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

Designed by Apple in California ad

In my English classes today at Metadesign, we watched and critiqued Apple’s Designed by Apple in California TV ad . This ad, which I stumbled on in Fast Company’s CoDesign blog, has bombed with consumers.

The participants gave this feedback:

  • It’s all emotion, they could be advertising anything, which is a turn-off to the more critical viewer, who doesn’t want to be manipulated.t
  • the (old) man’s voice-over evokes paternal, moralistic wisdom, preaching to us, telling us how we should feel; this will only appeal to those who are already, or want to be, true believers
  • You can’t even tell which handheld device is being advertized, as the Apple logo is generally hidden.
  • They’re focusing on the experience, and have crowded out the cutting edge technology that made that experience possible.
  • It’s almost too inclusive, multicultural, young and old – very un-hip to those who want to be a class apart
  • It’s in slow-motion – no change in dynamic, and dark, with Chinese chimes – one of my students said it reminded her of a Chinese funeral

TV ad text:

This is it
This is what matters
The experience of a product
How will it make someone feel?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
We spend a lot of time on a few great things
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches
You may rarely look at it
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature
And it means everything

Mark Wilson in his CoDesign blogpost, In 20 Years, We’re All Going To Realize This Apple Ad Is Nuts, says that the key line “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product” should read “…The experience of a person,” because “the experience of a product will never be what matters to a great designer. It’s always been about the experience of a person using that product.” He criticizes the way the ad focuses on people engaging with the product, and says the ad “consecrates” how “people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology”.

I understand that in principle, but don’t agree with the practical application of that maxim. Apple is a technology company. Full stop. The gadgets are still lovely, even if Samsung and the rest are stealing and fast catching up and will perhaps beat Apple in sales one day. But can they beat Apple at design (unless Apple loses its edge) ? To me, a straightforward celebration of intrinsically interesting design and craftsmanship is still the more appealing proposition. Do we really want to see people enjoying gadgets? Especially if seeing them enjoy it is not always a pretty sight? No, come on, geek masters, just show us the damn thing in all its glory.

Launched on the same occasion, the excellent Designed by Apple – Intention ad focuses on design and craftsmanship. Atta boy. It contains the great lines:

If everyone is busy making everything
How can anyone perfect anything?
We start to confuse convenience with joy
Abundance with choice
Designing something requires focus
The first thing we ask is
What do we want people to feel?
Delight. Surprise. Love. Connection.
Then we begin to craft around our intention
It takes time
There are a thousand no’s for every yes
We simplify. We perfect. We start over
Until everything we touch enhances each life it touches
Only then do we sign our work
Designed by Apple in California

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.

Michael Pawlyn: Using nature’s genius in architecture

I’ll be teaching city planners, and so have decided to use this wonderful presentation (TED Salon 2010) by the designer of the Eden Project bubble dome, the biomimicry specialist Michael Pawlyn. The presentation is deeply architectural in nature. I’ll be asking:
Watch the first minutes (0:17-1:50) and answer:

  • What examples does he begin with?
  • What details does he highlight? Why?
  • How does he follow up to lead into his presentation?

The answer is that he provides a bridge to a classic 3-part structure. After the engaging examples, he postulates that to make progress in sustainability, we need to make 3 radical changes:


Watch the rest of the talk, then answer:

  • How does he come back to the structure?
  • What is his take-home message?

Under the impression of the Coursera course I’m taking (University of Washington, Introduction to Public Speaking, by Dr. Matt McGarrity), I’ll be asking: Is this more of a solo performance, or more of an interactive communication with the audience? You can make a case for both. The speaker must have learned the speech by heart, or it must come from the heart, because if he’s reading it off, he’s doing an unbelievable job. This is highly constructed, down to the last detail. Michael Pawlyn never falters. Yet he is deeply involved and passionate about the topic, and that adds so much life that his speech seems natural and authentic.

A natural presenter: Chris Glass, graphic designer

I’m taking a good course in Public Speaking on Coursera, recommended by Edward Tanguay (thank you!).
Looking for presentations to comment on for this course, and for examples to show in a presentation seminar I’m giving on Friday, I’ve been watching countless ones and stumbled across Chris Glass, graphic designer.

I really like the naturalness of Chris Glass’s presentation. Listening to him is pleasant because everything about him his congruent, from his beard and hat and relaxed clothes to the awesome slides he creates. There’s a very nice interview with him on The Great Discontent that matches the presentation in all aspects. This is a guy who knows who he is and what he wants to do. Refreshing stuff for anyone who is looking for some magic formula to presenting. Take it from the masters. Relax. Be yourself. That’s what makes you shine.

There’s another piece of advice going round, which is “fake it till you make it”, so: act relaxed and in control and soon you become just that. The techniques involve centering and breathing and coming prepared. I see the importance of that and many people will take comfort in the fact that, yes, you can psych yourself into taking space and standing tall until it becomes natural. It’s really very much like practicing the drawings in the book that Chris Glass presents, Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World. Learning by doing in small, manageable steps. The important thing to keep in mind is that in the end you want to become … yourself.

Now remember, though, this is a peer-to-peer presentation. Chris Glass is sharing his stuff, not pitching to a client. To pitch or sell his ideas, he’d need a different kind of presentation, one containing arguments for or against each given solution. Chris carefully avoids any such argument here, letting his authentic stories speak for themselves.

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better

Sound expert Julian Treasure says, “We are losing our listening… We don’t want oratory anymore, we now want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced – dangerously, I think – by personal broadcasting”. Here he suggests five ways to re-tune our ears, and adjust the way we listen.

  1. silence – don’t distance yourself from noise, actively seek out silence
  2. the mixer – count how many channels of sound you can hear – practice pattern distinction
  3. savouring – enjoy mundane sounds
  4. move your listening position to the one that is most appropriate to the situation – alternate between filters (active / passive; reductive / expansive; critical / empathetic)
  5. practice RASA (Sanskrit for juice or essence).
    The acronym RASA stands for
    Receive – ‘pay attention to the person’
    Appreciate – ‘make little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “okay”‘
    Summarize – ‘the word “so” is very important in communication’
    Ask – ‘ask questions afterward’

Listening is on my agenda for many reasons this week:

  • Had an interesting personal encounter with someone who was too involved in his own situation to tune in to others. That reminded me that there are many things that may inhibit listening skills.
  • Took part in a professional development workshop at ELTABB on the teacher’s physical presence (including Amy Cuddy’s body language life hacks), which focused on the broadcasting side of the ‘teaching body’, and how the class will respond to it. That was quite interesting, but necessarily reduced what actually goes on in teacher-student interaction, and made me more aware of the subtle give and take we use across all channels of communication.
  • Preparing another presentation workshop for Friday, and will be incorporating receptive skills training.

These are some of the various ‘filters’ that I connect to a listening task:

    • listen for content as if you had to learn and remember for an exam
    • listen for material as if you had to write an article for the general public
    • listen for scientific value – would you fund this speaker’s research?
    • listen for engagement / entertainment value – would you choose to listen to this speaker if you were free to choose between reading and listening to the live presentation? Is the speaker telling the story well?
    • listen as a coach (empathic) or critic (critical) – what makes for appropriate and constructive criticism from each of these positions of listening?

      This has proven to be a productive exercise, as learners take it in turns to listen to each presenter through these filters, giving different kinds of feedback as a result. This more holistic, content- and person-focused approach makes the presenters and listeners work harder than if they focused ‘only’ on, say, body language But I also give them more standard tasks, such as listen/watch for specific aspects of presentation techniques:

      • voice pitch and volume / projection
      • body language open/closed
      • movements eloquent / congruent
      • eye contact
      • count use of fillers like and, so, then, uhm