Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream


It may seem surprising that I chose to review  a movie from 2007 in this post. Arent’t there any new movies good enough to deserve more updated commentaries? Well, the advent of NETFLIX blurred time lines, and today, at the tip of your fingers, you can access and pick either the latest episode of House of Cards, or immerse yourself as easily in a classic movie bringing your laptop or any other device to bed, and then not being able to sleep. Going to bed with your e-devices is, after all, considered one of the main causes of the prevalent insomnia and sleep deprivation most of us suffer these days. The flickering light will stay on in your brain for hours even after you switch the machine off and try to invite Morpheus in. I believe the god gets jealous of being relegated to a second post in your bed priorities, or third, if you take sex into consideration, and, as a consequence, will resist your call as long as possible – despite all the Ambien you might use to entice him.

The movie

Speaking of Morpheus, the movie we are discussing today has mythology and classic literature at its center (Cassandra and Dostoyevsky) and also dreams in its title and themes. Cassandra is a mythologycal  figure who, in the best known version of her story, rejects the advances of Apollo and is cursed with the power of prophecy which will not be believed by anyone. Tragic: you try to warn people against their foolish ways, foretelling their fateful outcomes, yet no one takes your predictions seriously.

Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream

Well, Woody Allen’s movie is a cautionary tale about ambition and the use of short cuts and quick fixes to get what you want. It’s a warning for those who cross forbidden and dangerous lines to achieve their dreams and aspirations. At the same time, we know humans will never change no matter what Cassandra says. Excessive ambition will always contaminate countless souls and the lure of short cuts is too strong to resist, despite its consequences.

In this respect the story is not new, it has been told innumerable times, we read about it in the papers every single day. Nevertheless they do not usually rely on charismatic actors such as Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell embodying the fateful ambitious brothers on their tragic path to destruction, stopping at nothing to get what they dream about, nor with the help of a great supporting cast to help tell the story, which is not uncommon in any Allen movie. Cassandra’s Dream would never be this strong movie if we could not count on the superb performances of this team.

The plot

The movie starts with the brothers, who have a very close bond, excited at the prospect of purchasing a small boat and trying to negotiate the price down with its owner. From the very first dialogue we realize they are not guys who play straight and are always trying to take advantage. Terry (Colin Farrell), a pill-popping, compulsive gambler with a drinking problem, works as a mechanic in a garage and is always lending expensive cars to his bother Ian (Ewan McGregor), who works in the family restaurant while trying to save money to start a hotel business in California. The story takes place in modern-day London, which, together with another Woody Allen movie set there, Match Point, makes the most of the amazing sights of the city in the beautifully photographed scenes.

The whole family – the two brothers, father and mother – is always shamelessly sucking up to a rich uncle – with shady deals all over the world – who visits them a couple of  times a year, and lavishes the relatives with presents and, sometimes, cash. Well, now, however, the stakes are higher: Terry owes a lot of money to hard-core gamblers and might have his legs broken if he fails to pay them back. Ian, on the other hand, can’t wait to get away from the greasy restaurant business and break free from his suffocating family to move to America with a newly-acquired theater actress girlfriend, who dreams of becoming a successful Hollywood star.

Greed

The uncle has the means, the power and the connections to make all this come true. All they need is to ask him. After all, they are family. Blood is more important than anything else, isn’t it? But blood costs blood: the rich uncle will lend both brothers the money and work his powerful connections to turn Ian’s girl friend into a star in exchange for a huge favor: he claims he can only count on Terry and Ian to get rid of  a business contact who knows too much about his shady deals and may send him to jail for the next 10 years. They must kill him.

Crime and punishment

In this Crime and Punishment kind of plot, the brothers decide to cross the line – there is no return – and do the deed. They kill the man. Before long, however, the Raskolnikov’s syndrome of not being able to live with the burden of the guilt overcomes Terry, who threatens to go to the police and surrender. Uncle Rich and Ian will not let that happen. Terry has to be stopped. Another line to be crossed.

Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream

The end

The face-off between the two brothers takes place against the backdrop of the Thames – the water playing the eternal metaphor of hidden and dark subconscious compulsions –  inside Cassandra’s Dream, the fateful boat they acquired at the beginning of the story, in a breathtaking sequence, where the bond and love felt by the two brothers get mixed up and destroyed by the ambition of cold-blooded Ian and the weakness of unstable Terry. The already stunning  actors’ performances rise a couple of notches for the grand finale – which, as a plot point, is even a bit anticlimactic.  Maybe this is on purpose, as we are mainly left with the facial expressions of Colin and Ewan forever engraved in out minds and wishing for more as the final credits roll on.

Human beings will never change, but Netflix viewers of Cassandra’s Dream will never be the same after watching acting of this caliber.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Teaching English with Art: Vincent van Gogh


Teaching English with Art: Vincent van Gogh.  This seventh 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 speaking and writing activities (now including specific vocabulary exercises) for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most beloved  and controversial  artists of Western Culture, VINCENT VAN GOGH.

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 van Gogh. 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.

Click on the image below to download the ebook:

Click on the image above to get your copy from the KINDLE STO

Click on the image above to get your copy from the KINDLE STORE.

Check out the video clip on the ebook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH

For other books of our series, click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with art

Teaching English with art

6 Myths about Art Most People Share


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.

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.

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.

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

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Teaching English with Art, the series.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Why are you afraid of teaching English through 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!

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.

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

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.

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.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

What’s the job of art?


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.

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

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.

The Triumph of Bacchus, Velázquez, 1628, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette

5 features that make a movie or TV show great


In this day and age of superhero movies, I’m going to dare to give you guidelines on how to judge the quality of a movie. Great movies don’t make money, this is a fact. The reason commonly given is the populace is too dumb and unsophisticated to appreciate their merits. I don’t want to go into this discussion as it spills way beyond the scope of this humble post. However, the opposite is not true either: don’t think that just because a movie delivered a poor box office it deserves any praise. It may be simply because…well…it’s crap. Good movies usually:

1. Focus on character not on plot. Despite the well-known structure of storytelling dug out by mythologist Joseph Campbell and turned into a simplified manual for Hollywood scriptwriters, spelling out all the steps that need to be present in the hero’s journey for a story to resonate with the audience, writers and directors still need to highlight characters. The plot needs to be there, its phases followed in new and  creative ways, but strong characters are what we remember about the best films we see. We may not remember details of the story, but Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone in the Godfather, Robert De Niro’s Trevis Bickle in Taxi Driver or Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood in House of Cards  are unforgettable.

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone

2. Have complex characters. These great characters have the following common characteristics: they don’t comply to black and white codes of ethics, they tend to develop their own morality and follow it consistently; they show either superior intelligence, or charisma or beauty. Or all of them together. Understatement is their main weapon. They do not say everything: a lot needs to be inferred by their eyes, their turn of head, they way their mouths hang open for slightly longer than necessary. They are subtle and complex. We never get to understand their inner agenda to the full.

3. Have scenes played against the grain. Great movies catch the audience off guard, surprise them. They use, for example, as the commentary for a acene, a song  or piece of music that means its exact opposite or that does not belong to the historic period or place the story takes place. The use of LA CUMPARCITA in Woody Allen’s  Alice,  which takes place in contemporary Manhattan – the music plays as Mia Farrow’s and Joe Mantegna’s characters, after taking a magic potion that makes them invisible, pay the taxi driver and the doors of the car open for them to leave completely unseen; the voice over quips: “nothing shocks NYC cab drivers”  – enhances and adds to the humor and oddity of the situation.

Mia Farow as Woody Allen's Alice

Mia Farow as Woody Allen’s Alice

4. Let emotions emerge naturally. These movies do not manipulate their audience to make them weep. Sentimentality makes films that could otherwise be great syrupy and corny. Emotions must reflect real life and its poignancy to work as art. Think of the scene in Walter Salles’s Central Station in  which the character played by Fernanda Montenegro is shown, in a montage, writing a series of letters to relatives of people who are illiterate and therefore can’t write themselves. They are real people in this particular case  – but might as well be actors – from a small city in the northeast of Brazil, and the succession of short scenes showing these people dictating their messages breaks ones’ heart with their truth, simplicity and beauty.

Fernanda Montenegro in  Walter Salles's Central Station

Fernanda Montenegro in Walter Salles’s Central Station

5. Don’t show or say everything.  Life is not neat. Great movies reflect life yet show it through a more interesting angle. But not all must be solved in those two hours a movie lasts. Life is a flow and conflicts are rarely resolved in their entirety. There is no need to explain every character’s motives or reactions or  tie all the loose ends of the story by the conclusion of the movie or TV show. Let the audience wonder. Give them opportunity to use their imagination. Take the typical end of the iconic 2001 a Space Odyssey. If you haven’t read the book, and there’s no need to (it was written to go with the movie), the last 15 min of the movie are all up to you. What is going on? What does that trip to Saturn really mean metaphysically? What’s this guy shown in progressive stages of aging. Who’s this fetus in the intergalactic womb? The viewer will keep those images for a long time in their minds (in my case,  for decades!) and neve stop trying to figure them out.

2001 A Space Odissey

2001 A Space Odissey

Well, great movies are not supposed to follow recipes. So now throw all I said before out of the window and make your own rules.

Good luck

Jorge Sette.

Modern times or the girl who almost got run over by my bike


It’s no news that most people, including me, spend 90% of their waking hours staring idiotically at the various device screens we carry around wherever we go – or, more likely – wherever we stay, motionless. My eyes keep shifting from my iPhone to the iPad to the laptop, and back to the iPhone again for hours on end.

We all check our social media news feed and timeline hundreds of times a day, count the likes and shares on the latest clever joke or quotation we posted, watch carefully the pictures of what our friends are eating, the problems they are having with traffic jams or with their kids.  I didn’t use to care at all what my friends’ kids did over the weekend or the costume they wore for the latest school function: now I follow these events with the attention and interest I used to devote to facts such as  the beginning of the Iraq War or the the inaugural speech of Queen Dilma. We won’t stop answering our messages about nothing on whatsapp or looking for our next prospective date on Tinder. The date will never happen in the real world, as one of the parties will cancel 5 min before the scheduled coffee, but this does not stop us from keeping trying and hoping for the best. Do married people do the same? Is that how they have lovers and affairs today?

I can’t cook well, but the Internet emboldens me to pass on tips on the kinds of seasoning and ingredients my relatives should use on their pasta for their next Sunday lunch – by the way, I will not be taking part in it, as they live in Recife, some 3,000 km from where I live –  and offer expert advice and consolation to my cousin who broke up a 10-month-old relationship  with her boyfriend, with the authority of a marriage councellor.

The current times are no doubt different from how we behaved only ten years ago, when our lives were more real than virtual. But what worries me is not to know if this is worse. I’m not complaining.

I have always been an avid reader and nothing in real life compares to the excitement I get from a well-written novel by Philip Roth  or an insightful factual book by Malcolm Gladwell, from whom I learned that, to excel in anything at world class level,  one needs to devote at least 10,000 hours to the practice of that skill: I counted nervously how much time I had left on Earth based on the average longevity of the members of my family – maybe I should have left the women out of the calculations, as they tend to outlive their men by many years – and was thrilled to find out that I still could pick a skill and try to become a Leonardo da Vinci at it.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.

I could still become a Leonardo da Vinci if I practice for at least 10,000 hours.

 

So, if life as portrayed in fiction and non-fiction books is so much more enticing than reality, who are we to judge the validity of the virtual lives of today’s world – especially teenagers’ and kids’ – who have never known any other kind of life?  This is just a fact of human history, an unexpected turn taken by the course of our species,  and there is no way we will ever be the same again. Artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing  and genetic engineering are already on our doorstep, and the possibility of cloning yourself so you can have the ideal partner for life cannot be that distant in time.

Let’s embrace change. Disturbing? Definitely. But life is exciting for this very reason. Some people claim that it’s death that gives life meaning. We wouldn’t be able to love or appreciate anything if we did not know there would be an end to it. Soon.  Well, death is a kind of radical change, so the same goes for technology – we are living and appreciating a totally new life style, more and more isolated from the real (as opposed to virtual) contact with other human beings and nature, and getting used to it at an amazingly fast pace.  I foresee a time when the only opportunity we will have to be touching other people’s skins will be during the Carnival in Vila Madalena, when it’s impossible to avoid the barbaric crowds gathering around you, and I can’t refrain from flinching at the idea. Can’t we all do our own ALALAÔ from the comfort of the hammocks in the verandahs of our tiny apartments via Skype?

Physical contact with other people will be considered more and more dangerous and rare, as we immerse in our virtual worlds, moulded to our own tastes and specifications. Yesterday,  for example, I eagerly anticipated a time when, riding my bike,  I wouldn’t run the risk of running over a beautiful teenage girl who all of a sudden crossed my path at Parque Villa Lobos in Sao Paulo with her head down and eyes glued to the screen of her smartphone. As I yelled to warn her against the imminent catastrophe, she simply looked up at me with a defiant look in her face and carried on crossing the street as if I was just an annoying piece of Candy Crush Saga which wouldn’t align to her taste! I should have kept using the stationary bike at home.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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