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.
Teaching English with Art: Winslow Homer. This eighth volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 vocabulary, speaking and writing activities for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by the best American artist of the XIX century.
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 Winslow Homer. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
IMPORTANT NOTE. CUSTOMIZATION: if you wish to change the cover of any of the ebooks, add your school logo, negotiate a special price for a determined number of students, or make other suggestions of customization, do not hesitate to talk to us. We are VERY FLEXIBLE. Make your ebook UNIQUE!
Click on the image below to download the ebook:
Click on the image above to get your copy from the Kindle Store.
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.
Art tends to be surrounded by awe and respect. Museums resemble cathedrals in the way people move around the halls speaking in hushed tones and looking humbly at the works on display. Art or Hight Art – as it’s sometimes called – should be regarded in a more natural and intimate way by the viewers. The lack of great museums in the region makes the contact with art a particularly formal experience for us Latin Americans. But things are changing as more and more people go abroad, frequent museums, and substitute pleasure and fun for the old sense of respect infused in them when they stood in front of a famous painting or sculpture not many years ago. The myths we are outlining below concern more that kind of art you find in museums and galleries: the visual art produced by the great masters.
1. Art is usually spontaneous and organic. The legend says the talent lies dormant in the artist until it’s suddenly awaken by the muses. In fact, the development of artistic skills is a long and hard path, involving a lot of academic learning, Of course, there are more or less intuitive artists, and mentors may sometimes replace art schools. Formal learning, however, is integral to the process and only practice makes perfect.
2. The best art has idealized versions of mythology, history or biblical themes as its subject matter. This tradition started being disputed around the time the pre-Impressionists, such as Manet with his mundane and realistic nudes, and the social art of Courbet. Their fight against tradition and academicism was taken to a whole new level by the Impressionists, especially by Monet, who understood art as the apprehension of fleeting moments in time such as the effects of light bouncing off trees, water and plain people in everyday situations. That was what mattered and deserved registering.Colors became bright and more vibrant.
Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.
3. The best art is realistic. Fauvism, Cubism and Modern Art in general showed that there was not much point in replicating what film and photography had started doing so well as of the XIX century. Art couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with them. So art needed to change. It should remain an expression of what is human, including reality, but as seen through the eyes, emotions, neuroses, and obsessions of the artistic self. Art was a personal way to express the artist’s inner world. Unlike previous painters, the sense of perspective developed since the Renaissance and the concepts of beauty and balance taken as tenets by the artistic community underwent an earthquake which shattered those ideals to pieces. This is still going on.
Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.
4. Art dealers and critics are the experts and they know it all about good and bad taste. We all know how the Impressionist group struggled to have their works exhibited in the tradition-dominated Salón in XIX century Paris. There are no absolutes in art and if you read Tom Wolf’s iconoclastic The Painted Word – which I strongly recommend – you will laugh widely and be infused by a sense of liberation as he dissects and analyses ironically the American art of the XX century. There is also a hilarious chapter in his latest book, Back to Blood, which mocks merciless the Modern Art World of contemporary Miami, with its dealers, experts, artists and stupid billionaire clients. A must-read.
The Connoisseur: Rockwell’s sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe’s THE PAINTED WORD.
5. You have an innate predisposition to love, hate or be totally indifferent to art. Not so simple. Just like marmite – for those who have had a chance, like me, to live in he UK for a while and see this initially disgusting jam-like spread sitting on the breakfast table every morning, or even Japanese food, whose ever-present ripe odor coming out of restaurants may put you off getting in at first – art is an acquired taste. You don’t have to like it right away, but you may grow to love it by exposure. There is no need to enjoy every famous artist either. Be selective. Art grows in people. And I strongly defend that by offering history of art as a subject in the secondary and high school – not very common in most schools in South America – or by parents exposing their kids to art books at home or visiting museums, young people’s taste will get more refined and we will see a growth in art appreciation over time.
6. Art is for older people. The younger you are the more appealing iconoclastic and unconventional art will look to you, especially if you have a rebel streak (who doesn’t?) in you. Therefore your initial interest for the drama and violence in Caravaggio, as you grow more mature, may be replaced by calmer Monets or a more contained Velàzquez later on in life. Their beauty and absence of direct conflict can be refreshing as you grow more mature. I still love Janis Joplin, The Stones, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Sometimes it was not even the quality of their music but their life style, perfomances and stage persona – some of them very short-lived, by the way – which captivated me. However, as I grew more mature, classical music started to show its charms and take over my musical taste.
We will be talking more about art in the next post. Watch this space.
If you are a language teacher and interested in art you may want to check out our new series of ebooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, available for download from the Kindle Store. We focus on vocabulary learning, speaking and writing skills in the series. Check it out by clicking here: : http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
In the early 1940s, Matisse underwent a serious and invasive surgery as part of treatment for intestinal cancer. After the operation, he was a very different person, lacking the energy and strength to be on his feet for long stretches of time at the easel painting on a canvas.
However, he was about to start a revolutionary new phase in his artistic life. Despite his physical weakness, his mind seemed to be ablaze with creativity and many say he was given a second life. This resurrection manifested itself mainly through a new art form he began to develop at the time: his famous cut-outs. Instead of painting, Matisse would now spend his days in bed or in a wheelchair, cutting out, with huge tailor scissors, abstract forms directly from gouache-painted sheets of paper, and then, with the help of assistants, pin them against a white background in striking and original compositions.
He would constantly move the pieces around until he was fully satisfied with the final result of these “collage-like” designs. The colors were vibrant and pure, lending the composition a life-affirming quality. Icarus is one of the most famous works from this period.
Icarus. 1947. Illustration for the book Jazz.
The Legend of Icarus
In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, a master craftsman from ancient Athens, were made prisoners on the island of Crete after helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, which Daedalus himself had designed for King Minus.
The Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who lived in the center of the labyrinth
Daedalus plotted to escape from his prison by making wings of feather and wax for himself and his son. However, he warned Icarus against flying too close to the sun because his wings would melt. Icarus, in the typical fashion of bold young men, disobeyed his father’s instructions and soared to the heights, coming dangerously close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to the sea, drowning. The story of Icarus is usually used as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition.
Many critics and viewers suspect that there is an alternative source of inspiration to the Icarus cut-out. What do you think it might be? What may this work represent if not necessarily the legend of Icarus?
Imagine that this work is about the horrors of war instead. After all, Matisse put it together soon after the end of the Second World War. In this case, what do you think each element of the cut-out stands for? Think about this interpretation and try to see the elements of the work in the light of this new context. It will add a lot to it.
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Matisse 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 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Click on the image above to learn more about the advantages of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART.
As most of you know, we have launched a series of supplementary eBooks, TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, based on the works of famous artists, to help the students practice their English (for further info on the series, please click here http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS).
We have received an overwhelming response in terms of feedback. Sales fortunately are doing well too. However, we realized that some teachers are hesitating to use the materials for a number of reasons. Having gone through all the feedback we have been getting, we decided to write this post to answer some of the most frequently asked questions by teachers (or even students) about the materials.
I can’t teach English through art!
1. Do I need to be an art specialist to teach from these books? Of course not. The idea of these books is to extend vocabulary, speaking and writing practice, providing more interesting and customizable topics that resonate better with the students and foster more engaging and genuine participation in the classroom. You are a language teacher, no one expects you to be an art connoisseur. Treat the topic as you would any other topic you find in more traditional course books. All the info you need about the particular artist featured in the eBook (so far, we have Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell) can be found in the introduction to the book.
2. What should I teach the students about the artist? As I said before, you will find a quiz and a brief summary on the artist’s life and times in the introduction to the book and some texts on more specific topics related to a certain painting after or before some exercises. Basically we should give the students some idea on why this artist gained so much popularity, what are the main characteristics of his/her style and the historical context he/she lived in. If possible, add an interesting anecdote about his/her life to lend some color to your lesson: such as the fact the Caravaggio is allegedly the only great artist who committed murder; or that Monet dedicated his time to art as much as he did to gardening in his old age; or that Picasso did most of his work in a dark and damp studio at night using the feeble light of candles. A quick watch on a couple of videos on YouTube will give you a lot more info than you can possibly need, if you wish to expand your understanding of the artist. Alternatively, you can assign this pre-research to the students themselves, as part of the lesson: “get all the info you can on (artist’s name) and be prepared to talk about him/her at the beginning of the next class”
Artist’s life and times. Guernica by Picasso.
3. I don’t know anything about topic/task based speaking activities or process writing. As these are the main methodological points used in the series you should familiarize yourself with them. These are important areas any language teacher should master. You need to study them. A good start with be to read the following posts in this blog: 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).
4. I can’t deal with technology. These are eBooks, so I completely understand the resistance some teachers may feel towards them. Not many people read eBooks yet. However, believe me, this is the future and there’s no way back. You can check all the practicalities of ebooks in the following post 7 Reasons I prefer eBooks to Print ones: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-yC. As for our series, all you and your students need to do is download the KINDLE app for free and install it on any device you can possibly have. It works in all systems, mobile or desktop. Get help from your students, they will know how to do it. And they will feel pleased to show the teacher how tech savvy they are. Then go to the KINDLE STORE on Amazon.com and download the eBook of your choice.
Print books versus eBooks
5. Which book shall I pick? At this point, we have 5 eBooks featuring a different artist each (Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell). They are all very popular and liked all over the world. But of course, you and your students will have your preferences. Each book has exercises at different levels (from beginner to advanced), so my recommendation would be for you to conduct a needs analysis with your class before choosing the first book. Show them the covers, show paintings (loads of pictures available on the Internet) by each artist and get them to vote for the first artist they wish to work with. I’m sure your lessons will become so succsessful you will cover the whole set of eBooks we have on offer eventually though :).
TeachingEnglish with Art: 5 artists to pick from. Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet and Norman Rockwell.
I hope we could answer some of your questions here. Good luck with the lessons and do not hesitate to contact me if you have more questions. We will be launching more eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART soon.
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.
It’s hard to define art: be it music, literature, visual arts, drama, etc. I would prefer to say that life would be impossible for most people without it. Call it escapism, if you wish. Life can be very dry and purposeless without the varnish of art. It can be very lonely. Even meaningless. As Tennessee Williams once said:
“What implements have we but words, images, colors, scratches upon the caves of our solitude?”
Art is any expression of human emotion and feeling. It’s the telling of a story. We are all artists one way or another. This does not mean our work will be recognized in our lifetime or sold for millions of dollars in galleries, but what counts is what it does for you. The officially recognized great works of art follow criteria that varies according to time and audience. Their market value rises and lowers at different times. So, we, as simple viewers or artists, should not care about what is considered by the experts GREAT ART. Give yourself the right to make or evaluate art, based on your own guidelines. More than that, every piece of art which can transport you to a world that makes you happier, or feel more intensely, or evoke cherished memories, or give you hope and peace should count as great. It can be your creation or someone else’s.
I never forget the moment I first saw painter Peter Paul Rubens’ Samson and Delilah (picture below), while roaming the halls of the National Gallery in London. I did not know that painting. It beckoned at me from a distance and made me walk, transfixed, in its direction, wide-eyed and excited. Sensual, colorful, showing unusual uses of a number of light sources to illuminate the scene, and telling a story: that is all I wanted from a painting. I may have spent the next 20 min standing in front of the huge painting staring at it, looking like an idiot, with a silly smile glued to my face. Then I went back there two more times in the course of a 10-day vacation in London to experience the power of that painting again – it’s a good thing the National Gallery has free admission!
Samson and Delilhah, 1609, by Peter Paul Rubens. National Gallery, London.
I found a copy of the painting on the Internet and excitedly emailed it to some of my close friends telling them how I had felt looking at it. That’s another thing about great experiences, it’s hard to enjoy them alone, you need to share. This post is obviously part of this need.
As for literature, another great type of humanity’s artistic achievement, how many times have I drowned my sorrows by reading a novel by Philip Roth (one of my favorite writers, as many of you readers of this blog already know): the misery and problems of his characters far outweigh mine and serve as solace by giving me a deeper understanding of human beings. Roth is brutal and I doubt he intends to offer any comfort to the reader through his stories – but he does, regardless of what his original aim might be.
Author Philip Roth
At the end of 2014, having some free time, I had the idea of combining two of my greatest passions – the English language and visual arts – in a project: the series of ebooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART (for further info check out this post http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS ). I figured I could not be alone in enjoying studying a foreign language in the context of powerful images that would take me beyond the walls of the dreary language classroom and make me dream. I was right: after self-publishing eight ebooks and with a ninth coming out soon, I noticed that many other people all over the world shared my passions.
When I was a language/literature student in college, we had a very dry and uninteresting subject: Portuguese literature. I appreciate some may love it – art is individual and personal. But I must admit I loathed the company of Camoes and his jingoism, despite the excellence of the teacher and her love for the subject. One day, however, she surprised us with a different approach to the teaching of the boring Portuguese literature of the Baroque era: she brought a projector to the classroom and contextualized some of the visual art movements – which are inevitably reflected in the literature of the time – by showing works of famous artists. That was my first contact with Velázquez and his “borrachos”, partying with Bacchus. The teacher’s explanation of the painting and the artist was vibrant. The class was in awe. We were always in a hurry to leave the session and enjoy our cheap beer on Friday evenings (those were evening classes). That day, however, most people couldn’t care to leave when the class came to its official end, and let the teacher carry on for as long as she wanted. We had started to refine our taste: it was better to see Bacchus inebriate his minions than go out to Olinda and get drunk ourselves.
The Triumph of Bacchus, Velázquez, 1628, Museo del Prado, Madrid.