Friday, 8 February 2013

Arts and Farces

When I learned last September that we'd be offering a foundation course in English for Art and Design, I thought, cool; we'll have a class of lively, enthusiastic and creative young people, athirst to express their passion for art in English. They'll be dying to do presentations. They'll learn a lot from us, and we from them. I was not scheduled to teach them until January, and had October to December with a Foundation in Business English group. They were only eighteen years old and could be very hard to motivate, but they were paragons of dedication and diligence in comparison with the Art and Design students.

'Students' was not the noun most often used by their teachers to designate these kids; a selection of shorter Anglo-Saxon terms was usually deemed more appropriate. With one exception, they were a bunch of sullen little princes and princesses who would roll up fifty minutes late, sit in lessons sulking and playing with their smart phones, respond to teachers' prompts with silence or monosyllables, and frequently disappear after lunch. The teacher who had to teach them most often was crossing off the days until he could finally get the hell out. Of course they were rebuked and threatened, and their Xmas test marked most severely, and I hoped that by the time it fell to me to teach them, socks might have been pulled up and places in the scheme of things understood and accepted.

The students are from Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I have them for four hours on Wednesdays. Last week it only took twenty minutes to get four out of six kids present. Joanne asks if she can leave early, as she has a portfolio to prepare for an interview. I say no, and so she goes into a sulk which she will nurse and nurture for the rest of the day. I announce that we shall be considering the illusion of depth, and launch into my powerpoint presentation, which I refuse to deliver as a lecture: it's going to be interactive if I have to resort to the rack and the screw.

I have loads of vocabulary and loads of paintings and drawings. The vocabulary is chosen to help the little fuc... sorry, students to respond emotionally to the paintings and to describe the artists' use of perspective. You would think, wouldn't you, that anyone who has made the decision to study art and design over here would a) be passionate about art and b) see the necessity for expressing that passion in English, at least some of the time? But no. They have no passion, no fears, no horror, no compassion, no wonder. They dutifully take down the vocabulary, even ask me to re-explain some of it, but they have no reaction to any of the painting beyond monosyllables to describe some obvious, overall feature: 'dark' 'space' 'clouds'. These kids are pretty fluent most of the time, except on the matters that most should occupy them.    

My last slide, ladies and gentlemen, is a mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps you know of it?

'Jesus's Last Meal,' Kevin says.

Yup. Steak, french frarze, onion rings and a pint o' mint chocolate chip arse-cream 'fore they done fried His ass. 'The Last Supper' is what we call it, Kev - it sets up quite different vibrations.

They didn't know anything about the story of the last supper and the impending betrayal and crucifixion, but then again, why should they? They're from the other side of the earth, where they have myths of their own. I filled them in on a few details. Then after two hours filling their heads with vocabulary about one-point perspective, horizon lines, vanishing points, isometric and atmospheric perspective, I said 'tell me about this picture.' 

'Jesus's face is the vanishing point.' Kevin drones.

Hallelujah! A reaction.

'Yes!' Well spotted, that boy, 'Why is his face the vanishing point?'

'Cuz it's in the middle.'

A new group of Algerian pilots and technicians arrived last week. Pretty low language level. In one lesson we were discussing leisure pursuits. 'I like riding whores', one told me. He didn't mean ladies of the evening, but gee-gees.


Candy said...

Spat on my cardie! I had a student who once thanked me for my "passion" in the laboratory. I was under the impression he meant my passion for the language and its intricacies. It took me a while to realise he meant "patience".

Candy said...

PS - I wonder who cruised around getting photos of hotel room and street numbers to put on here for us to prove we aren't robots......

Vilges Suola said...

I don't know - the procedure for commenting these days is so off putting. It's even worse for Wordpress - like getting an audience with the Pope.

Candy said...

Well quite, quite. Are you scheduled for the Jesus' last meal lot for a while? They sound thoroughly engaging.

Vilges Suola said...

I don't see them until the week after next. Then only five more weeks before we are shut of them.

maria verivaki said...

education has changed so much since my days at university - these days, anyone with money sends their kids to the most prestigious university country (ie UK, US, AUS) that they can afford, and their spoilt brats act as if they are still at home (in a sense they are, since they are living off their parents from start till finish of their degree)

Vilges Suola said...

That's about it - think of the talent that never gets developed because of lack of funds.

Nik_TheGreek said...

Can I come to your lectures? They look quite interesting.
Maybe you could use pieces of art closer to their culture?
Or you could try something more provocative? Like 'Tom of Finland'? That should make them talk!

Vilges Suola said...

You're welcome any time - just give me enough advance warning to prepare some EHP (English for Homosexual Purposes)

I used paintings from China to illustrate isometric perspective and some Zen paintings from Japan to illustrate the use of empty space as part of the painting: 'form is only emptiness, emptiness only form' - but of course they know no more about the Heart Sutra than they do about Jebus.


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