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


I’m learning about typography for a client. The first video introduces several designers. For me, Paula Scher sticks out. I particularly enjoyed learning about her work for the theater and the music industry.

Follow this link to learn more about her work on Jazz and her logo for CitiCorp – Artists at Hillman Curtis. And here’s a link to her inspiring talk of 2008 at TED on “serious play”, where she contrasts serious (which children are, she says, when they create) and solemn (which adults are, she says, when they apply what is expected).  Redrawing her career, she describes going through cycles of creative play to solemnity and the death of a model on back to regeneration and a new phase of play, which she says she has gone through four times.

“Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.”

The second video is a quick history of typography.

The power of vulnerability – Brené Brown, academics, and me

I was reminded, while teaching a presentations course to social science PhDs today, of the vulnerability of academics as they conduct scientific inquiry. The whole nature of science is not knowing, but wanting to find out more. Complexity generates new and interesting questions. So vulnerability is a key ingredient in academic presentation. We looked at a photo of a student presenting a poster to an older scientist, and the academics I was teaching commented on what they considered the older man’s critical gaze. They experience an audience looking to punch holes into their methods and results. I conjured up the image of the white night protecting his castle against the hostile red knight. We naturally went on to discuss the opportunities for networking and productive exchange such an encounter provides. In any case, the photo and the ensuing exchange got me thinking – again! – about vulnerability.

Photo: Angelica Omaiye, Beating the Competition II: Tips for Presenting at Research Conferences, The Substrate, The official blog of the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliate Network

I love rewatching Brené Brown’s TED Talk. Her field is psychology, and so any research is necessarily also self-reflective. She begins her TED talk saying that she initially reacted with great insecurity to being billed as a storyteller at an event she was invited to. I’d say most academics would. Storytelling and science inhabit different worlds. But a storyteller is what she is, and it doesn’t make her less of a scientist. Here she is in classic storytelling mode, as she describes her own need for control as a researcher, and her meltdown in the face of recognizing the key role of vulnerability. As a storyteller, she gets by with very little need for explicit explanation.

Source: TED

A key moment comes in minute 12:08:

So I found a therapist. My first meeting with her, Diana, I brought in my list of how the wholehearted live, and I sat down, and she said, How are you, and I said, I’m great, you know, I’m h… I’m OK. And she said, what’s going on? And I said … and this is a therapist who sees therapists. Because we have to go to those, because their BS meters are good. (laughter) Uhm. And so I said, Here’s the thing: I’m struggling. And she said, what’s the struggle? And I said, Well, I have a vulnerability issue, and I know that vulnerability is kind of the core … of shame and fear … and our struggle for worthiness … but it appears it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love … and I think I, I have a problem, and I just … I need some help. And I said, but here’s the thing: No family stuff, no childhood shit, I just … I just … need … some strategies.” (lots of laughter)

She goes on to talk about how we numb vulnerability in minute 15:30:

We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history. The problem is, and I learned this from the research, that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff, here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment, I don’t want to feel these. I’m gonna have a couple of beers and a banana-nut muffin (laughter) … I don’t want to feel these … and I know that’s knowing laughter … I, I hack into your lives for a living I know that’s … uh uh god … you cannot numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects or emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness, and then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so the we have a couple of beers and a banana-nut muffin, and it becomes this dangerous cycle.

She has a clear agenda as a result of her extensive and intensive exploration: She says that as parents

Our job is to look and say, you know what, you’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s our job.

Ok, and now extend that ad lib to siblings and friends and the people we teach and coach and … it’s simply a good guide to being human.

Thinking through my own vulnerability

So then, thinking through my own vulnerability with my husband in the evening over a glass of red wine, I remembered being nine years old. My parents were just going through a crisis and wanted to have me, the last child still living at home, out of the house while they debated divorce. So I went off to Camp Varsity in West Virginia for six long weeks. It must have cost my parents an arm and a leg. The experience was amazing. I had always been protected physically, being the youngest, the only girl, and the child of rather unphysical parents. We had no sports at school to speak of, and my dad’s idea of a good time was singing mass in Latin.

So here suddenly I was just one of a bunch of wild and fiercely physical kids. I remember this one game in the woods where we had to run for hours, utterly exhausting, and where it often felt like I was running for my life. Talk about vulnerable! Other challenges were learning to shoot a shotgun and a bow and arrow though I’m nearly blind in my right eye, which I needed to sight the goal. Then there were marvelous discoveries like horseback riding, Western-style, and hiking in the mountains. We had never done that before in my family. I even played softball. The only activities that I didn’t have to learn from scratch were canoeing and swimming.

After six weeks, on the last night before we went home, there was this little ceremony up in the Lodge where campers were given awards for being the fastest swimmer or having won some track event or other. The ceremony was just coming to an end when they called me up to the front of the room, and unbelievably, handed me a plaque.

It read: Most Improved Camper.

They must have made up that award for me, and I suspect there was leg-pulling involved. I remember being hugely embarrassed to be noticed at all, and truly proud to have been picked out as an achiever of … something.

You’ll laugh, but it was lovely to have my own vulnerability defined in such simple terms, and to be awarded in such a straightforward fashion.

Branding: Smells, tastes, feels like home

New exciting challenge. Learning about branding for a company I’ll be teaching at. So here’s my first exploration. Bill said: “Branding is about managing how people instinctively react to your ideas and identity.” Interesting. He’s sent me an ad for an insurance company that the company has branded, made by a separate agency. So one look, and you recognize, hey, this is a reference to “High Fidelity“.

They’re turning what Rob loves about Laura into what your average twenty something wants to love about insurance. Smells and tastes like home. A very convincing ad concept.

John Cusack was wonderful in High Fidelity, and I could see how an insurance brand would benefit from channeling the honesty, integrity, quirkiness and human realness of his character. So does the commercial communicate that to the viewer?

They’ve chosen a very different man, obviously. It’s a tough call to cast for a German TV audience. But going at it from my world, after the first two viewings I’m not so sure I like the guy. The problem is (for me) that the monologue sounds too learnt by heart. Has this Berliner really had nothing but trouble with insurances? Recognizing the scene, I’m expecting an authentic rant or declaration of love here. We’re so tuned into authentic emotion these days, it’s very hard to fool us. If you’re selling personality, but you don’t have a star everyone can relate to, it’s going to be risky. Star quality is elusive. I’m trying to think of a German actor I would have cast here… Maybe Jürgen Vogel? Big fan here.

They’ve taken Nora Jones “Sunrise” from “Feels like Home” as the music, which makes perfect sense. She is a true star. Everyone understands her, and she’s here to stay. Just like your coverage. Hopefully.

Keep calm and carry on

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of a German invasion. It was never used, even during the air raids, but kept for the worst case. What could be more British! The poster was rediscovered in 2000, and subsequently commercialized. Now it’s become an amusing and inescapable meme. You can even create your own parody of the poster on this website.

But I’d like to know: Has it become a buzzword? I mean, do people in Britain actually say “Keep calm and carry on” jokingly in conversation? In other words, does this omnipresent visual meme built around words actually translate into spoken English?

Interview with an old potato

A few years ago when I was teaching English students at the LMU Munich, my students told me how in a creative writing class, Gill Woodman, head of Sprachpraxis there, had given them a bag of potatoes and told them to select one and imagine its personality, and then write its biography. Such a great idea. Imagination + humor.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? My dad bought me the game when I got my tonsils out, at about the age of 5.  He would have giggled with me about this silly video – could be a take on Gill’s assignment for Very Young Learners: interview a potato.