Icarus: one of Matisse’s Most Famous Cut-Outs


In the early 1940s, Matisse underwent a serious and invasive surgery as part of treatment for intestinal cancer. After the operation, he was a very different person, lacking the energy and strength to be on his feet for long stretches of time at the easel painting on a canvas.

However, he was about to start a revolutionary new phase in his artistic life. Despite his physical weakness, his mind seemed to be ablaze with creativity and many say he was given a second life. This resurrection manifested itself mainly through a new art form he began to develop at the time: his famous cut-outs. Instead of painting, Matisse would now spend his days in bed or in a wheelchair, cutting out, with huge tailor scissors, abstract forms directly from gouache-painted sheets of paper, and then, with the help of assistants, pin them against a white background in striking and original compositions.

He would constantly move the pieces around until he was fully satisfied with the final result of these “collage-like” designs. The colors were vibrant and pure, lending the composition a life-affirming quality. Icarus  is one of the most famous works from this period.

Icarus. 1947. Illustration for the book Jazz.

Icarus. 1947. Illustration for the book Jazz.

The Legend of Icarus

 In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, a master craftsman from ancient Athens, were made prisoners on the island of Crete after helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, which Daedalus himself had designed for King Minus.

The Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who lived in the center of the labyrinth

Daedalus plotted to escape from his prison by making wings of feather and wax for himself and his son. However, he warned Icarus against flying too close to the sun because his wings would melt. Icarus, in the typical fashion of bold young men, disobeyed his father’s instructions and soared to the heights, coming dangerously close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to the sea, drowning. The story of Icarus is usually used as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition.

Many critics and viewers suspect that there is an alternative source of inspiration to the Icarus cut-out. What do you think it might be? What may this work represent if not necessarily the legend of Icarus?

Imagine that this work is about the horrors of war instead. After all, Matisse put it together soon after the end of the Second World War. In this case, what do you think each element of the cut-out stands for? Think about this interpretation and try to see the elements of the work in the light of this new context. It will add a lot to it.

If you wish to read more about Matisse’s cut-outs, please refer to our previous blog post: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kq

For those of you who are English Teachers and love Matisse and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Click on the image above to learn more about the advantages of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART.

Click on the image above to learn more about the advantages of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter


Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter

Winslow Homer.  Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation. You might want to check  out our post on the mythological structure of storytelling as well:  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info: 

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

 

The power of storytelling (the mythological structure)


“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” 
 Doris Lessing

Those who have seen the film LIFE OF PI will have no problem relating the quote above to the movie’s main theme. At the end of the movie, we understand that the narrative may as well have been a metaphorical one, and we are asked to choose which version of the truth we would prefer: the one told through analogies and mythology or a raw sequence of facts. I have made my choice. You will have to make yours.

Like all great movies, Life of Pi lends itself to a number of interpretations, has layers and layers of meanings, and covers many different themes. The one that resonated the most with me, however, was its acclaim of the power of storytelling.

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Carl Jung, the renowned psychoanalyst, pointed out that the characters (archetypes) and motifs we find in mythological stories are the same we generate in dreams. Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist and writer, in his seminal book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, took Jung’s ideas further and proposed that all stories involving the myth of a hero have the same deep structure and feature the same archetypes, although they appear in different shapes and forms: the myth of the hero wears a thousand faces after all. In his book, he analyzes a great number of mythological stories from different cultures at different times to prove his point. He is very persuasive, I must admit.

In the 1980s, Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood development executive, adapted and simplified the ideas of Joseph Campbell to be applied in scriptwriting and moviemaking. He compiled a seven-page memo for the big shots in Hollywood that revolutionized the industry. Later this memo was turned into a book (The Writer’s Journey) which, to this day, is considered a bible for scriptwriters in the business. After all, important directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola had all drunk from the fountain of Campbell’s ideas to produce some of their most brilliant works.

Without getting too technical, let’s just cover the main steps of a typical hero’s journey to give you an idea of the phases of stories that deeply resonate with us, basically because they find an echo in the depths of our psyche. Then, if you are interested, you can expand your knowledge by referring to the original and more complete sources. A typical mythological hero follows this path:

Ordinary World: at the beginning of the story, the hero is shown in his natural habitat, living his normal life, but we can already sense that he does not really fit in, there’s something missing, he may not be totally adapted to the context.

Call to Adventure: at some point afterward, the hero is called upon action. Something happens that affects or changes his life. The news that prompts the change is usually brought to him by an archetype we call the herald. Unless the hero does something about the novel situation, his life or the lives of his friends and loved ones will be in danger.

Refusal of the call: but the hero resists the call. He comes up with all kinds of excuses not to embark on this journey. He is afraid.

Meeting with the mentor: at this point an older man or woman, usually grumpy or funny, shows up and intervenes, lending the hero guidance and support, goading him to take the bait and start his adventure.

Crossing the first threshold: that’s when the story gets really started, the hero accepts the challenge and will confront his first problems. An enemy will try to prevent him from entering the world of the adventure. The hero will somehow manage to bypass this entity and move on.

Tests, allies and enemies: now, for a long stretch of the story, the hero will be going through a series of trials and obstacles on the journey towards his goal. He will meet supportive characters but also many foes, of all kinds, will cross his path.

Approach to the innermost cave: all the obstacles will lead him to the biggest of them all. The hero and his allies prepare for it.

Ordeal: arriving at this climactic point, the hero will face death or an almost insurmountable problem.  He deals with it as bravely as he can.

Reward (seizing the Sword): he survives the ordeal and gets a prize (a metaphorical “sword”), which will help him get  through the rest of his mission.

The Road Back: now, with the mission almost accomplished, the hero will try to get back home. He’s already transformed  somehow by the experience, but will still have to confront a lot of opposition (usually represented by a “chase scene” in modern movies) before he gets back home.

Resurrection: this is the hero’s final problem, occurring right before he’s able to cross the threshold back home. Another climactic moment. The hero struggles courageously and is rewarded with the “elixir” (something that he will take back to the community he came from to help the others get to a more elevated stage)

Return with the Elixir: the elixir is passed on to the community. End of the story.

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Joseph Campbell

If you pay close attention to the movies you like the most, you will be able to identify this structure. Of course, this framework should lend itself to all kinds of variations. It’s not supposed to be a formula. Some of the steps may be missed or shuffled around, the circumstances and situations the hero finds himself in can be very diverse. This is what makes movies and stories magical. But the firmer the skeleton of the narrative, the closer it gets to the steps of the myth of the hero, the more it will resonate with an audience.

Nevertheless, to really understand how stories are built, we would still need to discuss the archetypical nature of the characters in narratives in more detail (remember we mentioned the herald and the mentor in passing?),  but that is beyond the scope of this post. We will resume this topic in a future post.

Also, storytelling is a great tool for language learning and we will discuss how it can be used in the classroom on another occasion.

For now, that is all.

(you may way now to read my post MORE STORYTELLING TIPS FOR MARKETERS: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-UK )

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.