A documentary about grammar

David and Elisabeth O’Brien, former English teachers, have raised over 22,000 dollars through Kickstarter to make a film about grammar. Talk about geeky – but they say their film is for everyone. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @GrammarRocks. Their blog, Grammar Revolution, features diagramming, which I would find too complicated for my German students. But maybe I’m wrong.

Rob Ross: The Joy of Painting

No series of posts on English for artists would be complete without mentioning Rob Ross and his PBS TV series, The Joy of Painting (’83-’94). I’ve been fascinated watching the shapes emerge, and have laughed tears listening to the painter, all down-homey, talking about his little old messy brushes – but that’s ok – just sort of touching the canvas – see how easy it is? – that easy – have a good time deciding where those little rascals the trees or the snow are going to live – and build a happy little cloud – just have fun and drop it in – you can do it – relax – let it flow – and we don’t make mistakes, they’re just happy accidents – we’re not worried – we can do anything and we’re doing ok here – all kind of beautiful little things will happen…
Smiling? Yeah, me too. Wide open to parody, and very much to his credit, Rob Ross participated in a sweet mashup poking fun at him and his show.


Tom Keating on Painters

Tom Keating (1917-1984) was an art restorer and a famous art forger exposed 1976, and tried and let off for health reasons in 1979. In the early 80s he had a TV series where he demonstrated the painting techniques of the old masters. Considering the art world rotten, he painted time bombs into his fakes. He is better known for his copies of 19th century works, but I find it particularly entertaining how he went into business faking Expressionists:

The artists he chose to Sexton – the German Expressionists – he deemed the opposite of Degas. “It may be unfair, but I have never liked them all that much,” he later explained. “You only have to look at the self-portraits of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff with his barbaric fizzogg and monocle, to see how arrogant they were.” But the Expressionists were in vogue with collectors, and Keating found them easy to mimic. Cribbing from “a little paperback that cost a few bob” he turned out twenty-one paintings in a weekend under bankable names including Kirchner, Nolde, and Pechstein. To save money, he simulated passages of thick impasto by mixing poster colors with house-painter’s emulsion. He rendered everything else in acrylic. As usual the canvases were old potboilers, sealed with rabbit-skin glue, and sometimes underpainted with assorted rude words. For those he used lead white, a traditional oil pigment he reckoned would show up in an x-ray due to the heavy metal content.

Masterpieces for everyone? The case of the socialist art forger Tom Keating (book excerpt)

Language note: to Sexton is a Cockney rhyming slang expression based on “Sexton Blake”, a British comic strip detective. So to Sexton is to fake.

Here are his TV appearances. These are very simple, rather underproduced affairs, where you stand behind the artist for 30 minutes and listen to him demonstrate his techniques. English for artists and art historians.

John Myatt: Forger’s Masterclass

John Myatt is known as “the master forger” and the perpetrator of the “biggest art fraud of the 20th century”: “The crime: In 1986 John created a painting for (Professor) Drewe in the style of Cubist painter Albert Gleizes. Drewe called Myatt to tell him Christie’s had valued the piece at £25K…” which resulted in Myatt producing some 200 fakes up to 1993. When the fraud was uncovered, he went to prison on a relatively lenient and brief sentence. He has since had two TV series, one of which was called Mastering the Arts or Forger’s Masterclass – the latter name is used in the videos I’m sharing from YouTube, yet the former name is mentioned in John Myatt’s website. It involves him teaching amateurs how to paint in the style of  a different great master each lesson. I find the series highly engaging. It’s wonderful to watch people rise to the challenge and leaving their comfort zones, and to talk about painting in this very hands-on way. It may be standard painting class, but it’s fun to watch a forger share insights. Each episode is about 28 minutes.

I could see basing an English course for Artists and Art Historians on these videos. What I like about them is that each is a springboard for the history of the artist and his times, each has three different art students from a wide range of backgrounds discussing what they want to get right, and they’re responding to their teacher encouraging and cajoling them. What do you think?

Episode 1: Edward Hopper
Episode 2: Alain Derain
Episode 3: Vincent Van Gogh
Epidode 4: Claude Monet
Episode 5: David Hockney
Episode 6: Georges Braque
Episode 7: Pierre August Renoir
Episode 8: John Singer Sargent
Episode 9: Amadeo Modigliani
Episode 10: Paul Cézanne

exec. producer for Granada: Jeremy Phillips
for sky arts
executive producers John Cassy + Barbara Gibbon
producer/director Emma Jessop
series producer Amanda Starvi
A Granada Production for Sky Television
British Sky Broadcasting Limited 2007

English for Artists: Virgina Peck’s Buddha paintings

I would love to write a course for English for Artists and Art Historians. Art was my first love, before I decided to go into history and then later into language teaching, and I still go to art galleries every chance I can.
To realize my dream, I’ll need to win some artists as clients first.
Today: Virginia Peck’s process for painting the Buddha.


start with a white canvas
apply the underpainting
let loose and have fun
make a gestural, abstract underpainting
inform all the successive layers to come
use a statue for reference
take charcoal to sketch in the face
heavy (or light) on the canvas
brush away the charcoal
“until there is just a faint indication of the face, so the charcoal won’t be mixing with and dulling the paint.”
(Use future continuous to anticipate and preview future processes)
indicate the shadow areas
depending on whether I use oil or acrylic
I add marble dust or modelling paste into the paint
give it volume and texture
layer complementary colors on top of the underpainting
use pallet knives of different sizes to apply
the paint sits up on top
show through in places
decide what marks to keep or get rid of
enhancing or distracting from the overall effect
glaze parts with thinned-down paint
define or pull together an area
later go back in and add
give it more life and interest
use a belt sander to take off the highest peaks of paint
reveal interesting colors or patterns
the painting is done
give the painting a title

Nationwide protest

The acquittal of George Zimmerman, self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who followed and killed Trayvon Martin inside his own gated community (!) is a blatant example of racism. As has been said repeatedly, if a white 29 year old man had come up to a gated community and gunned down a 17-year old white boy, all hell would have broken loose. But a black boy tracked and killed by a white man, who got injured in the process? That is put down to self-defense. The perpetrator gets off, scot-free.

It’s sobering to watch the two main witnesses for the prosecution, whose testimony broke the case:

Treyvor Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel was on the phone with him during the incident, and should have been the star witness, but when she opened her mouth to speak, she was inept, to put it mildly, and nearly incomprehensible to the court during her 7 hour examination (Language Log discusses race, Ebonese and Jenatel’s use of “creepy-ass cracker”).

Then, medical examiner Dr. Shiping Bao saw the body and could have explained the wounds in clear terms if his English had been better. As it was, he was hard to listen to. Small wonder that the jury obviously switched off. See the summary of this case in the New York Times.

Here are parts of the two testimonies that prove, once again, how essential it is to learn how to speak well before an audience.

Improve your English, folks, or you won’t be able to get done what you want done!

I remember when “Neighborhood Watch” was introduced in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill in 1972. I was almost 10, and my dad was involved. This was certainly not the sort of outcome that his generation envisioned. Back then, people on neighborhood watch didn’t bear arms at all. It was their duty to call the police if they noticed anyone suspicious. In fact, to judge from the guidelines available online, at least in DC that is still valid:

Patrol members should be trained by law enforcement. It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles.

I simply don’t understand why the prosecution didn’t try the defendant on these grounds. Today, it seems that taking law and order into your own hands is being condoned more globally. Is that any way to teach young people that we have a rule of law?

Self-defense is a very strange angle to take with Zimmerman. If a neighbor had pulled a gun out of the kitchen drawer on hearing the fight outside, and had fired as someone came in the door, that might be considered self-defense. But Zimmerman provoking a fight and then shooting the person he provoked? That’s profiling and then hunting down.

These are the phrases you hear the family of the victim say in their attempt to contain their disappointment at the outcome:

  • God will prevail
  • Justice will be served

And this is the chant in the streets:

  • No justice, no peace.

Google Translate

I use Google Translate in my work, and like to introduce it to advanced English students who need to do translation at work. But you need to study very closely what this great tool does and doesn’t do. Based on the World Wide Web, Google Translate is really quite helpful for suggesting collocations (word partnerships) and colligations (grammar structures following given words), such as, in the example below,

  • adverbs after verbs, e.g. “think independently”
  • gerunds after prepositions, e.g. “without losing sight” or “dynamic way of doing”

But you naturally need to rearrange and adjust the various parts of speech, since German sentence structure is so different. I’ve highlighted the corresponding sections in the slide you see below. Also, German abstract terms carry meanings not transported in the more common sense English translation, and therefore need to be extended:

  • Unternehmer ist er weniger im Sinne … sondern …
  • His entrepreneurial qualities lie less in … than …

Note that when you use Google Translate, you can mouse over to view and select additional suggested translations. The more reference material goes in, the better Google Translate gets. So have a look:

German: In Max Mustermann begegnet man dem fast klassisch zu nennenden Vertriebsmann, der ausgeprägte Macherqualitäten besitzt und unabhängig denkt und handelt. Unternehmer ist er weniger im Sinne eines ganzheitlich denkenden und sorgfältig analysierenden Managers, sondern eher in Hinblick auf seine zupackende und dynamische Art, die Dinge anzugehen und umzusetzen, ohne jemals das Ziel und das gewünschte Ergebnis aus den Augen zu verlieren.

Google Translate: In Joe Blow, one encounters the most classic to be mentioned salesman who has distinctive makers qualities and thinks and acts independently. Entrepreneur, he is less in terms of a holistic thinking and carefully analyzed manager, but rather in terms of their purposeful and dynamic way of doing things and implement without ever losing sight of the target and the desired result in mind.

Improved: Joe Blow has many of the distinctive qualities of the classic salesman, a man of action who thinks and acts independently. His entrepreneurial qualities as a manager lie less in holistic thinking and careful analysis than in his purposeful and dynamic way of approaching and implementing things without ever losing sight of the target and the desired result.

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