impressionists – which were becoming very popular at the time – Japanese art, the social works of Manet and Courbet, features of the English landscapist John Constable, the pointillism of Seurat, among other influences. It was then that he started to use bright colors, leaving the drabness and the gloominess of his previous drawings and paintings behind.
In February 1888, he moved to Arles, in the south of France, to make use in his paintings of the bright colors under the Provence sun. There, he rented and lived in what became the famous Yellow House of his biography, initiating one of the most productive periods of his career, painting from day to night, sometimes finishing 3 works a day. Vincent dreamed of turning the place into a utopian community for modern artists – the Studio of the South – where they could work together, exchange ideas and create something unique, based on the strong influences of the past masters and yet innovating painting radically. He aimed for a new Renaissance.
In October 1888 the French painter Paul Gauguin came to Arles to live and work with van Gogh. They had a very tense and tumultuous relationship, though, which ended up with Gauguin leaving the house a couple of months after his arrival. Vincent was left in such an unstable mental state after the quarrel with Paul that he allegedly cut off part of his ear and sent it to a prostitute. He was committed to mental institutions twice after that.
Despite all the external influences van Gogh incorporated in his work, his paintings and drawings remained true to his deep feelings and notions of art. He developed idiosyncratic traits as an artist and imbued his landscapes, portraits, and still lives with his own very unique style, characterized by the use of bright and sometimes unusual combination of colors, large brushstrokes, and fine draftsmanship, which turned his works into effective channels to express his innermost feelings. The seeds of the XX’s century expressionism have been identified in van Gogh’s final and most famous woks.
His most famous paintings were produced during the last two years before his suicide on July 29t, 1890, at age 37. Out of more than 900 pieces of work he put out throughout his short but productive career, only one painting – The Red Vineyards Near Arles – was sold while he was still alive.
He never foresaw how successful he would become, although he was fully aware of how powerful his work was and never doubted his talent and vision as an artist. Today, his paintings sell for tens of millions of dollars, and he’s one of the most famous and beloved artists of Western culture. Among his most recognized paintings, we can list masterpieces such as The Potato Eaters, The Yellow House and Starry Night.
If you wish to a have a chance to discuss and practice English vocabulary, speaking and writing skills based on some of the invaluable works of this unique artist, please check out our series of supplementary materials TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, featuring, works not only by van Gogh, but also by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell so far. New materials are scheduled to come out in the near future, watch this space.
I was lucky to grow up in a house packed with books. Both my mother and father loved reading. However, a dear aunt who lived with us for the most part of our lives was the real family bookworm. She wouldn’t stop buying books. This is the kind of environment that fosters the taste for reading in a kid. We wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Why do these grown-ups keep their eyes glued to those pages when the rest of us are having such a great time in front of the television watching Lost in Space? I had to find out.
My Mom decided to buy a collection of juvenile books which had just come out. Each volume came out quarterly and was sold from newsstands. It was basically through this collection that I made the acquaintance of some of the great storytellers of all time: Dickens, R. L. Stevenson, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Victor Hugo and Jack London to name just a few. J. K Rowling was not among them, but I must confess I find Harry Potter’s The Prisoner of Azkaban a very sophisticated and clever book. The dementors, strange creatures that look after the magic prison featured in the story, are prone to inspire all kinds of psychological metaphors which can be disturbing even to adult readers.
In this post I’m going to list some of the books I loved when I read them as a child or a teenager and try to explain the power they exerted on my imagination, making me become an avid reader for life.
The Bookworm by Spitzweg, Carl 1850
1. Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson: this was probably the first “real” book I’ve ever read (as opposed to the toy-books and comics I read before). It had a hard cover and it was thick by a 11-year-old’s standards. My brother and I read it around the same time and we couldn’t stop talking about Jim, the kid hero, who finds a map to a hidden treasure, after a mysterious captain dies at his parents’ inn by the sea. This is basically a coming-of-age tale, as Jim embarks on a perilous journey to find the treasure. Of course it has all the clichés we associate with pirate tales today. But I believe it must have been among the very first books to create and develop those same clichés in the first place. Whenever my brother and I would go to desert beaches for a day or the weekend – they’re a lot more common on the northeastern coast of Brazil, where we lived, than in the rest of the country – we relived in our imagination, as we ran up and down dunes and rocks, Jim’s adventures and challenges. We were Jim ourselves.
2. The Adventures of Tom Swayer by Mark Twain: who can forget Tom and Huck, best buddies, having fun, playing games and pranks in a small town by the Mississipi river in the early 1840s? Tom lived with a little bother, Sid, and a cousin, Mary, under the strict surveillance of Aunt Polly, who was always harassing the poor boy on matters of religion, cleanliness and good manners. Huck, on the other hand, was a boy of the streets, son of a drunk hobo, free to do whatever he pleased. Tom was the leader of the gang of the boys in the area, playing pirates and robbers, traveling to islands and exploring caves. The book is also about a boy’s first love and, although for most of us this was not so interesting, Twain made us care a lot about Becky, Tom’s sweetheart, by having them get lost in a maze-like cave, persecuted by a wanted criminal in the thrilling climax of the book. Unforgettable. This book is continued on a much more sophisticated work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, considered Twain’s masterpiece. But I only got to read that a lot later in life.
3. The Call of the Wild by Jack London: the progressive inner journey of Buck – a domesticated dog kidnapped by an unscrupulous farmer employee, and sold to work as a sled dog in Alaska- into his wild self is beautiful and liberating. The story is boldly told from the point of view of the animal itself, so we get a whole new perspective. The story is so powerful that makes one wonder whether we ourselves should not follow a similar path in the search of our truest soul, shedding all the masks and disguises imposed by a false concept of civilization.
4. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: of course the possibility of losing my mother was the worst nightmare I had growing up. My father died in an accident when I was very young, so I grew up in constant fear that my Mom might leave me too. Reading Oliver Twist was a great cathartic way to put myself in the character’s shoes and deal with the horrible situations I feared the most, with the relief that, whenever I put the book down, all the horrors I had been through remained pure fantasy and my Mom would still be safely living with me. It was reassuring to realize I’d never had to beg for food as the poor hero after being served a meager meal in one of the most heart-wrenching passages of the book: “Please, sir, I want some more.”
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne: if you read it today, it will feel a bit dated and definitely unbelievable. But at the time I first read it, I was fascinated by the trip to Iceland to reach the right volcano crater which would lead the characters down to the center of the planet. Some of the images branded forever in my brain by the powerful storytelling are, for example, the huge lake in the depths of the earth where we watch a fascinating fight between aquatic Cambrian monsters; the enormous caves jammed with stalagmites and stalactites (I bet you don’t know the difference between them!) the characters had to walk across on their way down, or the narrow halls and passageways along which they crawled down on their mission to get to the center of our planet. However, it was hard to keep the suspence of disbelief during the passage at the end of the book, when the characters are implausibly ejected to the surface of the planet by riding a flimsy raft on rising boiling magma, traveling up a volcano channel. No way!
The books mentioned above are commonly associated with boys’ taste for challenge, danger, violence and adventure. I suspect, however, that girls might derive the same pleasure from them. What do you think? Please leave your comment and rate this post as you leave the page. Don’t forget to tell us about your favorite books too.
Philip Roth died last night at 85. This article was written a couple of years ago.
For the usual readers of this blog, it’s no surprise that I consider Philip Roth the best living North American writer. This opinion is shared by many other people, so I’m not alone in this assumption. I was lucky to have read my first Roth – although in Portuguese – when I was still in college: Portnoy’s Complaint. Of course, I was duly scandalized by the account of the life and troubles of a young Jewish American man who does not refrain from telling the explicit details of his sexual activities to a silent therapist. Maybe I was not as shocked as the readers who first came across the book when it came out in the 1960s, but the late 1980s in Recife, Brazil, were still pretty conservative for the likes of Roth. As a matter of fact, I would say the whole world still is.
Novels by Philip Roth
Roth does not mince words. He is brutal and unsentimental in the depiction of his characters, despite the love and care you sense he feels for most of them deep down, if you read his novels attentively. He tends to strip men and women of their social disguises, digs deep, and exposes them almost cruelly to our judgment. Some say he is a misogynist in his portrayal of women. Well, if you read Sabath’s Teather, in which he creates one of the most disgusting and at the same time fascinating male characters in Western literature, you may change your mind. He can be as harsh towards men, after all. The world is in general tougher on women and, therefore, misogynistic itself. Roth’s novels are a mere reflection of life as it is. More precisely: his novels illuminate angles and dark corners of life we try to hide from our eyes and thoughts.
This blog post has the simple objective of listing 4 of my favorite Roth novels and what I personally took away from them. Please don’t take my word for it. Immerse yourselves in the original sources and feel free to interpret them as you feel you should. The comments below may be entertaining, though. However, I’ll never presume they reveal the essence of each of the discussed works.
1, Nemesis: New Jersey in the mid 1940s. A horrible outbreak of polio causes mayhem in a peaceful community. Children are badly affected, especially the ones who live in the Jewish and Italian quarters of the city. Few families are not hit by tragedy. It’s practically impossible to run away from it. Are the gods against them or are they on their own in a world ruled by the random manifestations of an indifferent nature. Does it matter? The only option left for humans struck by horror and tragedy is to accept it and find a mental way of coping with the debris. Nothing else makes sense or will help our species. Stand up for yourself and fight on your terms. Throw your javelin with all the beauty and strength of a God (an image you will find in the book) and defy your peers in Mount Olympus.
2. American Pastoral: Winner of the Pulitzer prize for best work of fiction in 1998. This novel tells the story of the idyllic life of a perfect upper-middle class American family, eventually shattered to pieces when the sweet and amorous daughter grows up to become a rebel teenager and join militants in a protest against the Vietnam war, allegedly planting a bomb in the local post office and killing a bystander. She then runs away, disappearing forever from home. I guess the takeaway from this book is given in the first chapters, in a different context, when we are still in the story outside the story, which makes the complex framing structure of the novel. Do we really know what people are like? Nathan Zuckerman, one of Roth’s recurrent characters, who may function as his alter ego, shares this painful truism with us: “You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”
3. Sabbath’s Theater: Not for the faint of heart, this book depicts the progressive moral and physical deterioration of a man who has never had any other ambition rather than entertain people through running a marionette show in the streets of New York. It’s when this puppeteer blurs the limits between what you can do to your dolls as opposed to other real human beings that the problems start. You cannot manipulate people without suffering serious consequences. The dolls will turn on you eventually and your life will become a nightmare. The most amazing thing about the book is the ability of the writer to turn one of the most repellent characters ever created in Western literature, Mickey Sabbath, into a sympathetic and even lovable person for a legion of fans, who can sense all the humanity that oozes out of him.
4. The Human Stain (spoiler alert: you can’t discuss this book without giving some essential info away – in my defense, all I can say is the info I’m about to share will be revealed in the first chapters of the novel anyway.) This novel is not a whodunit kind of work, rest assured. A Jewish former professor and dean of the fictitious Athenas College in Massachusetts is forced to resign after, going through the roll call, asks the class if a couple of listed students who never show up and whom he never met personally “are real or spooks”. It so happens that in those days of the end of the 1990s spook was a loaded word, a derogatory epithet for African Americans. In the intolerant and hypocritical climate of the reign of the politically correct, the professor is the perfect scape goat, and everyone who’s ever held any grudge against him jumps at the opportunity to tap into the incident to profit from it, by destroying his reputation. Unjust, unfair, stupid. Worse: Professor Coleman Silk is in truth an African American himself, who, for excelling in boxing when he was young and having light skin, passed for white in the eyes of a number of influencial people on his way up the sport’s ladder, and decided to assume this fake persona. He had been a youth in the 1950s and realized he would never have the same opportunities of a white person to fulfill his potential no matter how hard he tried. He is offered a way out and takes it, abandoning his family and his previous life, and recreating himself as a completely new person, whose potential could now be tapped to the full. He becomes the Jewish professor Silk. But he will pay dearly for it and for breaking other conventions of the times. He is a born transgressor. A fighter. The reader is therefore left with the painful and disturbing question of whether he/she would have done the same thing. Haven’t we all done something similar to some extent in our lives: compromising, betraying, discarding deeply ingrained beliefs and principles to succeed and get ahead? Or at least to be given a shot at the possibility of winning, when all the odds are against us? A powerful and uncomfortable novel, I can’t stop returning to it. I’m always going back to Silk’s saga to reflect on my own values and how truthful I still remain to them.
American Writer Philip Roth
If you have the chance, get one of those books and read them. I can guarantee they will change you somehow.
Monet is the quintessential Impressionist artist. His paintings sell for millions of dollars today. He is one of the most beloved artists in history and enjoyed a long and productive life, spanning almost 90 years. You will not find many people who do not like his paintings. Maybe because most of them were painted in plein air or open air, the outdoors, and not confined to dark studios, a new characteristic adopted by some artists as of the 1870s. This new way of painting was facilitated by the easiness of transportation provided by the steam vapor trains, the more easily to carry easels and the new paints bought in the recently-fabricated screw-top collapsible tubes.
These points I listed below summarize the life and work of one of the greatest artists the Western Culture has ever produced. You can read and possibly quote from them to sound more knowleageble and sophisticated at the next dinner party you attended, if, despite loving Monet’s ouvre like most people, you don’t know much about him.
1, He was born as Claude Oscar Monet on 14 November 1840 in Paris, but spent most of his childhood on the northern coast of France, Le Havre, where his family had moved to in his early infancy.
2. He was utterly bored in the traditional school and spent most of the time drawing caricatures of his teachers and other well-known people in the town. His caricatures became very popular and he started selling them at local store, being able to earn a living very early in life.
3. He happened to meet a plein air landscape painter, Boudin, who practically became his coach and mentor, developing in Monet the taste for painting seascapes and landscapes, observing the fleeting reflections of the sunlight in the sea water, trees and leaves. After his apprenticeship with Boudin, it was hard for Monet to be happy painting or copying famous works of art as a trainee confined in the crowded rooms of museums and art galleries. His painting was all about vibrant colors, vivid scenes, ordinary people often seen at a distance, the effects of light at different times of day and in different seasons upon the same objects. An obsession for water and its innumerable ways of being represented on canvas. Monet wanted to paint contemporary life the way it appeared to him.
Beach at Honfleur by Monet, Claude. 1864
4. Monet was sent by his parents to the Acadeémie Suisse in Paris, whose flexibility and respect for the individual idissioncrasies of the students resonated with Monet’s personality. Soon afterwards he was called up for military service, though, and served with the armies in Algeria. He claims that the exposure to the light and motifs in Africa had a great influence on his style of painting. He did not stay long in the army however. Family influence and health problems allowed him to be discharged after two years.
5. Back to school in Paris, he started as an apprentice in the studio of Charles Gleyre in 1862, where he was lucky to meet what was to compose the core of the impressionist group of painters in the future: Renoir, Sisley and Bazille. They became inseparable friends, spending a lot of time painting together outside of Paris in the forest of Fontainebleau.
6. It was very difficult for this wave of new painters to have their works accepted by the conservative official artistic exhibition in Paris, the Salón, held ever year at the Académie des Beux-Ar, which attracted thousands of visitors. The Salón favored more traditional works of art, with perfect finishes, depicting usually historical, mythological or religious subjects. Those paintings, done in dark colors, replicated the techniques known since the Renaisssance and covered the walls from ceiling to floor.
Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, Chailly by Monet, Claude. 1865
7. Despite having a few works accepted at the Salón, such as the Woman in the Green Dress, inspired by the woman he loved and lived with at the time, Camille Doncieux, who posed for it, Monet and his friends had most of his works refused by the Salón, which led them eventually to create their own exhibitions.
Camille (The Woman in the Green Dress) by Monet, Claude. 1866
8. To escape the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Monet, already married to Camille and with a son, moved to London, living there for some time and returning via Holland. Many of his works were painted in these countries, where he was heavily influenced by the contact with the works of Turner and Constable.
9. In 1874, the group of new artists decided to produce the first of their own parallel exhibitions, which, ridiculed at the beginning and attracting very few attendants, was ferociously attacked by the art critics. A famous art critic involuntarily named the movement IMPRESSIONISM, when making derisive comments about a Monet’s painting titled Impression: Sunrise, which showed a simple blotch of red color representing the sun hovering over the sea and casting its reflections on the water for the delight of a few early fishermen in a couple of boats. The artists of the movement did not not take the critic seriously and started using the name for their style, as they had enjoyed what was meant as an insult. The exhibition grew every year, being repeated 8 times over the course of the next 12 years. As times moved on, the eyes and minds of the viewers, influenced by the increasing praise of art critics, began to appreciate and accept the new artistic movement.
Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise) by Monet, Claude. 1872
10. Around 1990 Monet started developing his famous series paintings: featuring haystacks, poplars, the cathedral of Rouen and the famous water lilies, which he showed in a number of sequential cavasses, many of them painted one after the other, with the artist moving from one canvas to the next, arranged in a row in the fields, so that he could capture the slight variations of the effects of the changing light on the subjects, as the sun moved in the sky. He would work on them in a sequence of consecutive days.
11. A heavy smoker, Monet died of lung cancer on 5 December 1926 in his house in Giverny in 1926, where he had created a wonderful garden and a pond in the grounds of the property, which he began to use as the main topics of his latest paintings. He lived a full, long, productive and recognized artistic life. His house and garden in Giverny are famous and popular turistic sites in today’s France.
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Monet and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 5 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Check this brief video on the material on TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET:
Hope you enjoy the ebooks. Give us your feedback by rating them on Amazon.com or by writing some feedback in the comments section of this blog post.
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.
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.
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
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)
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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: