Art tends to be surrounded by awe and respect. Museums resemble cathedrals in the way people move around the halls speaking in hushed tones and looking humbly at the works on display. Art or Hight Art – as it’s sometimes called – should be regarded in a more natural and intimate way by the viewers. The lack of great museums in the region makes the contact with art a particularly formal experience for us Latin Americans. But things are changing as more and more people go abroad, frequent museums, and substitute pleasure and fun for the old sense of respect infused in them when they stood in front of a famous painting or sculpture not many years ago. The myths we are outlining below concern more that kind of art you find in museums and galleries: the visual art produced by the great masters.
1. Art is usually spontaneous and organic. The legend says the talent lies dormant in the artist until it’s suddenly awaken by the muses. In fact, the development of artistic skills is a long and hard path, involving a lot of academic learning, Of course, there are more or less intuitive artists, and mentors may sometimes replace art schools. Formal learning, however, is integral to the process and only practice makes perfect.
2. The best art has idealized versions of mythology, history or biblical themes as its subject matter. This tradition started being disputed around the time the pre-Impressionists, such as Manet with his mundane and realistic nudes, and the social art of Courbet. Their fight against tradition and academicism was taken to a whole new level by the Impressionists, especially by Monet, who understood art as the apprehension of fleeting moments in time such as the effects of light bouncing off trees, water and plain people in everyday situations. That was what mattered and deserved registering.Colors became bright and more vibrant.
Argenteuil, c. 1872-1875, by Monet.
3. The best art is realistic. Fauvism, Cubism and Modern Art in general showed that there was not much point in replicating what film and photography had started doing so well as of the XIX century. Art couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with them. So art needed to change. It should remain an expression of what is human, including reality, but as seen through the eyes, emotions, neuroses, and obsessions of the artistic self. Art was a personal way to express the artist’s inner world. Unlike previous painters, the sense of perspective developed since the Renaissance and the concepts of beauty and balance taken as tenets by the artistic community underwent an earthquake which shattered those ideals to pieces. This is still going on.
Young Girl Reading a Book on the Beach, by Picasso.
4. Art dealers and critics are the experts and they know it all about good and bad taste. We all know how the Impressionist group struggled to have their works exhibited in the tradition-dominated Salón in XIX century Paris. There are no absolutes in art and if you read Tom Wolf’s iconoclastic The Painted Word – which I strongly recommend – you will laugh widely and be infused by a sense of liberation as he dissects and analyses ironically the American art of the XX century. There is also a hilarious chapter in his latest book, Back to Blood, which mocks merciless the Modern Art World of contemporary Miami, with its dealers, experts, artists and stupid billionaire clients. A must-read.
The Connoisseur: Rockwell’s sarcastic take on Modern Art used as the cover for Tom Wolfe’s THE PAINTED WORD.
5. You have an innate predisposition to love, hate or be totally indifferent to art. Not so simple. Just like marmite – for those who have had a chance, like me, to live in he UK for a while and see this initially disgusting jam-like spread sitting on the breakfast table every morning, or even Japanese food, whose ever-present ripe odor coming out of restaurants may put you off getting in at first – art is an acquired taste. You don’t have to like it right away, but you may grow to love it by exposure. There is no need to enjoy every famous artist either. Be selective. Art grows in people. And I strongly defend that by offering history of art as a subject in the secondary and high school – not very common in most schools in South America – or by parents exposing their kids to art books at home or visiting museums, young people’s taste will get more refined and we will see a growth in art appreciation over time.
6. Art is for older people. The younger you are the more appealing iconoclastic and unconventional art will look to you, especially if you have a rebel streak (who doesn’t?) in you. Therefore your initial interest for the drama and violence in Caravaggio, as you grow more mature, may be replaced by calmer Monets or a more contained Velàzquez later on in life. Their beauty and absence of direct conflict can be refreshing as you grow more mature. I still love Janis Joplin, The Stones, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Sometimes it was not even the quality of their music but their life style, perfomances and stage persona – some of them very short-lived, by the way – which captivated me. However, as I grew more mature, classical music started to show its charms and take over my musical taste.
We will be talking more about art in the next post. Watch this space.
If you are a language teacher and interested in art you may want to check out our new series of ebooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, available for download from the Kindle Store. We focus on vocabulary learning, speaking and writing skills in the series. Check it out by clicking here: : http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
In the early 1940s, Matisse underwent a serious and invasive surgery as part of treatment for intestinal cancer. After the operation, he was a very different person, lacking the energy and strength to be on his feet for long stretches of time at the easel painting on a canvas.
However, he was about to start a revolutionary new phase in his artistic life. Despite his physical weakness, his mind seemed to be ablaze with creativity and many say he was given a second life. This resurrection manifested itself mainly through a new art form he began to develop at the time: his famous cut-outs. Instead of painting, Matisse would now spend his days in bed or in a wheelchair, cutting out, with huge tailor scissors, abstract forms directly from gouache-painted sheets of paper, and then, with the help of assistants, pin them against a white background in striking and original compositions.
He would constantly move the pieces around until he was fully satisfied with the final result of these “collage-like” designs. The colors were vibrant and pure, lending the composition a life-affirming quality. Icarus is one of the most famous works from this period.
Icarus. 1947. Illustration for the book Jazz.
The Legend of Icarus
In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, a master craftsman from ancient Athens, were made prisoners on the island of Crete after helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth, which Daedalus himself had designed for King Minus.
The Minotaur was a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man who lived in the center of the labyrinth
Daedalus plotted to escape from his prison by making wings of feather and wax for himself and his son. However, he warned Icarus against flying too close to the sun because his wings would melt. Icarus, in the typical fashion of bold young men, disobeyed his father’s instructions and soared to the heights, coming dangerously close to the sun. His wings melted and he plunged to the sea, drowning. The story of Icarus is usually used as a cautionary tale against excessive ambition.
Many critics and viewers suspect that there is an alternative source of inspiration to the Icarus cut-out. What do you think it might be? What may this work represent if not necessarily the legend of Icarus?
Imagine that this work is about the horrors of war instead. After all, Matisse put it together soon after the end of the Second World War. In this case, what do you think each element of the cut-out stands for? Think about this interpretation and try to see the elements of the work in the light of this new context. It will add a lot to it.
For those of you who are English Teachers and love Matisse and art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of didactic eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
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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 French artist CLAUDE MONET, the founder of Impressionismo. The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to high 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 Monet. 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.
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Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET
Teaching English with art has many advantages: it provides an exciting context; it exposes the students to beautiful and powerful images, making the lesson more memorable; it can easily be linked to other subjects in the school curriculum: history, geography, science, philosophy etc; and, as the response of human beings to different artworks is always unique, teachers can tap into that by personalizing speaking and writing activities. Personalization and freer practice are the most important stages in the language acquisition process.
Our eBooks bring photos of paintings of famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell, Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. Based on these paintings, each book brings a series of vocabulary, speaking and writing activities, composing a set of 30 items altogether, each divided in a number of exercises. The students are encouraged to work on both topic-based and task-based types of speaking activities, and explore the steps of process writing. Teachers are free to decide how much time their students should spend on each writing activity. Notice that, while the speaking activities should take place in class, some of the steps of the process writing activities, such as drafting and publishing, can be assigned as homework. For further information on these approaches, please refer to the following articles previously posted on the blog LINGUAGEM: 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)
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The activities in each book cater for different linguistic levels, ranging from beginner (A1) to advanced (C2). They are correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE, which makes it easy for the teacher to match the eBook exercises to whatever other teaching materials they are already using, providing, therefore, effective and interesting supplementary work on productive skills. These extra activities can be used as a warm-up; whenever the teacher feels the class needs a boost in their motivation during the lesson, through an energizing task; as a filler for a lesson which finished earlier; or as complement or extension to topics already covered in the main coursebook.
Our materials are not meant for self-study. It takes a teacher to monitor and lead the students through the activities, but the eBooks can be used both in traditional classrooms or on online courses. Ideally both teachers and students should have their own practice books – downloaded to the Kindle app on their desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones. Whenever the teacher wishes to provide heads-up exercises or have the students focus their attention more effectively, they can project the pages of the eBooks onto a blank wall, and ask the students to switch off their electronic devices.
Most of the speaking activities can be done in pairs or groups. Alternatively, the whole class can be involved. We suggest the teacher give the students some preparation time before they are ready to speak in front of the class. Another important technique would be to have the student repeat the same story, role plays or any other speaking activity with more than one partner, in sequence. He will invariably perform better the second or third time around.
As for the writing activities, we advocate the use of process writing techniques. The student should work on drafts that progressively get more sophisticated and accurate until they reach the final product. Students should be trained to self-correct or peer-correct these drafts. Teachers should establish how many drafts they expect for each activity. The final draft can then be corrected by the teacher before being displayed to the class in some form. Please remember that it’s during the drafting phase that students learn how to write. The final product is only a consequence. The longer they spend on the drafting phase, the better their writing is going to get.
In addition to the exercises, the eBooks bring short biographies of each of the artists featured, the historical context he lived in and the main characteristics of the artistic movement he participated in. The teacher should give the students a brief overview of the artist’s biography, his times, where he lived, and his style. Teachers will not need to go beyond what is written in the eBook, although there is a wealth of information freely available on the Internet if teachers or students wish a more in-depth introduction or to know more about the artist.
Some of the eBooks also contain short texts referring to specific artworks of that particular artist, either because they are prominent in his oeuvre or because they are based on historical or mythological events that, if explained in a more comprehensive way, will enhance the student’s understanding of the painting and help them with their English production.
We are certain these eBooks will prove invaluable in making your lessons stand out and help your students develop their English. For further info on the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS and purchase the eBook about your favorite artist right now.
Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:
One of the most famous versions of the myth of Salome is the play written by Oscar Wilde, originally in French, in 1891. In this version, Salome is the daughter of Herodias, wife of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea.
The prophet John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod for criticizing his marriage to Herodias, who had previously been Herod’s brother’s wife. John the Baptist claims the consortium is incestuous.
In Wilde’s play, the action takes place during a party thrown by Herod probably in celebration of his own birthday.
Caravaggio’s Salome and the Head of John the Baptist, 1607
During the party, Salome tries to seduce the prisoner John the Baptist but does not succeed in her intent. A number of signs indicate that tragedy looms ahead: the moon looks strange and ominous; a soldier/servant has just committed suicide; Herod, coming out of the party, slips in a pool of the blood shed by the victim, and hears a sound like the one made by the flapping of giant wings…These are all bad omens. What is going to happen?
Soon afterwards, Herod, drunk on wine, and somewhat infatuated by his stepdaughter Salome, begs her to dance for him. Herodias, her mother, does not think this is appropriate and tries to forbid her, but Salome acquiesces when Herod promises she can have anything she wishes in return.
Salome then dances the famous “dance of the seven veils”, which mesmerizes Herod. Time has come now for her to ask for her reward: she wants it to come on a silver platter. Herod laughs: “sure, she can have it on a silver platter…but what is it that she wants?” Salome demands: “The head of the Baptist”, catching Herod completely off guard. He is horrified by the request.
Her demand is fully appreciated by Herodias, who hates the prophet. She insists that her daughter should get what she wants. Herod tries to make Salome change her mind by offering her lots of alternative gifts, such as jewels and beautiful birds, but she is adamant: all she wants is the prophet’s head on a silver platter.
Her wish is granted: John the Baptist is decapitated. Caravaggio painted in gory detail a gruesome scene based on the myth, almost 300 years before the play was written.
Note: the text above is from the ebook: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: CARAVAGGIO. For further info on the series please CLICK HERE: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
If you are having any of the following problems, we can help you…
a. Are your students often bored during the English class?b. Don’t they know what to say when you set up speaking activities?c. Do you spend the weekend correcting writing assignments that don’t seem to help them improve?d. Is it hard to personalize productive skills and link the English lesson to the other subjects in the school curriculum?e. The students know nothing about Art and high culture in general.
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Teaching English with Art is the series for you! This eBook series is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. Each volume contains 30 speaking and writing activities for classroom use based on some of the most striking works by famous artists: for now we have MATISSE, PICASSO, CARAVAGGIO, MONET, NORMAN ROCKWELL, WINSLOW HOMER, a special three-in-one volume of MONET + PICASSO + MATISSE (90 activities), and we’ve just launched VAN GOGH.
PERSONALIZATION: 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!
The objective of these eBooks is to expose the students to high art while having them practice 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 practice their English discussing and doing writing tasks based on the works of these great artists. The activities are highly personalized, so the students can express their own opinions and feelings. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and personalization. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it. Ideally both you and your students should purchase the material. For heads up activities, project the images on a white wall. Chose your favorite artist and click on the corresponding image below to go to AMAZON.COM and get your e-book: