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475. Holiday Diary (Part 2) Modern Art: Is it amazing, or is it rubbish?

Talking about some modern art which I saw while visiting several galleries in Los Angeles. Includes descriptions of different movements in modern art, details about some famous artists and their work, some thoughts about whether modern art is really amazing, or maybe just a load of pretentious rubbish! (Spoiler alert: it depends)

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Notes & Transcriptions for this Episode

Hi everyone, here’s part two of my holiday diary and in this one I’m going to continue describing things I saw and did on my recent holiday in the USA. The plan is not just to describe our trip but also to use it as a springboard to talk about some other subjects in a bit of depth, and in this episode that includes things like modern art (describing some different types of art from the modern period and giving my thoughts on some art work that we saw in a couple of galleries) astronomy and astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and probably some other things too, depending on how long this takes! It looks like this is going to be a series of episodes with what I hope will be an interesting variety of topics beyond just me talking about my holiday.

I’m recording this on the same day as I uploaded the last one. So I’m already seeing some messages coming in from people on Twitter and FB and stuff (in response to part 1), so thanks a lot for your kind messages saying congratulations for the fact that we’re going to have a baby.

Ok, let’s carry on!

Just to recap
We went to USA to have a blow-out before the arrival of our baby in December. A final trip just the two of us. Los Angeles via Montreal, then the canyons and Navajo Nation, then back to LA and home again.

Modern Art

Downtown Los Angeles
Tried to go to an art gallery called The Broad. This is a flashy-looking new art gallery. We went to see an interesting installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, but there was a huge queue outside – probably attracted by the installation, which is proving really popular. Apparently it’s called “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” which is…

“a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This experiential artwork has extremely limited capacity, accommodating one visitor at a time for about a minute” The Broad website.

www.thebroad.org/art/exhibitions/yayoi-kusama-infinity-mirrored-room

An installation = a work of art constructed within a space in a gallery.

We ended up in The Museum of Contemporary Art LA, just down the road from the broad.

Also went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) at one point during the trip.

Artists whose work we saw

We saw work by some celebrated artists from several important movements in modern art.

Including:

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Cubism, surrealism – mainly in the first half of the 20th century and middle of the 20th century)
Jackson Pollock (American, Abstract expressionism – late 1940s)
Rothko (American of Russian Jewish descent, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s)
Franz Kline (American, Abstract expressionism, 50s and 60s)
Roy Lichtenstein (American, Pop art, abstract expressionism, 60s)
Andy Warhol (American, Pop art, most well-known stuff is from the 60s)

And lots of others too.

Movements in Modern Art

Here’s a timeline of art movements in history from www.dummies.com

www.dummies.com/education/art-appreciation/art-history-timeline/

I’m describing art movements from the early part of the 19th century.

Contemporary art = art being made now
Modern art = art from the modern era – late 19th Century and through the 20th century. Arguably we are now in the post-modern era
Cubism (n) = an art movement in which artists went away from realistic representations of things and instead used geometric shapes, different kinds of perspective, lines, as if objects could be viewed from a number of different points of view all at the same time. Things exist in a kind of prism of perspective and the way you or the artist looks at something, changes its form.
Surrealism (n) = an art movement in which objects or ideas are presented in a strange way, as if in some kind of dream or perhaps representations of the subconscious mind
Abstract (adj) = this concept refers to things that aren’t real or tangible, but which exist in the world of the mind or outside reality as we usually see it (e.g. not just illustrating a bowl of fruit)
Expressionism (n) = representing feelings or emotions rather than objects or things
Abstract expressionism (n) = the name of the post WW2 art movement that combined the freedom of expression from expressionism and the use of abstract forms
Pop art (n) = the name of another art movement, this one involved techniques, methods and styles from popular culture like product design, comic book style or photos of celebrities.

What do you think of contempary art, or modern art?

You might think:
“It’s just a bunch of colours or shapes!”

“Anyone could do that!”

“It’s just a load of pretentious nonsense!”

Very common reactions. I think like that too, quite often, especially if I think it’s not very good art.

What makes art good or bad?

You just know it when you see it. If it really doesn’t move you, please you or interest you, you might say it’s bad art, because ultimately it’s in the eye of the beholder – but not completely, because you also have to invest a bit of time and effort into it and also it helps to understand how the work fits into the overall history of art. You have to have some respect for it in order to start appreciating it as work, and ultimately then it can start to enrich your life in some way, but I think art is quite pretentious, which many people have a problem with.

What does pretentious mean Luke?

Something is pretentious (spell it) when it’s trying to seem important, clever or sophisticated, but it isn’t really.

E.g. talking about a work of art like it is the grandest, most important, most emotionally resonating work of genius in human history, and it’s just a blank piece of paper, or a picture of a willy or something.

I think it’s more than just a willy, it’s a statement about… blah blah blah…

So you might think modern art is rubbish.

Or maybe you’re a fan and you think “I love the way the artist plays with different forms and colours. It’s incredibly liberating and fascinating to experience it. I find it inspiring, moving and fascinating.”

It’s quite difficult to talk about art without sounding pretentious, to be honest.

I have mixed feelings about it. Only the really good stuff tends to move me. I mean, it’s rare that it works on me. But I do enjoy the experience of going around a good gallery, looking at work which has stood the test of time.

I also like talking about it. I like the way modern art or abstract art is so open. You feel like you’re interacting with it, but I always need to talk about it. It’s a chance to be totally open-minded and to try and put it into words.

But it’s not something I’m thinking about all the time.

I’m more moved by music (most kinds), acting, films, TV, books, photography (with real stuff in them – like people’s faces or moments in time captured) but when it’s right modern art can be great. Also it works as decoration, but it’s something you can also look closely at and let your mind wander. (wander like go for a walk, but also wonder meaning think about things, but “let your mind wander” is the right expression”.

Expressionism or abstract expressionism – what’s it all about?

This is just me having a stab at describing abstract art.

It seems to me that it’s about creating abstract spaces with no rules at all.

It’s a system with no external reference points (unlike films) it’s just a series of shapes or forms arranged in space which are designed to create certain emotions or feelings in you at a kind of elemental level, or gut level, or sensory level.

Sometimes thinking about it is what you’re not supposed to do, you just have to experience it. It can be something as simple as how it feels to experience these colours and shapes arranged in a certain way.

It could be the way the colours blend together, or certain forms stand out, or the basic gut reaction you have when looking at the canvas.

It’s supposed to be moving at a very natural level, just the interactions of forms in a physical space.

When you realise that it can be liberating and you feel like you’re entering into a conversation with the artist which is free from the constraints of language.

That’s the idea, but to be honest I often find myself getting absolutely nothing from it.

Art vs the art of nature (pretentious, moi?)

OK, so this is where I’m going to get really pretentious and talk about rocks like they’re works of art, but what are you going to do, sue me?

Some of these work of art were or are created in a way that seems to allow the hand of nature to guide the artist somehow, like Pollock who would often drip paint onto the canvas – he wouldn’t always touch the canvas with his brush, but would somehow involve an element of chance or nature in the way the paint splashed as it fell, combining his own judgement and an element of chaos in terms of how the paint ended up falling on the canvas.

The result is like looking inside the emotional space of the artist and you can feel his experience somehow in a way that you can’t put into words – at the moments of rage, passion, serenity or terror, or just the sense that he was experiencing a lack of control in his life or he was subject to emotions or experiences that he didn’t necessarily have a grip on, and yet experienced in the form of emotion. That sounds really pretentious, I know. But when you look at his work, you can choose to say “this is just bollocks” or you can decide that the guy clearly was very serious about what he was doing so there must be something in it. What was he looking for? Something to do with the balance of colours, the texture created by the many drops of paint and the overall sensory effect it creates.

It’s like entering a mood, and with Pollock that mood isn’t entirely happy.

I have the same feeling with Rothko. He managed to paint these pieces that look like just large blocks of colour, but as you stand in front of them and absorb them, the colours seem to blend slightly and become luminous or darker and you get this sense of depth or space and it fills you with a certain emotion. Often it’s a sadness, wistfulness or even a slight sense of stimulation. It defies description, it’s more of a gut feeling.

And by the way, looking at the real thing is far better than looking at a print or poster version in a frame on the wall of your house.

The real thing is a certain size, presented in certain conditions, proper lighting, you’re seeing the actual strokes of his brush or some sense of how he did it, you see the texture of the finished thing, which is important too.

Going back to Pollock – he would work on these big canvases on the floor and would start from scratch letting the painting develop as he added more and more layers but other artists took a different approach like Franz Klein who would plan his abstract work on a small-scale, just sketching it by hand, before recreating the sketch on massive canvases. What was a few scratched lines on a piece of paper becomes a huge striking piece of work. The effect is a bold mix of broad straight lines that combine in haphazard fashion. We kept thinking his paintings looked like close up images of plane crashes done in black and white, like the vague sense that it looked like a WW1 biplane had crashed. That’s not what they were of course, they were just lines, but the point is that the work has this dynamic urgency. They’re violent, bold and stark. Our brains just interpreted them as somehow like a plane crash.

Those are abstract expressionists.

There are lots of loads of other kinds of art, like pop art (Andy Warhol) which sort of consumed aspects of consumer culture with the idea that art could be mass-produced and that every day consumer objects could be works of art too if presented in that way, and I think we’re still experiencing the influence of that today with things like t-shirts with cool designs on them or the fact that we consume logos and brands as a form of art – on t-shirts, even on posters to decorate our homes. Pop art was also a comment on consumer culture – for example Andy Warhol’s famous work with lots of virtually identical screen prints of movie stars with different coloured backgrounds, or just a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup. It’s like examining everyday branded objects as works of art.

I don’t really understand it all, but it is fun to go to an art gallery, drink a load of coffee and then just stare at this stuff and see what it makes you think about and feel.

Anyone can do art, but to do it well is actually really difficult.

It’s not just a bunch of colours on a canvas, it is backed up by intention, technique and a general appreciation of the aesthetics of shape, colour and texture.

So, we saw some modern art, and it was pretty cool.

But honestly, the art we saw just could not be compared to the truly stunning works of nature that we saw later on in our trip in places like The Grand Canyon – objects and environments that had been formed by natural processes over millions of years.

It seems to me that from the point of view of the observer, the exact same forces are at work.

When you look at art or when you look at a mountain or a rock formation you get the instant emotional and intellectual reaction of seeing these incredible shapes, colours and textures, and you experience the wonder of imagining exactly how they were created and the story that they tell.

I must say I was blown away by the geology we saw on this trip, which I’ll describe in more detail later. It was so stunning that at times I was lost for words and it all resonated with us so much that it was quite hard to come to terms with it.

You might think – oh come on it’s just big rocks. And it is just big rocks of course, but I think we all find these things impressive and I’m just trying to capture that feeling in words.

So, I know this sounds pretentious or something, but literally every day we would arrive at a different location to be greeted by ever more impressive natural spectacles. After spending time in each place, doing some walking, getting quite hot in the sunshine, we would be quite exhausted at the end of each day and we’d have this stunned by stimulated feeling during dinner – trying to comprehend what we’d just seen. We also couldn’t sleep during the night. It was like our brains couldn’t rest until we’d somehow compartmentalized the things we’d seen.

The Grand Canyon is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so big it makes you feel so insignificant, like a blink in the eye of history.

In some parts of these national parks you’re looking at geological formations that go back something like 500 million years.

And they’re so big that you feel completely dwarfed by them.

This was far more impressive than the modern art we saw, and it made the modern art just look like primitive cave paintings by humans trying to get a grip on the power of basic shapes and colours.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that nature is the most powerful artist out there.

And I say nature, because the whole story of nature is in these rocks.

The whole thing has been created by different natural forces over hundreds of millions of years.

It makes total sense that water, over such a long period, could erode the rock into these unbelievable shapes. That ice would break up the rock, forming bizarre shapes, that what was once a crack in the ground could become a huge open canyon with a river at the bottom.

So, nature is what formed these things, simply through the presence of certain elements on earth and the actions of the laws of physics.

Pretty mind-blowing stuff. But the modern art was a good way to get into the mindset of appreciating the aesthetics of things.

Let me know your thoughts on modern art. Is it amazing, or is it rubbish? Leave your comments below.

…and thanks for listening.

Luke

Want to see some examples of the art I described in this episode? Click the links below.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room

Pablo Picasso (Cubist period)
Salvador Dali (Surrealism)
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko 
Franz Kline
Roy Lichtenstein
Andy Warhol

The Broad - we couldn't get in because of queues, but it looks cool

The Broad – we couldn’t get in because of queues, but it looks cool.

Andy Warhol - Marilyn Monroe screen prints from Pixabay.com https://pixabay.com/en/marilyn-monroe-andy-warhol-art-1318440/ Andy Warhol – Marilyn Monroe screen prints from Pixabay.com pixabay.com/en/marilyn-monroe-andy-warhol-art-1318440/%5B/caption%5D

327. The LEP Photo Competition – Please check out the photos and vote

Hello listeners – this episode is all about the Luke’s English Podcast photo competition which I launched in December in episode 313. I’ve received loads of photos from listeners and they’re now presented on the page for this episode on my website, and they look fantastic, so please do have a look at them! In this episode I’m going to tell you how you can vote in the competition, and I’m also going to teach you some specific vocabulary and expressions for describing photographs, which is particularly useful if you’re taking a Cambridge exam like FCE or CAE. That’s what’s going to to happen in this episode, so let’s go!

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Just before we start, I want to thank you for your support – either through donations or the audiobook offer (this is where I talk about donations and sponsors – but it’ll just take a couple of minutes)

Thank you if you’ve made a donation – you’re basically keeping LEP alive, I hope you realise that. If you want to show your appreciation for LEP you can – just click a donate button on the website and make a contribution (the amount is totally up to you).  LEP is also made possible through some sponsorship from Audible.com. Basically, I get a small referral when my listeners sign up to a trial with Audible, which is basically Amazon’s audiobook service. The trial lasts 30 days, and includes a free audiobook download of your choice. Normally they’re 20-30 dollars each, but you can get one free with this offer. You can download any book you like, and if you don’t like the service, just cancel and keep the book, no strings attached.

If you’re wondering which audiobook to get, let me tell you about the bestselling audiobooks on Audible.com this week. #1 is called The Now Habit by Dr Neil Fiore and it’s all about skills and strategies for overcoming procrastination. #2 is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone in the USA) – yes, all the Harry Potter books are now available as audiobooks and they’re really popular – constantly in the top 10 downloads. In fact, the whole top 10 this week is filled with other Harry Potter books. Get the first one yourself and dive into the world of Hogwarts, Professor Snape and he who must not be named. The first book has a rating of 4.9 – which is outstanding. It’s read out by British actor Jim Dale, who according to reviews, does an excellent job of bringing the story to life. #3 in the list is The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s a novel which was recently made into a film with Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. I really enjoyed the film – it was a witty and exciting story of a man who gets stuck on Mars during an expedition and has to find a way to survive – and how does he do it? Well, luckily he’s a botanist – that’s an expert on plants. So he decides to survive – and how does he do it? he creates a farm inside the space station and then grows potatoes in his own poo as fertiliser. That might sound disgusting but it’s actually really really resourceful and clever isn’t it! It’s one of the many original and intelligent things about the story. The film is oscar nominated and is very funny and gripping and apparently the book is even better than the film, which is usually the case. It’s got a rating of 4.8 out of 5 on Audible. Alright, so that’s the top 3 books on audible.com. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk/audible or click the audible logo on the website. That’s it, I’m now going to shut up about my sponsor, and move onto the photo competition. :)

You can see all the photos below, but please read this text first :)

The LEP photo competition entries are here! On the page for this episode [hello you’re reading it  right now!] (below) you can see all the photos which were sent to me in the competition, arranged in a randomly generated mosaic. I hope you agree that it looks really cool.

I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone’s photos. Remember that the only condition was that you included some evidence that you’re listening (e.g. headphones or an LEP logo or something). The closing date for the competition was the 15th of January, so it’s now way too late to send me your photos. Sorry if you only just found out about it now – you’ll just have to wait for the next competition to come along!

You can now vote on your favourite photo(s). Please see below for the voting rules.

Nice to see you!

It’s absolutely fantastic to get a window into the lives of my listeners, even just a little bit with these snapshots that some of you have sent to me. I know there are many more of you out there – I have a large army of LEP ninjas who like to lurk in the shadows and just listen, only coming out sometimes to leave a comment and then whoosh spring back over the wall and into the night! By the way, I’ve had quite a few first time comments from ninjas and it’s nice to hear from you.

Back to the photos – It’s great to see the different environments, landscapes and weather that you are in while listening. Also, it’s really good to see some of the faces of you my listeners around the world.

Many of the photos are very charming and also funny. There are some real gems in there! (a gem is a precious stone, but it’s also a word we use to describe something which you think is particularly good – e.g. someone you really like e.g. “She’s a real gem isn’t she?” or “there are some real gems in there” meaning, there are some particularly good photos in there) I’m very proud of my LEP community. Thanks for your photos!

How to vote

  • Just add a comment under the photo(s) that you want to vote for. You don’t need to give your name, but you can if you like. Make sure you use the word ‘vote’ or ‘choose’ in your comment, so I know it’s a vote.
  • Don’t vote in the comments section under the episode – please vote under individual photos by clicking on them and then clicking on ‘comment’.
  • Please include either the word “vote” or “choose” when you vote. E.g. “I vote for this one!” or “I’d like to choose this one as the winner!”
  • It would be nice if you gave a reason for voting in your comment! E.g. “I vote for this one because…”
  • To leave a comment, just click on the image. Then click in the bottom right hand corner where it says “Comment”.
  • You can vote for as many photos as you like.
  • The winner is the one who has the most votes. There will be two runners up as well.
  • Voting ends on 5 March 2016 – my Dad’s birthday.
  • Feel free to comment on other photos too. That would be cool.
  • To find all the photos just go to teacherluke.co.uk and click the red button on the side which says “LEP PHOTO COMPETITION” – you can see it on the side under the LEP mug pic and under the email subscription button, and above the Audible logo. Click it and you’ll get to the page for this episode. You’ll see all the text that I’m reading and then all the photos are there for your viewing pleasure.

Click here to see all the photos now, if you like

Here’s some language for describing photos

It’s useful to know how to talk about photographs, especially if you have to describe them in a Cambridge exam like FCE. Here are some phrases that we typically use while doing it. Listen to the podcast to hear me demonstrate them.

  1. in the middle e.g. In the middle of the picture we can see a really cute puppy!
  2. at the top e.g. You can see his headphones at the top of the photo.
  3. at the bottom e.g. At the bottom of the picture you can see that he’s sitting on the toilet!”
  4. in the corner
  5. in the top left corner / bottom right  corner
  6. on the right side / on the left side
  7. hand – on the right hand side, on the left hand side, in the top righthand corner, in the bottom lefthand corner e.g. In the top left hand corner you can see a turtle in the pond. / On the right hand side you can see his headphones dangling from a tree.
  8.  in the foreground E.g. It looks like she’s studying maths because you can see what must be her maths book in the foreground.
  9. in the background You can see the rest of the orchestra in the background.
  10. the picture shows… (someone + -ing) The picture shows the view from his window and a pair of headphones dangling down in the foreground.
  11. in the picture we can see… (someone -ing) E.g. In the photo we can see Julien doing some stonemasonry while listening to LEP.
  12. there is… there are… There are lots of images of people travelling or in movement. There’s one picture which seems to have been taken on top of a mountain!
  13. present continuous tense In this picture we can see that Ewelina is running a marathon while listening to LEP!
  14. someone + -ing + while + ing This is a photo of Fernando listening while driving. 
  15. Present continuous + while + -ing In the photo you can see Gabriella who is doing some ironing while listening to LEP.
  16. it looks like (something is -ing) / it looks to me like (something is -ing) E.g. It looks to me like Alexander is doing alright. or It looks like Carlos is reading music and playing the piano while listening to LEP, which must be difficult!
  17. It’s a picture of… E.g. This is a picture of Zdenek cycling to work in the snow, which looks pretty slippery!
  18. …which… – we use this to just add something to the end of a statement (not just to a noun, but to the whole statement). E.g. Some people have sent photos with babies or members of their family, which is really lovely.
  19. Out of focus /  blurry / blurred
  20. Over exposed
  21. Saturated
  22. Modals of speculation in the present, e.g. “It must be freezing where you are!” or “It looks like the traffic is really busy in Sao Paulo, which must be pretty frustrating – although it might give you more listening time”, “You can see that Mark is wearing his hat right over his eyes, which might make it hard to see where he’s going – but he’s probably a force trained LEP Ninja, so I expect he’s just using the jedi mind trick.” “In this pic we can see that Didar has a  pen and paper ready while listening. I guess he might be writing vocabulary notes or making a transcription”.
  23. I imagine… I imagine that’s a nice thing to do while listening to LEP.
  24. I expect… I expect it took ages to paint that! or I expect she’s on her way to school.

I really think you should check out these photos. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Overall it’s just brilliant to see all these images collected together as a whole, and to explore all the photos individually to see the different situations around the world in which you’re listening, and there are some real gems in there (a gem – this means something that’s particularly great – e.g. you’re a real gem!  = you’re great, and I like you a lot!). So, there are some real gems in there.  I’ll now let you explore the photos for yourselves.

A quick re-cap of the rules: Please please please vote for the one(s) that you like by using the word “choose” or “vote” in a comment under the photo(s) you are voting for. Also, please make any other comments that you want to express. I encourage you all to mention things you like about the images.

Voting closes on March 5, and then after that I’ll do another episode in which I announce the winner and talk in a bit more detail about the photos. Remember, the winner of the competition gets an LEP mug and a t-shirt or bag, and two runners up get an LEP mug each. Those are the prizes, but for me – it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part.

Where can I find all the photos!? You might be asking. You can find them all by going to teacherluke.co.uk clicking on the red button that says LEP Photo Competition. That button will be on the right, just under the email subscription button and above the audible logo. Click that and it’ll take you to the page for this episode where you can see all the photos. Just scroll down past all this text that I’m reading, and bob’s your uncle.

Here are all the photos from LEPsters :) Click a photo to see a bigger view and to leave a comment


LEPphotoPiC