Fascinating Facts about Three of Velázquez’s Most Famous Paintings


If you are a fan of the works of Diego Velázquez, considered by many the painter of painters, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the information I gathered for this article:

1. Volcan’s Forge (1630)

FA110550-90D7-4B95-A4AC-CB908DD8022D

This is one of the uncommissioned paintings produced by Velázquez right after his first trip to Italy, where he stayed from 1629 to 1631. The painting shows the moment, narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when Apollo, the god of light, shows up at Vulcan’s forge, to tell him that his wife, Venus, the goddess of love, is having an affair with Mars, the god of War. Apollo is identified by the crown of laurel on his head and the orange toga he is wearing. Vulcan, the man on his right, looks horrified and even dangerous. He seems to be working on an armor for Mars himself.

Velázquez had become heavily influenced by Italian art during his trip. This is noticeable in this work by the choice of subject matter – mythology – and by the study of the male nude. However, Velázquez, being the great artist that he was, could not help but add a personal touch to the painting: as we can see, although the bodies replicate in their perfection and athleticism the idealization of the Greek-Roman statuary, the men’s faces look common, contemporary and even ugly. The exaggerated expressions of surprise and shock are a characteristic of the Baroque movement, which did not refrain from showing emotion. There is also an almost comic element to the painting, as it does not seem to treat Mythology with the respect it inspired in other painters. Apollo looks rather full of himself, which you can tell from his posture and body language, such as the curved back and the raised finger.

It’s also worth pointing out that the painting suggests a tri-dimensional perspective: the figure in the background, for example, looks blurred, as if we were actually seeing him from a greater distance. Some of the figures in the painting are displayed in front of others, a technique used to create the illusion of depth. In addition to that, the work suggests a combination of genre painting – the representation of the daily work in a regular forge – with the mythological theme. This kind of combination was rather unusual at the time.

Moreover, some critics claim the painting had the objective of enticing prospective patrons: the artist was perhaps trying to show off his draftsmanship, demonstrating how he could depict the male nude in different positions, in a balanced composition.

2. The Spinners (Las Hilanderas, 1657)

425796C9-8CD5-40F6-AC63-8B00D3079DCD

Critics understand this painting as the representation of the fable of Arachne, as told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. In the story, Arachne was a shepherd’s daughter who developed an extraordinary skill as a weaver. When asked who had taught her how to weave so well, she said she had learned it on her own. This insulted Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and the crafts, who showed up as an old woman to give Arachne a chance to apologize and acknowledge that her skill could only have come from the goddess. Arachne refused to do so, which made Athena furious. She reverted to her natural form and set up a contest with Arachne to prove who could weave better.

The story unfolds in two stages in Velázquez’s painting. In the foreground, we see the contest itself, as it takes place. Athena would be the older woman on the left. The fact that she is the goddess is betrayed by the youth and the skin glow of her exposed leg. Her ability is demonstrated not only by the relaxed attitude in which she operates the spinning wheel but also by the speed of the instrument, whose stokes we can hardly see.

Arachne, on the other hand, is seen working furiously on the right, with her back to the viewer. Arachne’s skillful work is also indicated by the speed of her performance – notice that her left hand moves so fast it seems to have 6 fingers! They are assisted by three other women in their work.

The conclusion of the story can be seen in the background of the painting. Arachne’s final work – represented here by a copy of Titian’s The Abduction of Europe – beats Athena’s. Athena, the woman wearing a helmet in the painting, is so angry that she rips Arachne’s work to threads. The goddess is seen here at the moment when she is casting the curse that will turn Arachne into a spider, so she will spend the rest of her life spinning webs. The obvious lesson is humans must not compete with the gods.

Just like in the previous painting we analyzed, Velázquez’s work in Las Hilanderas is a clever combination of genre and mythological themes. The women in the foreground look just like her contemporaries at a weaving workshop. It’s in the background that we have a more explicit reference to the myth, marked both by the presence of Athena is his Greek clothes and by the replication of the mythological work of Titian.

3. The Toilet of Venus (The Rokeby Venus, 1647-1651)

429E0754-931F-4E26-BE9F-7C1C11E582D6

This is the only nude study of a woman painted by Velázquez to reach our days. He seems to have painted three, but two of them are lost. This kind of risqué painting was the object of careful surveillance by the Catholic Church during those harsh times of the Spanish Inquisition. Artists who dared to break the rule faced the threat of excommunication.

This painting, which is sometimes called The Rokeby Venus due to the fact that it was in the Morrit Collection at Rokeby Park, shows the goddess who personifies love and beauty lying with the back to the viewer and looking into a mirror held by her son, the god Cupid. The blurred image in the mirror is explained by the fact that ideal beauty cannot be represented.

However, contrary the trend of the times, Venus looks slimmer than the more voluptuous women usually depicted by other painters. She is also a brunette, while most other representations of Venus show her as a blond. These details all seem to indicate a wish to depict just a beautiful Spanish woman of Velázquez’s own days. Besides, the painting does not show any of the other items that characterize the goddess in other paintings, such as myrtle, roses and jewelry. Except for the presence of the winged Cupid holding the mirror, nothing indicates she is the goddess.

It’s interesting to notice how her curvaceous body is echoed by the rounded belly of Cupid and by the folds of the drapery and bed sheets.

Just like in Velázquez’s most famous painting, Las Meninas, which we discussed in a previous blog post (please click here for the post: https://jorgesette.com/2020/03/14/las-meninas-by-velazquez-under-the-magnifying-glass/), the presence of the mirror, and the fact the goddess seems to be looking at us through it, incorporates an element of mystery to the painting. It seems to stimulate a conversation between the work and the viewer, generating a discussion about the dichotomy between art and reality, representation and fact.

This brings us to the end of our blog post. It’s fascinating to discover the facts, the legends and the stories behind famous works of art. If you have further info, opinions or questions about the paintings discussed above, please don’t hesitate to enter your comments in the box below. We would love to share your perspective with our readers.

Jorge Sette

 

Las Meninas by Velázquez – under the magnifying glass


One of the most controversial paintings in Western Art History is Velázquez’s intriguing The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas). Painted in 1656, it’s considered the Sevillian artist’s masterpiece. Critics and specialists have been debating how best to interpret this work for centuries, and of course, no analysis is conclusive.

5E6049CA-98C5-4A51-A6F2-4B80677E1F38

Las Meninas  (The Maids of Honor) by Velázquez, Diego.

The first question seems to be what Velázquez, who’s depicted on the left of the scene, in front of a huge canvas, is painting on it. Is he working on the very painting we see? This seems to be suggested by the palette in his left hand, whose blurred and mixed colors appear to replicate the image in front of us. However, how and why would he include himself in it?

Others, on the other hand, point out that there’s a mirror in the center background, reflecting the images of the king and queen of Spain at the time, Phillip IV and his second wife, Mariana de Austria, who would occupy the same position as the viewer as we look at the painting. This would explain why everyone seems to be gazing outward from the picture. They are actually staring at the royal couple, who would be the subject of Velazquez’s canvas within the painting. Complicated? Wait, it gets even more complex.

A third theory says that Velázquez is painting in front of a mirror (the clue is the way the parting of the hair of the Infanta Margarita, the blond girl in the center foreground, is reversed from what it would look like in reality). This would explain how the artist managed to include himself in the painting. This would also mean that everything we see is also flipped.

More interesting facts about the picture:

The central figure of the scene is the Princess or Infanta Margarita, who was about 5 years old at the time. Who are the other ten people represented in the painting? We can identify all of them historically, except for one. Flanking the Infanta, who’s at the center of the painting, we see the maids of honor. To the right of the Infanta, bowing – possibly due to the arrival of the king and the queen – we see Isabel de Velasco, and to the left, kneeling, as she offers the princess a glass of water or some kind of grease for the princess to dip her fingers in, as she seemed to have had some kind of disease, we have Doña Maria Augustina Sarmiento. On the right, we see the dwarfs Maria Barbola and Nicolas Pertusato, who is playing with the dog. The job of the dwarfs was to entertain the court members.

Behind the dwarfs, obscured by the lack of lighting, we notice Doña Marcela de Ulloa, the princess’s chaperone, and next to her, the only unrecognized figure in the painting, possibly a bodyguard. At the back, going up the stairs and opening the door, the queen’s chamberlain, José Nieto Velázquez, can be identified. The other three people are Velázquez himself and the reflections of the king and the queen in the mirror.

Another question is what kind of painting is this? It does not seem to be a portrait of Princess Margarita, due to its informality. Velázquez was a great portraitist and we have plenty of examples of what a portrait of the higher members of the court of Philip IV should look like: formal, pompous, rigid, authoritarian, exuding power. This depiction of Princess Margarida is nothing like that, resembling more a genre painting, like the bodegones (kitchen and tavern paintings Velázquez produced at the beginning of his career): this could be a snapshot of a regular day in the painter’s studio, known as “el cuarto del prince”.

Ultimately, Las Meninas could be a very personal statement of the artist about his own social status. A self-promoting artwork, to show his intimacy with the higher members of the court. The red cross painted on the left of his chest, which represents the Order of Santiago, seems to indicate this, although some critics guarantee this cross was painted only after the death of the artist, as a way of honoring him for his work under the king.

Now, all this complexity only adds to the attraction of this unique work of art, which not only shows masterful draftsmanship and use of color (the brushstrokes that make up the dresses of the ladies and their decorations seem to anticipate the Impressionist movement in some 250 years), but also to establish the concept of the painter as an intellectual.

If you ever go to Madrid, don’t even think of skipping a visit to The Prado, the museum in which this artwork hangs in all its majesty.

Jorge Sette

10 Must-Read Biographies of Famous Artists


You don’t need to know anything about the artist’s life and his times, or understand his technique and motivations to be able to appreciate his work. There’s a quote by Monet, the quintessential Impressionist painter, that addresses this issue:

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.”

However, many people will agree that learning about the artist’s background is a great source of pleasure. Besides, it helps you identify their obsessions with certain themes, observe details of paintings you had not noticed before, understand what he’s trying to accomplish with a determined piece of artwork, and, therefore, enhance your whole experience as a viewer. Reading biographies is a great way of gaining this knowledge.

I would recommend the following ones, as they’re all carefully researched and written books, bringing to life the individual characteristics of the artist and the historic moments they lived in

1. Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

A careful and very detailed account of Van Gogh’s life, this biography starts at the painter’s childhood, when he lived at his father’s parsonage, and takes us all the way to his alleged suicide. The work borrows heavily on the steady correspondence between Vincent and his bother Theo, giving us a comprehensive and in-depth view of the tormented life of this brilliant artist.

10677213

 

2. Winslow Homer at Prout’s Neck, by Philip C. Beam

A succinct account of the rather uneventful life of Winslow Homer, considered the best American artist of the XIX century. Although Homer’s life was nothing like Caravaggio’s or Van Gogh’s in terms of thrilling adventures, it’s great to understand the rationale behind his technique and to find out where he painted his best works. Geography is the key to unlock insights into Winslow Homer’s works of art.

61OuCs77d+L

 

3. Winslow Homer: a short illustrated biography for kids, by Jonathan Madden

A simplified account of the life of this great American Writer meant for teenagers, it brings a great number of images of Homer’s greatest artworks in full color. An interesting way to introduce the artist to young readers.

 

4. Matisse and Picasso: the story of the rivalry and friendship, by Jack Flan

Matisse and Picasso were close friends and fierce rivals. This book draws clever parallels between the lives and works of these great modernist artists. It shows how the art of each one of them was in constant conversation with the other’s, borrowing themes and techniques, but always adapting the acquired influence to each artist’s own style and moving it one step forward. This rivalry became a very enriching cooperation, making us believe that it was essential to the artistic development of both painters.

51oKjNlKLTL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

5. Jackson Pollock: An American saga, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Written by the same authors of Van Gogh: The Life, this carefully researched work won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography. Based on family letters and documents, as well as on interviews with the artist’s widow and his psychologists, it focuses on the controversial aspects of the troubled life and revolutionary art of this extraordinary American Abstract Expressionist painter.

51mIdtrrioL

 

6. M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio, by Peter Robb

In this masterful biography, Peter Robb delves into the dark and violent spirit of the end of the XVI century to explain the forces that shaped and influenced the life and art of the brilliant and controversial artist. The Counter-Reformation, the Inquisition, the scientific discoveries, the vibrant and competitive artistic atmosphere of Rome – the city considered the center of the world at the time – are all factors that converged to create the man and his oeuvre.

51z86Kg8jhL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

 

7. American Mirror: the Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, by Deborah Soloman

Art critic and biographer Deborah Soloman explores the art and complex personality of the man who helped forge the idealistic American identity of the first half of the XX century, working for almost 50 years as the main illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post. A big town boy who loved the countryside, Rockwell could be very cold and insensitive towards his models and was subject to frequent bouts of depression. He was treated by the famous psychotherapist Erick Erikson. This biography explains how the compulsive work of Rockwell helped keep him mentally healthy, explaining the way his obsessions found their way into his art.

518+nunqX0L

 

8. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, by Vincent van Gogh (Penguin Classics)

If you don’t wish a mediator to lead you through this great artist’s harrowing life, delve straight into the primary sources of all other biographies and read his letters to Theo, his closest brother and confidant. They kept a steady correspondence throughout their lives, so this is the most direct way to get to know the events he went through, his thoughts and innermost feelings. Vincent had a hard time finding his artistic path in life; he thought he wanted to follow in his father s footsteps and become a preacher, but he failed at that; he didn’t make a good teacher or art dealer either. But when he discovered his true vocation, he gave himself entirely to his art, and suffered the consequences of such radical surrender. Through the letters, we also get to know about his religious struggles, his admiration for the French Revolution and his love life

9780140446746

 

9. Leonardo Da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind, by Charles Nicholl

In this brilliant yet dense autobiography, Nicholl focuses on the man behind the myth, by offering an in-depth analysis of Da Vince’s notebooks. The author doesn’t dwell on Leonardo’s works, and the comments on his oeuvre are only superficial. The book covers the whole life of the Renaissance genius, from 1452, when he was born, the illegitimate child of peasant girl, in the countryside of Tuscany near Florence, to his death, when he acknowledged with sadness that there was so much more to learn and do. Da Vince was a visual thinker who translated his thoughts into drawings – a designer, with both artistic and engineering skills. He didn’t believe that words could represent nature as precisely as sketches, blueprints, drawings and paintings. Yet, Nicholl’s biography tries to penetrate Leonardo’s mind and show it to us – not through images but in glowing words.

517B95BFKCL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_

 

10. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life, by Roxana Robinson

This iconic artist’s biography discusses the events of her controversial life, fiery personality, as well as the people close to her and her relationships. It goes beyond that to also offer the reader a detailed and insightful critique of her modernist work. The author had the cooperation of members of her family to write the book. Considered a heroine by the feminist movement of the 70s, O’Keefe had been profoundly influenced by the feminist suffrage movement before World War I, becoming one of the first American women to succeed professionally as an artist.

51iDeykiAAL

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

Janis: Little Girl Blue


The new documentary about the life of incendiary 1960s blues singer Janis Joplin, by director Amy Berg, has opened in São Paulo this week. Contrary to the classic biography on the singer – Buried Alive, written by Myra Friedman, and first published in 1973 – the documentary chooses to show a less torturous and painful facet of Janis, who comes off in the movie as an intelligent, charismatic and sensitive human being. An extremely talented woman, way ahead of her time, who looks to fame and acclaim to fit in and be loved, Janis’s short and intense life is celebrated, rather than mourned, in this mind-blowing film.

Janis_Joplin_performing

Born on January 19, 1943, into a conservative and suffocating family, who wanted her to become a teacher, Janis grew up an outcast, the target of frequent bullying at school in the backward Texan city of Port Arthur. Unconventional, outspoken and aggressive, Janis broke the mold of what was expected from women in those repressive years of the 1950s and early 60s.

San Francisco

When zitty-faced and overweight Janis found out she would never become one of the curvaceous and cute models who leapt from the covers and pages of the women’s magazines everyone read when she was a teenager, she left home and headed for San Francisco. The neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury welcomed Janis with open arms. She had found her soulmates. She felt totally at home and could finally blossom as a woman and artist.

3640992771_0acb1e7449_z

Janis Joplin belonged on the stage. She would rip herself open in front of an audience. Her performances – many of which feature in the documentary, but can also be found on YouTube– are raw and soul-wrenching. Audiences – both in the live presentations depicted in the film and the one watching it from the comfortable seat of a movie theater – look on enthralled and silent – experiencing a jolt of pleasure, pain and self-realization, through the music emanating from this force of nature.

When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills, explains the singer.

The movie narrates Janis’s story from her childhood in Port Arthur to her untimely death due to an overdose of heroin at a hotel in Hollywod at age 27, covering in detail all the phases of her meteoric career. Janis struggled with drug abuse from the very first years in San Francisco; the problem only got worse as she became more popular.

Monterey

The addiction, however, did not stop Janis from exploding to notoriety during the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, when she debuted as a full-fledged blues singer, mesmerizing the audience with a legendary rendition of Ball and Chain (see video on YouTube).

From then on, many doors started to open and Janis never stopped climbing the steps of success and recognition, as one of the best blues singers of all time. Stardom, however, which she had sought for most part of her life, proved elusive and unsatisfactory, after all. On stage I make love to twenty five thousand people; and then I go home alone, complained the lonely diva. She could never shut out her personal ghosts, insecurities and anxieties, unless she was working.

Career

Although, Janis Joplin recorded only 4 albums in her 4-year career: Big Brother and the Holding Company (1967); Cheap Thrills (1968) ; I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (1969) Platinum and Pearl (1971, released posthumously), her fame is enduring and she continues to captivate new fans with songs such as Cry Baby, Summertime, Mercedes Benz, Maybe, and Me and Bobby McGee (her best selling single).

images

Janis Joplin – Little Girl Blue, the documentary – will surely enlist a new wave of fans. After all, many young people can’t wait to find music which is not as innocuous and washed-out as most pop songs they download from the Internet today.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

Top 10 Norman Rockwell Illustrations


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.

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.

Here are 10 of his best contributions to The Saturday Evening Post. Enjoy.

 

Image-1

Boy With Baby Carriage, 1916

 

Image-1

Gramps at the Plate, 1916

 

Image-1

Two Men Courting Girls Favor, 1917

 

Image-1

Cousin Reginald in Cut Out, 1917

 

 

Image-1

Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey, 1917

 

 

Image-1

Cousin Reginald Under the Mistletoe, 1917

 

 

Image-1

Boy and Clown, 1918

 

 

Image-1

Children Dancing, 1918

 

 

Image-1

Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponesus, 1918

 

 

Image-1

The Party Favor, 1919

 

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: Winslow Homer


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.

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: WINSLOW HOMER: https://vimeo.com/142028606

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

Teaching English with Art

Teaching English with Art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

How to Buy Any of the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART


To buy any of the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please follow the steps below. Click on the image to be directed to the KINDLE STORE.

Click on the image above to be directed to the KINDLE STORE.

Click on the image above to be directed to the KINDLE STORE.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Jorge Sette about his successful series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART


Phil Wade (please refer to his biodata at the bottom of this post) has been very supportive of my series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART from the very beginning. Last week he asked me if he could interview me for the ELT EBOOKS BLOG (www.eltebooks.wordpress.com ) he’s in charge of. He is an eBook writer himself and understands that the more we talk about these new trends and educate people about the cutting-edge work we are doing, the more informed the English Language Teaching (ELT) community will be, and, as a consequence, school coordinators, teachers, parents and students will be able to make better choices regarding the materials they adopt. Ebooks and self-publishing are the future of the industry, and I’m glad we chose to be on board this early. Here’s the interview as published in his blog.

Teaching English with Art. Click on the picture above to get your copy.

Teaching English with Art. Click on the picture above to get your copy.

Phil: What is your opinion of the current ELT ebook market?

Jorge Sette: Like all the other markets, the ELT book market is undergoing a radical transformation. It’s becoming digital. However, there is still a lot of resistance to this new reality. Teachers and parents of course, because of their age, tend to be more conservative, and therefore will prefer the use of print materials as a rule. It feels more tangible to them. On the other hand, even more forward-thinking or younger teachers, and also students, are not used to paying for anything they get from the Internet, which makes it difficult for ELT publishers and writers to go fully digital, as the business model has not been fully established yet. However, I firmly believe there’s no going back, and in the very near future we will all be reading and studying from tablets, smartphones and other devices. I myself have been reading mainly eBooks, e-magazines and e-newspapers for the past 5 years or so. And paying for them too (laugh).

Phil: How do you write your ebooks?

Jorge Sette:  Well I love art and love English teaching, so it was only natural for me to combine both passions. I uploaded some free presentations involving teaching English in the context of art on SlideShare a couple of years ago and found out lots of other teachers liked the idea too. I realized then there was a market for these materials, as they were not common in the ELT world. So I decided to write a series of supplementary eBooks on vocabulary, speaking and writing which would tap into famous works of art as a springboard for exercises to be done in the language classroom. My writing process is the following: I tend to choose artists who are famous to start with. Then I go thorough their works on the Internet or print books I have at home to decide if their paintings lend themselves easily to the creation of classroom activities. Then I read a coupe of well-known biographies on the painter and watch videos about his works on YouTube, so I understand their life, style and motivations better. Even if very little of this homework is reflected directly in the books themselves, I know I will write better if I have this background knowledge and information about the artist stored in my head when I start developing the tasks.

Phil: What feedback have you received?

Jorge Sette:  I have run some campaigns on Amazon.com where some of my eBooks are given away for free, as it’s important to get the word out, and have key teachers get to know and talk about them. These campaigns function in the same way publishers give free samples to teachers aiming at getting an adoption for their print materials. There have been hundreds of downloads throughout the world during these campaigns. However, not everybody who downloads the materials gives us feedback. Many teachers, though, have written to me directly saying they loved the books and that their students have been benefitting from the activities. Of course most people who care to write to us are the ones who have a positive opinion, so I still need to investigate more on how the books can be improved, as I haven’t received much negative feedback to help me in this direction.

Phil: Why does Art appeal to so many different kinds of teachers?

Jorge Sette: Well, teaching English with art is a powerful tool. I summarized all the advantages of using art in the language class in a post I wrote for my blog LINGUAGEM, which your readers can access by clicking here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1jO

As a summary, though, I would say that teachers like it because it makes the lesson more fun and, therefore, more motivating. It allows the inclusion, in the English class, of other subjects studied in the curriculum, such as a history, geography, mythology, psychology and literature. In addition to that, art involves emotion, which makes language more relevant and memorable. And, finally, its flexibility makes it easy for teachers to personalize exercises and allows for open answers and freer practice, which is an important phase in the language acquisition process: if the students use the language to express their own reality, dreams, experiences and aspirations, chances are their development as language learners will improve.

Phil: Which is your favourite activity from your ebooks and why?

Jorge Sette: I myself love the storytelling activities, both oral and written. Everyone loves a good story, and if you can create your own version of a story based on a painting, you will certainly enjoy the process. I encourage the use of process writing in the eBooks, which shifts the focus to drafting rather than coming up with a final product immediately. The more drafts a student produces the better writer she will become. Having said that, I suspect different students will enjoy different kinds of activities, so we provide a huge variety of exercises to cater for different tastes and learning styles.

ABOUT PHIL WADE:

Phil has been designing, managing and teaching English courses in language schools, universities and companies for 15 years. He has also written numerous articles and elearning courses. His current passion is ebooks and has written 11 ebooks and co-written several others. He is currently working on a Business English ebook due out in January. Phil blogs about ELT ebooks at www.eltebooks.wordpress.com

Vincent van Gogh: meet the man behind the legend


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

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

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.

Click on the link below to know more about the eBooks: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with Art

Teaching English with Art

 

Watch our promo video on the eBook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VICENT VAN GOGH:

What’s your favorite artist? Let us know so we can feature him/her in our series.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette