If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Artistic Talent & Potential

The Myth About Talent

Art education isn't simply a matter of teaching students how to draw. An important component is unlearning, or myth busting, and one of the greatest myths is that artistic ability is a gift. Many artists get offended when they hear that word because they feel their skill is the result of years of practice and hard work. To quote Michelangelo:

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."

Some even argue that talent doesn't exist. They say that you can achieve anything, if you put your whole mind to it. It's a nice sentiment, but there's one thing that contradicts it, something we've all experienced in our lives - the prodigy - a child who masters skills at a very young age.

Just take a look at these self-portraits:

Self-Portrait, by Parmigianino

Self-Portrait, by Giovanni Boldini

Self-Portrait, by Alexandre Cabanel

Self-Portrait, by Jana Schirmer

If talent didn't exist, then how could people learn to paint so well at such a young age? The answer is, of course, that talent does exist, and it is a gift of sorts. The misconception people commonly share is the extent to which talent matters.

What is Talent?

Talent is actuallly a very crude (nehotová) word. Its definition changes according to the topic. In sports, most aspects of talent are physical: strength (sila), endurance (trvanlivosť), agility (čulosť), long legs and arms, excellent hand-to-eye coordination, aim (presnosť). In music, excellent ears and long fingers are helpful. In modelling, a slim, beautiful body and face with a unique look are crucial (nutný).

But, the physical requirements for drawing aren't so challenging (nesu náročný). Drawing requires (žiada) two physical features where humans excel - eye sight, and hands. These are the two greatest, most specialised tools of the human body. Look in nature. What other animal has anything near our ability with eyes and hands? Most animals are color blind (farboslepí), and only a couple have opposable thumbs. Cats' vision is blurry (rozmazaný) as a trade-off (kompromis) to see better at night:

human vision vs. cat vision during the day

human vision vs. cat vision at night

The idea that a person isn't physically talented enough to draw is absurd. It's like a cheetah saying, "Oh, no, I don't run. But, you should see my brother."

Even in the situation where you have a physical handicap, it doesn't have to stop you. One of America's greatest illustrators, Robert Fawcett, was color blind. He would work in black and white first, and then hang colours on top, like clothes on a clothes line:

My mom told me she can't draw because her hands shake too much. Well, that didn't stop this guy:

A Talented Mind

So, assuming Parmigianino and Boldini had the same hands and eyes as everyone else, what made them talented? The answer is in the mind. Drawing realistically is not intuitive. There are several barriers (prekážky) you have to break through before your work begins to look right. Let's look at an example.

Here's how a beginner draws a vase:

Here, the student has focused on line, drawing as many contour lines as she could find, putting them together with no thought for perspective, symmetry, light & shadow, or background. She wasn't drawing what she saw, she was symbolizing it, the same way ancient Egyptians developed (vyvyjali) hieroglyphics. She was trying to simplify it (which is good), but didn't know where to start.

She's not alone. Every beginner makes the same mistakes:

So, the first mistake. Let's talk about perspective. Here's the vase from the first example:

And, what about symmetry? Well, there are two parts to fixing that. First, you must understand the structure of what you're drawing:

Secondly, you have to try very hard to make both sides equal. Here's a simple exercise that shows just how hard it can be:

from Betty Crain's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Try making a mirror image on the right side. Does it look something like this?

I found this example here.

Drawing symmetry involves constantly measuring, remeasuring, and fixing mistakes.

One great barrier for beginners is they refuse to erase mistakes (odmietajú vymazať chyby).

They feel once a line is drawn, there's no going back. It has to be perfect the first time or start over. It's silly - ask any skilled artist.

Once you have the ability to see objects in perspective and measure them well, adding light and shadow is the next challenge - especially moving away from those contour lines. Let's take a look at how a great artist draws a vase:

Reflection, by Sasha Gorec

This vase has structure. It has symmetry. It's in proper perspective. And, where did all the outlines go? Let's take a closer look:

Here's another example by Nathan Fowkes. You see how contour lines are great for starting a drawing, but you need to hide them before the drawing is done (unless you're going for a less realistic style):

Anya, by Nathan Fowkes

Emotional Barriers to Learning

Those are the visual barriers for drawing. But there's also an emotional barrier, the frustration that comes with not being able to create what you want. The problem stems from the fact that, while...
...seeing light, shadow, perspective, and structure is not intuitive, but seeing mistakes is.
It takes no training to see when something is wrong:

But, in art, it's often hard to see how to fix your mistakes. It's easy to be embarrassed by your lack of skills, but you shouldn't be. Everyone starts out where you are, even the greats.

Remember, drawing ability is not equal to intellect.

Just because you can't draw, it doesn't mean you're dumb. It's just one area of your mind you haven't developed. Your brain is like a muscle, and it needs exercise. A key to improving is to stop judging yourself as you work:

Obviously, you're going to make mistakes. Learn to look at them without blaming yourself. As artist Michael Mentler says, "Don't try to judge your own work. It's really none of your business." And, also...

Remember, every artwork starts out looking bad. You have to keep working on it until it starts to look good.

Here are some examples - note how bad these works look in the first stage:

Another emotional problem boys tend to face these days has to do with image and machismo. Drawing is seen as a girlish activity. All I can say to that is, it ends after high school. It also ends once you start to impress people.

The Role of Talent

So, where does talent fit into all this? Well, Parmigianino and the other artists listed above simply started earlier and developed faster. Some had good teachers from a young age. Some didn't and simply developed on their own - it's not rocket science. Some people figure it out for themselves. I would say being talented at drawing simply means that the process is slightly more intuitive for some students than others. The barriers were a little smaller for them. Artists learn through little moments of epiphany (uvedomenie si), and the ones who are most determined experience this more often.

But is Talent Necessary?

Take a look at artist Jonathan Hardesty. Back in 2002, aged 22, he decided he wanted to be an artist, and began teaching himself. Here are some of his earliest studies:

Here's his first self-portrait:

Here's another attempt, his 50th drawing:

Here's his 100th drawing:

Here's number 200:

Here's number 278, after 6 months of daily drawing:

Here's after a year of daily drawing (number 520):

There's definitely improvement. The proportions are more accurate. The volumes are more accurate. The lines are more confident. But it's still student work. You might not think he could ever be great. Here's what he does now:

Jon Hardesty's an award winning painter and a teacher. And he's not the only one. There are many cases where hard work and ambition trump talent. If you can work through the anger and frustration, there's no reason why you couldn't be an artist.

Creative Talent

Everything I've said thus far relates to drawing ability. But there's far more to art than that. Drawing is about more than just copying what you see. In fact, the closer you copy something, the duller it can become. This portrait by Darrel Tank is very skillfull:

But, is it exciting? Is it more than a copy of a photograph? Is it memorable? To quote painter Chris Bennett,

"Two people can paint the same apple and one version is full of life and poetry while the other is just a listless indication that it is an apple we are supposed to be looking at. It's not what it is a picture of but how it is a picture of."

One of the rarest abilities of an artist is to combine draftsmanship with a rich imagination, to create new worlds that shock and surprise you.

Baba Yaga, by Min Hyuk Yum

War of the Worlds, Doomsday, by Jaime Jones
Ashling, by Donato Giancola
You have to develop your imagination at the same time as your drawing skills if you ever want to be a professional - because all the competitors can draw. Not everyone can create.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Caring For Clothes

Pretty soon, you'll be living on your own, and that means laundry, ironing, sewing, and stain removal - if yo don't do it already.

Washing Clothes

You need to separate your clothes into piles, based on colour and material. Different colours wash at different temperatures.

-Whites, such as cotton socks, underwear, and undershirts should use hot water and bleach.

-Light colours should use warm water, and a color protecting detergent.

- Darks and red clothing should use cold water and a color protecting detergent. I separate my darks and reds.

Never put a red in with light or white colours!!!

Also, always wash wool materials in cold water, and never put them in a dryer, or they will shrink (get smaller)!

Some clothes should only be dry cleaned. You have to take them to a dry cleaning service that uses a chemical process to clean them.


Here, comedian Conan O'Brien shows the fun way to iron shirts, with help from America's most die-hard mother, Martha Stewart:

Here's a less fun video that's more informative:

Stain Removal

Mending & Sewing

Shoe Polishing
For the basics of polishing shoes, start with how the army does it. This video explains all the different kinds of polish, and uses lots of spit.
The funny thing about polishing shoes is, it used to be that everyone wanted their shoes polished. There was nothing special about it. It was a job for street kids. Now, though, it's becoming an artisan skill. Only the wealthy would pay someone to shine their shoes, and it's amazing the techniques some shoe polishers have come up with:
This guy actually sets the shoes on fire:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Film Vocabulary

3D films and glasses - These are films that use a stereoscopic system to record the same scene from two different perspectives. These two recordings are then combined, and viewers wear special glasses to see it, enhancing the illusion and depth. This technology was first developed in 1915, and gained some popularity in the 50's and 60's, but was never really mainstream (popular everywhere and easy to find) until now.

4D films - at Madame Tussauds in London, they have a 4D theatre. In addition to the 3D film, they have special seats with motorized parts and spray nozzles. When there's a loud crash, the chairs shake. They can poke your back, vibrate, and spray you with water.

a bit part - This is when an actor has just one or two scenes in a film, and they don't say much. If the actor is really famous, the appearance is called a cameo.

a body double - This is an actor/model who takes the place of a famous actor during a nude scene. Sometimes a famous actor is older, and may not look so good naked, so a younger, prettier actor is found.

a box office/ticket office - This is where you get tickets for films or live theatre performances. In most small towns it's located in the theatre. In large cities, you might find one box office selling tickets for many theatres. You can also get tickets online at websites like Fandango.

a blockbuster film - a very popular film, earning lots of money, usually very expensive to make. It can be any genre. Titanic was a blockbuster.

a box office bomb/a flop - a terrible failure that loses lots of money. The biggest flop in history is currently Mars Needs Moms.

a chick flick - a film made for women to enjoy, usually a romantic comedy. 'Chick' is slang for a pretty woman. How to Lose a Man in Ten Days is a chick flick.

closing credits – These are the lists of people who helped make the movie, shown at the end of every film.

a documentary - a non-fiction film that discusses and explores a topic. Most focus on current problems. Some focus on biographies or history.

a mockumentary - a fictional film with hired actors, meant to seem like a real documentary - usually a comedy. To mock someone means to mimic/imitate and make fun of someone. Famous examples include Spinal Tap, Man Bites Dog, and Borat. Borat is different because most of the people shown weren't actors, but unsuspecting victims (of their own idiocy).

an extra - this is any actor in a film with no lines. These are people in crowds, at restaurants, walking down the street, etc.

a film/a movie/a flick/a feature film - All these words mean the same thing. A feature film just means it's a full length film (at least ninety minutes), not a short.

a film short - Any film that's not feature length. There's no consensus (agreement) on the maximum time, but it's around forty minutes.

a film critic - Anyone who is paid to critique films.

IMAX – a theatre featuring high definition film, with 10 times the frame size of 35mm film.

an independent film – any film that's produced outside a major film studio.

a major film studio - a company with enough money to create a big budget film, meaning a film costing millions of dollars just to make. It's a risky business because, if the film's a flop, the company can go bankrupt. Major film studios include: Sony/Tri-Star, Time Warner/DC, Universal, Fox, and Paramount.

a movie projector - the machine that shoots, or projects, the film onto the movie screen. You can see it in a little window at the back of the theatre hall.

a preview/a trailer - This is an advertisement for a new film, coming soon to theatres, with little bits from the film giving some idea of what the film is about.

a film producer - A producer is a supervisor for a film, throughout its production. The producer can choose which films to make, the actors, the director, etc. Producers often work on several films at once, so they sometimes hire assistants, called executive producers to work on just one film. While the director usually has most of the creative control, the producer controls the money.

a projection screen/the big screen/the silver screen - This is the large, white screen, or canvas, where films are shown. You can buy smaller ones for use in school. We have some at our school. The big screen, and the silver screen can also refer to film in general, and the business of making films.

a refund - This is when a company gives you your money back. Sometimes, if there's a problem with the film and you can't see it, the theatre will give you a refund, or a new ticket for a different day.

a remake - This is when a studio decides to remake a previous film. It's not a sequal, it's the same exact story, usually with different actors. This usually happens when a director or a writer isn't happy with the original. Famous examples include George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, and Stephen King's Shining. In both cases, the originals were better.

a screening room - This is a small theatre where people get to see a film before it's released to the public. They get to watch the film, sometimes with several different endings, and then they fill out a survey, saying what they did and didn't like. This is a common way of testing a film so it won't be a flop.

a sequal - a film that continues the story of a previous film. Sequals are notorious for being bad. They're an easy way to make more money on a popular film, but the stories are usually poor. Some sequals are actually good. It depends on the writer, director, and whether the sequal was planned from the start (Kill Bill) or not (Jaws 4)

a stuntman - This is an actor whose job is to perform dangerous stunts in a film, such as crashing cars, falling from buildings, and running around on fire. They often do the dangerous work so that famous actors don't have to. Some actors, like Jackie Chan, do all their own stunts.

a ticket - You all know what a ticket is, but have you ever heard of a ticket stub? This is what's left, when you show your ticket to the worker by the theatre hall, and he tears it in half. You have to keep this stub if you want to go to the bathroom during the show and then return to the movie. The person who checks your stub is called an usher.

a trilogy - This is when a story is broken up into three films, usually because it's too long for one film. The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Coats, Shoes & Accessories Vocabulary






fishing boots/waders

moon boots

high heel boots

sandal boots


Purses & Handbags


coin purse


messenger bag

Scarves Shawls & Headbands


Jewellery: (Jewelry in America)


chain & pendant


toe rings


body piercing





baseball cap



bowler/derby hat

a cowboy hat

a fedora

a hardhat/helmet

a panama hat

party hat

a sombrero