It’s not been raining the whole time. I have even done a little February drawing outside. But there has also been time to sit by the fire experimenting a little more with the iPad compositions that manipulate and twist the earlier drawing I made whilst looking out the window on a rainy afternoon. I am seeing more and more possibilities
February has been grey. It’s had wind, a lot of wind and rain. I find myself looking out of the window. I don’t mind the view of leafless trees, it has been a recurring motif in my paintings and drawings for a while. My drawing book is close to hand, but encouraged by my daughters increasingly digitally manipulated creative work I find myself reaching for my iPad. It’s early days but my attention has been awakened.
I don’t teach any nineteen year olds. Mostly the oldest young people who end up in my classroom are sixteen and occasionally seventeen. I like most teachers try to encourage my pupils to try their hardest and to be ambitious in what they are trying to achieve. My role as a teacher is to help them see what might be possible and to aid them in reaching those goals.
Today I have visited the Bernini and Caravaggio exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I hadn’t anticipated leaving the exhibition reflecting on what teenagers can achieve. But it was a sculpture of Saint Sebastian that in many ways caught my attention the most. It presents the problem of how a sculptor, carving into marble, has to deal with the technical challenge of including the necessary arrows piercing the young man’s body and that of course on top of representing the human figure.
The sculpture was perhaps about 80 cm tall, in terms of ambition and spectacle very modest in comparison to the large scale sculptures by Bernini that can be found in Italy.
So why did this particular cause me to pause and reflect, you may have guessed the reason already. The sculpture was created when Bernini was just nineteen years old. It was of course a different time. The young Bernini would have already had a several years experience of learning the technical strategies and techniques needed to create such an image.
Sculptors like to point out that the sculpture is simply in the block, be that marble, wood or sandstone. Seeing that and subsequently being able to find and reveal it is a tremendous challenge of insight, technical ability and spatial awareness, and in this case all realised by the hands of a nineteen year old. I may show the image to the pupils I teach. Will I dwell on the fact that it was made by such a young man? To be honest, I’m not sure yet!
Below are further images from the exhibition by Bernini, Caravaggio and others.
Sayings and proverbs are one of the last areas that you seem to get to when learning a language. My own experience in this area certainly confirms this. I’ve been learning Dutch for over twenty-five years and I still rarely feel confident enough to casually throw a Dutch proverb into things I’m saying. Having a full and complete understanding of both the phrase itself and when it is appropriate to use it isn’t easy.
Some proverbs are sometimes a little familiar when you come from an English background or are relatively simple to work out the meaning of them. Phrases such as “Er schuilt een addertje onder het gras“, translates easily as “there is an adder hiding in the grass”, something that you should obviously watch out for and avoid the danger if you can. However, others are confusing or just plainly weird! Maybe they do have a logical history somewhere in the past, but for me, they just feel like a language obstacle waiting to trip me up. A couple of examples of this category could be “Zo gek als een deur zijn” (as mad as a door) and “ik schrik me een hoedje” (actually means, it scared the wits out of me, but literally translates as “you scared me a hat”).
I’m certainly no beginner with the Dutch language anymore, but still, this area of language does feel a bit like a communication minefield that I enter at my peril!
With this in mind, and as a sort of language orientated art teacher I have recently reused for the first time in a while a creative project that gets my pupils to think a bit more about the extensive collection of proverbs that there is in the English language. Many of these are every bit as odd as the Dutch examples I’ve mentioned. But to make my creative activity a bit more fun I combine it with an idea based on artist/designer Graham Rawle’s Guardian column from a while back, “The Lost Consonant”. In it Rawle took a sentence and removed a single consonant from one of the words that resulted in the meaning of the sentence being stood on its head and gaining an often ridiculous or plain silly alternative. This new version of the sentence was then accompanied by an equally silly collage that illustrated the new, twisted version.
My assignment, that I use with the (14-15 year old) pupils works in a similar way. Except I ask them to choose an existing proverb or saying from the English language and make use of that as a starting point. We make use of the many websites that there are that list plenty of possibilities together with their meanings.
Then the challenge is two-fold. Firstly, find one where the removal of a single consonant can stand the meaning on its head. In this way “Barking up the wrong tree” can become “Baking up the wrong tree” or “Caught between two stools” becomes “Caught between two tools”. Whilst doing this it is equally important to keep in mind that an entertaining collage also needs to be made that illustrates the new version. We do this using photo-manipulation software on an iPad, but it could equally be done on a desktop computer or with scissors and glue.
For me the assignment has several interesting elements:
- Developing familiarity with a difficult area of language acquisition
- Playing with language and looking for humourous possibilities
- Creative opportunities for communication through manipulated imagery in the form of collage combined with text
Although I am an art teacher, I certainly don’t see this as an assignment that should be limited to the art room.
For more of Graham Rawle’s work click here.