Reviewing SPARE: PRINCE HARRY’S MEMOIR – A Brazilian Perspective


Why would a Brazilian, without a drop of British blood flowing through his veins, choose to read “Spare”? Well, stories of privileged but unhappy people managing to escape their gilded cages, spreading their wings and flying, as sings Elton John – one of Lady Di’s closest friends – in the song Skyline Pigeon, has always fascinated me. Rebels are my kind of hero. Besides, I couldn’t miss all the buzz surrounding the launch of the book.

I lived in the UK for almost two years, ages ago (a very happy time in my life). It shouldn’t come as a surprise for those who know me that I simply love the English language (in all its variants), its literature, movies, and music. I also learned to like Marmite – an acquired taste! The National Gallery, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tube are also very close to my heart, as are the London parks and the colors of the land: green and gray. I paid three visits to Salisbury, just to experience Stonehenge in different seasons. Cornwall is a dream: The place I would love to grow old in. 

Stonehenge

As for the British Monarchy, I never considered that institution something relevant to my life – I felt it was just an alien and outdated British cultural trait (although we did have something similar in Brazil for almost 400 years too). It fits into the same category of rugby, cricket, or EastEnders, the soap opera which had been running for centuries when I lived there.

I only began paying attention to the dysfunctional royal family, when Netflix’s The Crown started streaming – and, being told time and again by people who feel very strongly about it that it’s mostly fiction – I watch it as mere entertainment.

Years after I had come back to Brazil, the death of Lady Diana Spencer woke me up to the fact that the British Press was a weird and dangerous animal, but it did not really affect me – after all, I had never bought or even read a single page of a tabloid while I lived there, so did not even feel guilty. On the other hand, the image of a young Prince Harry walking behind his mother’s coffin left a painful and lasting impression: Actually, I never forgot it. As he grew up before the world’s eyes, contrary to what was portrayed in the media, I always considered him a normal boy, doing average stuff and making the same stupid mistakes we all did when we were young. Besides, he seemed rather lonely. I decided I liked him. 

This long introduction is just to say that, Spare, his memoir, is a lot less whiny than I thought it would be. As a matter of fact, there’s quite a lot of humor, and I did enjoy it. The third and last part of the book is less exciting. After all, we all have heard about “When Harry met Meghan” – minus the hilarious fake orgasm scene in the restaurant,  an iconic moment performed by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the 80s movie with a similar title – more than we cared. However, I found it quite illuminating and sobering to know more about Harry’s education at Eton, the various palaces and estates the family owns, how the houses of the different members are distributed and allocated, his years in the Army (especially the boot camp passages), his trips to Africa and to both poles, and how the death of his mother traumatized him. The closeness and friendship that Harry seemed to share with his “granny”, the deceased Queen Elizabeth II, was also moving and unexpected. 

It was also juicy gossip to find out how Charles, Camilla, and even his brother William, and their respective staff, are engaged in fiercely backstabbing each other to gain popularity in the media. The rivalry is so brutal that each camp gets to the point of leaking fake stories to the press to be seen as the good guys in the family. 

Even if it’s all fiction, it’s well-written fiction, and makes for compelling reading. I recommend it.

Jorge Sette

Top 30 Quotes on Technology by Famous Writers


When writers talk about science, science fiction, technology, the Internet, social media and gadgets, they may sound visionary, clever, insightful, funny and original. However, some of them may also sound clueless, conservative, ordinary or naive. The marked difference between writers and non-writers regarding the topic of technology – or any other, for that matter – is that the former group gets their ideas across much more clearly and precisely. They are great at language and style. Yet, most of them lack scientific training or knowledge. So should we expect anything deeper from their views? Please read the following quotes by famous writers on science, innovation and dystopias and decide which ones work for you.

1. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clark. Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible.(1973)

2. Anything that is theoretically possible will be achieved in practice, no matter what the technical difficulties are, if it is desired greatly enough. Arthur C. ClarkeHazards of Prophecy: An Arresting Inquiry into the limits of the Possible: Failures of Nerve and Failures of Imagination. (1973)

Writer Arthur C. Clarke

3. It is only when science asks why, instead of simply describing how, that it becomes more than technology. When it asks why, it discovers Relativity. When it only shows how, it invents the atom bomb, and then puts its hands over its eye and says, ‘My God what have I done? Ursula K. Le Guin. The Stalin in Soul(1973).

4.Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute. J. G. BallardIn the Introduction to the French edition (1984) of Crash. (1974).

5. You know the formula m over naught equals infinity, m being any positive number? [m/0 = ∞]. Well, why not reduce the equation to a simpler form by multiplying both sides by naught? In which case you have m equals infinity times naught [m = ∞ × 0]. That is to say, a positive number is the product of zero and infinity. Doesn’t that demonstrate the creation of the Universe by an infinite power out of nothing? Doesn’t it? Aldous Huxley. Point Counter Point (1928).

6. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn. Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. (1953)

7. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change. H.G. Wells. The Time Machine. (1895)

8. The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better. George Orwell1984. (1949)

9. Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced. Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. (1931)

10. Freedom, like everything else, is relative. Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale. (1985)

Writer Margaret Atwood

11. Only people who are afraid of the water want to understand it. Other people jump in and get wet. Michael Crichton. Sphere. (1987)

12. It’s hard to kill a creature once it lets you see its consciousness. Carl Sagan.Contact. (1985)

13. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human. David MitchellCloud Atlas. (2004)

14. Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s instinct of destruction. Jules VerneTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. (1870)

15. We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. Stanisław LemSolaris. (1961)

16. Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (1979)

17. I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s would still be open. Susan Beth Pfeffer. Life As We Knew It. (2006)

18. The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. Isaac Asimov.

19. Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole. William S. Burroughs. The Adding Machine – Selected Essays. (1985)

20. I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket. Ray Bradbury.

21. I don’t think humanity just replays history, but we are the same people our ancestors were, and our descendants are going to face a lot of the same situations we do. It’s instructive to imagine how they would react, with different technologies on different worlds. That’s why I write science fiction — even though the term ‘science fiction’ excites disdain in certain persons. Kage Baker

22. Change happens very slow and very sudden. Dorothy Bryant. The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. (1976)

23. Language exists less to record the actual than to liberate the imagination.Anthony BurgessIn the introduction to The Best Stories of J.G. Ballard. (1978)

24. Do you ever wonder if–well, if there are people living on the third planet?’ ‘The third planet is incapable of supporting life,’ stated the husband patiently. ‘Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.” Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. (1950)

25. We need to re-create boundaries. When you carry a digital gadget that creates a virtual link to the office, you need to create a virtual boundary that didn’t exist before. Daniel Goleman

26. There’s a danger in the internet and social media. The notion that information is enough, that more and more information is enough, that you don’t have to think, you just have to get more information – gets very dangerous. Edward de Bono. In an interview for news.com.au. (2011)

27. Distracted from distraction by distraction. T.S. EliotFour Quartets. (1936)

28. First of all, I know it’s all people like you. And that’s what’s so scary. Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively. Dave EggersThe Circle. (2013)

29. The more time we spend interconnected via a myriad of devices, the less time we have left to develop true friendships in the real world. Alex MorrittImpromptu Scribe. (2014)

30. Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be! Arthur C. Clark. Electronic Tutors. (1980).

Do you know any other quotes on technology you would like to share with us? Please use the comments space below.

Jorge Sette

Steven Pinker: Tips on Writing with Style


Writing is nothing like speaking. People’s brains are wired to produce speech and the process of language acquisition starts immediately after the baby is born. All it takes is exposure to linguistic input. From babbling to fully articulated sentences, we can count on a time span of some four or five years. It’s an effortless and innate ability. An instinct. Writing, on the other hand, is a recent invention in the history of the species. It requires much harder work. It’s a learned skill; it takes more time to master and can be seriously improved through life if you set your mind to it. It will never be complete, though.

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In his brilliant new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Steven Pinker does not aim at beginners. He takes for granted that you can already produce a decent piece of writing and are willing to hone your skills. He claims he will help you do that not by providing a reference guide which you can look up whenever you have a question about punctuation, spelling or grammar. Pinker’s intent is to make the reader reflect on how to improve his writing style.

And why would you want to do that? He comes up with three reasons a writer of any kind – although he focuses on non-fictional texts in the examples he provides – would wish to develop his writing skills:

  1. To achieve clarity (you can make the meaning of your message more rigorous, unambiguous, easier to grasp. Your written instructions, for example, will become less dangerous in certain contexts, if you enhance your style);
  2. To gain trust (readers rely on writers who present themselves as someone who knows his language, its nuances and limitations);
  3. To convey beauty (writing and reading are two of the greatest pleasures of a civilized person: expressing yourself with more precise words, being able to make use of a tad of poetry in your descriptions, coming up with original and impactful metaphors will enchant your reader).

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To accomplish these objectives, Pinker advocates the adoption of what he calls classic style, which replicates the easiness and directness of a conversation and makes the reader see the world as if watching a movie. Classic style avoids abstractions by using examples and concrete language. It shows instances of the phenomena being analyzed, making it as tangible as possible for the reader. Classic style maintains that the purpose of writing is “presentation and its motive is disinterested truth.”

Classic style involves the cooperation of the reader, who will try to fill in the blanks and work to understand what the writer wishes to convey. The reader will contribute his knowledge of the world to complement what the writer is saying, so the latter won’t need to over-contextualize the point he’s trying to get across.‘’Classic writing…makes the reader feel like a genius. Bad writing makes the reader feel like a dunce.”

In addition to classic style, another tenet of Pinker’s theory of good writing is that authors need to balance prescriptive norms and descriptive uses of the language. Only by doing that a writer will sound sophisticated, attentive, intelligible to a larger audience, and, yet, avoid pomposity, fundamentalism and the danger of becoming a stickler for unreasonable norms dictated by orthodox stylistic guides.

What are prescriptive norms? These are traditional and condoned ways of expressing oneself in a language. It’s a set of rules that any good writer must know and, possibly, follow. However, the writer must be aware that these rules were not created by an omnipotent guardian who concocted these norms and keeps them in an inexpugnable fortress. Rules are a product of what past writers and (usually) educated people handed down to the newer generations. But language is in constant evolution, and often, creative writers will bend the rules to achieve specific effects or to avoid misinterpretations that were not taken into consideration before.

Descriptive linguistics, contrastively, deals with how people actually write and speak in real life in a determined place at a certain moment in time. Language is a dynamic and shape-shifting organism. It’s alive. It changes to accommodate new realities and ideas. It cannot and will not be straitjacketed to please the inflexibility of purists.

writing_content_190610-800x450

Nevertheless, writing cannot be a free for all, where anything goes. Sense is the key word. A consultation of the experts – recognized and trusted writes of present and past, people who express themselves with clarity and beauty – needs to take place. Established rules must be taken into consideration and reflected upon. A consensus is necessary. Pinker’s suggestion of replacing “dogma about usage with reason and evidence” nails the solution to the dilemma.

Therefore, good writers, according to Pinker, are the ones who pay attention and look up. They learn, either systematically or through reading good authors, what are the best ways to express oneself. However, they will not hesitate to bend those rules, coin words, or challenge the linguistic status quo, if they feel this is needed to convey an original thought.

These principles are, in summary, what Steven Pinker champions in his elegant book. However, I will not have time to discuss in this blog post how he does that. I won’t be able to cover his humor, the irony and the encyclopedic knowledge of the English language he imparts in this essential manual. Neither will I mention the delightful examples he picks to make his points; to say nothing of the fact, that, contrary to the objective he stated in the introduction to the book, it will definitely work as a helpful reference guide for most readers.

A must-read for writers or anybody who is either interested in English or works with it (teachers, language students, editors, marketers, academics…), The Sense of Style is a mandatory item in your library.

Jorge Sette.

 

 

Bragging about English (Highlights from Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue”)


In his funny and enlightening book about English (The Mother Tongue – English and How It Got That Way), the love and pride of Bill Bryson – the best-selling Anglo-American writer of books on language, travel and science – for his native tongue transpire on every page.

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Packed with historical facts, hilarious anecdotes and scholarly information about the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation of English, the book is a pleasure for those who teach, write, edit, work with or simply use and are interested in the most international language of contemporary times. The good news is, as the book is constantly drawing fascinating comparisons between English and other tongues and dialects, you may appreciate it even if English is not your favorite language. Readers will also be captivated as they follow the changes English has gone through since its origins and the many influences it has been subject to in its evolution. Here are some highlights of the book to which I took the liberty to add a few personal comments.

1. English has become the biggest and most influential international language of contemporary times, with some 400M native speakers; 400M speakers of English as a second language and 700M speakers of English as a foreign language – and growing (this data has been updated according to the latest info available on Wikipedia). It’s the international language of business, education, movies, pop music, science and politics.

2. The author claims it’s the only language that, due to its richness of vocabulary, needs books on synonyms, such as Roget’s Thesaurus. One of the reasons for this variety is English has been borrowing words from more than 50 different languages throughout its formation. It’s believed that English has a synonym for each level of the culture: popular, literary and scholarly. So, for example, one can rise, mount or ascend a stairway. One could also shrink in fear, horror or trepidation. Another curious example given in the book: one can think, ponder or cogitate upon a problem.

3. The author also says that another factor that sets English apart from most languages is its flexibility concerning word order, the use of the passive and the active voice and the subtle differences one can express through verbal forms. Notions that in many other languages, for example, would be represented by only one form of the simple present in English can become: I sing, I do sing, I’m singing, I’ve been singing.

sing-still

4. Although Bryson admits there’s no way to measure or prove the superiority of a language over others, he is proud of the fact that, in English, the pronouns are largely uninflected regarding the social status of the person we are talking to, which makes it practical, simple and, to some extent, democratic. One can safely stick to you,regardless of whether you are speaking to a friend, your grandmother, a person of any social class, or even your boss.

5. Also, he praises the fact that English is relatively free of gender considerations for things and objects. A chair does not need to be masculine or feminine, you just sit in it.

6. English is a branch of the common tree of the Indo-European languages. It grew out of the Germanic family of languages. 1,500 hundred years ago Germanic tribes (the Angles and Saxons) crossed the North Sea and invaded the land where the Celts were already established (and also having lived together side by side with the Romans for nearly 400 years). It must have been hard on the Celts – a rather more sophisticated people – to be overrun by these hordes of unlettered, uncultured and pagan invaders.

7. The funny thing is that the language of the Angles was the one which most firmly established itself on the new land, despite the superiority in numbers of the Saxon invaders. Besides, while still on the continent, Anglo-Saxons had borrowed heavily from the Roman vocabulary (Latin). Another great historic influence that helped shape the English language, as we know it today, was the invasion of the islands by the Normans (Vikings who spoke a rural variety of French) in 1066. The kings of England spent the next 300 years without speaking English. Hence the strong influence of French words in contemporary English vocabulary.

8. Languages mold cultures and the other way around too. English speakers seem to dread silence in conversations. If it drags for more than 4 seconds, one of the people involved will make a comment about the weather, or come up with an empty comment such as, oh, my god – and, then,  pointing at his watch, will say something along the lines of time to leave, or time flies.

9. Shakespeare used some 17,000 words in his writings. 10% of them had never been used before. He coined them. Among the words Shakespeare contributed to the English language are: critical, leapfrog, monumental, castigate, majestic, obscene, frugal, radiance, excellent, countless, submerged, gust, hint, hurry, lonely, summit, etc.

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10. In 1978, Robert Burchfield, who was the chief editor of The Oxford English Dictionaries at the time, predicted that in 200 years British and American English would be two completely different languages, mutually unintelligible. This prediction, however, has been repeated a number of times in history and its based on what happened, for example, to the Indo-European languages, especially Latin, which gave origin to distinct languages such as Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Nevertheless, the contemporary trend, with communications and traveling intensifying globally, in addition to the heavy use of the Internet, is the exact opposite. More and more words and grammar structures get exported internationally, mainly by the USA. So it’s unlikely that a total split will ever happen, quite the contrary.

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These 10 points we highlighted are only a very small percentage of the wealth of interesting information, considerations and insights into English you will find in Bill Bryson’s delicious book. Don’t waste any time: order it right now!

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.

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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.

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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

 

Vincent van Gogh’s Fun Quiz


Find our how much you know about one of the most famous artists of Western Culture.

A Pair of Shoes. 1886, by Vincent van Gogh

A Pair of Shoes. 1886, by Vincent van Gogh

  1. Where was he born? a. France, b. Austria, c. The Netherlands
  1. What was he like? a. Eccentric and antisocial, b. Fashion conscious, c. Joyful and carefree
  1. What kind of painting style is he famous for? a. Impressionism b. Post-Impressionism, c. Cubism
  1. What were the most characteristic traits of his famous paintings? a. Bright colors, movement and expression of feelings; b. Use of Greek myths, c. Emulation of the classical models
  1. How many paintings did he sell while he was alive? a. Just one, b. A couple of hundreds, c. Ten
  1. Was he a famous painter while he was alive? a. From a very early age, b. Became famous right before he met Gauguin, c. Not at all
  1. Was he ever married? a. Never, b. Twice, c. Once
  1. How did he die? a. Of old age, b. Cancer, c. He shot himself allegedly
  1. What’s the historical context he lived in? a. The Counter-Reformation, b. The second half of the XIX century, c. The First World War
  1. Which one is not a van Gogh painting: a. Starry Night b. The raft of the Medusa c. The Potato Eaters

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

Caravaggio's quiz

 

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

If you are interested in TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, you might want to check out our successful series of eBooks available from the KINDLE STORE. Just click on the picture below for further info:

Teaching English with art. Click on the picture above for further info on the eBooks.

Teaching English with Art. Click on the picture above for further info on the eBooks.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

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