Modern Art to Teach Languages

The Internet TESL (Teachers of English as a Second Language) Journal in Canada suggests the use of modern art as a topic to help students learn English because “[m]any consider contemporary art simplistic, perplexing, and just plain weird, which makes it a perfect topic for generating discussion and language learning in the ESL classroom”. The debate around the validity of modern art is nothing new, yet, like any typical no-win argument, it keeps going.

Since early Romanticism, art works have regularly been the object of the now hackneyed question: “is this art?”, or even: “what is art?”, the answers to which will vary from one individual to the next. The truth is that art is no longer defined by technical skills only. Nowadays, art is a personal experience first and foremost. No one can tell you what is and what is not art – or, for that matter, what art is and what it’s not. Ultimately, a piece of art is what you see in it and if you like it, if it talks to you, strikes a chord, triggers a positive emotion or simply leaves you with a good feeling, then who cares what definition or price others might give to it. Art is so subjective that the debate is pointless.

However, trying to explain to someone why we feel a piece is or is not worthy of the term “art” can be both challenging and rewarding because it makes us analyse our personal reactions and may help us become more acutely aware of what makes us tick. Modern art can act as a mirror of our subconscious. It is a thought-provoking challenge that pushes us out of our comfort zone and requires us to look inside ourselves.

And finding the words to express how we feel can be tricky, let alone in a language that we do not master.

Paintings: Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach; Adam and Eve by Marc Chagall


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