Friday, 15 July 2011

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood

The more I prepare for next year, the more nervous I become - something that would be hilariously ironic if it weren't just plain annoying. I'm therefore trying to distract myself from the practicalities of my year abroad (such as, um, where I'm going to live) by thinking of what a lovely adventure it will be. Funnily enough, as it often does in my world, film is beginning to reflect life in this way. A week before I left Oxford, one of my French tutors decided - in a misguided attempt to get us excited about next year - to show us L'Auberge Espagnol. To be honest, I don't think I would have enjoyed it much under any circumstances: it's the kind of slightly harsh, jarring and almost pretentious foreign film that really irritates me. In my context though it was hell. Word to the wise - do not watch L'Auberge Espagnol if you're about to go off for a year to live by yourself abroad. The entire film is a blur of language difficulties, ruined relationships, unfamiliar places and terrible roommates. My tutor switched the film off to find herself rather taken aback by our terrified faces. Just...not recommended. Luckily though I stumbled across this ad campaign by Education First which makes living in a new country look so pretty and charming that I can almost fool myself that next year will go by smoothly.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Look beyond the paint

Katherine: "Carcass", by Soutine, 1925. Is it any good? C'mon, ladies, there's no wrong answer. There's also no textbook telling you what to think. It's not that easy, is it?
Betty: Alright, no. It's not good. In fact, I wouldn't even call it art. It's grotesque.
Connie: Is there a rule against art being grotesque?
Giselle: I think there's something aggressive about it. And erotic.
Betty: To you, everything is erotic.
Giselle: Everything *is* erotic.
Susan: Aren't there standards?
Betty: Of course there are! Otherwise, a tacky velvet painting could be equated to a Rembrandt!
Connie: Hey, my Uncle Ferdie has two tacky velvet paintings. He loves those clowns.
Betty: There *are* standards! Technique, composition, color, even subject. So, if you're suggesting that rotted side of meat is art, much less *good* art, then what are we going to learn?
Katherine: Just that. You have outlined our new syllabus, Betty, thank you. What is art? What makes it good or bad, and who decides?

Do you ever feel under pressure to be "good" at films, "good" at art, "good" at music? I certainly do. Amongst my friends I'm known as the arty cinephile who has a bizarre and eclectic taste in films, fashion and books, and although I love this identity, sometimes I find it terrifying - all of a sudden my love for these things doesn't come from a natural emotion or instinct, rather it's me trying to be correct and pick the right ones. It's the same in my degree. The course in Oxford actually majors in literature more than anything else, which means I'm often writing an essay on a book by say Sartre or Baudelaire, something everyone considers a masterpiece, a work of genius, and although I'm frankly bored by it and don't like it at all, I still feel like I have to, just so I have "good taste". The above film is actually a great example of this. Mona Lisa Smile was panned by critics and considered a worse version of The Dead Poet's Society. I however consider it one of my favourite feel-good films and turn to it for familiar wonderful company several times a year. The same is true of many other "bad" films - A Good Year, National Treasure....and whenever they're brought up, a little part of me wants to agree with everyone else's derision and scorn, or at the very least to keep quiet - because I don't want to be thought of as having bad taste.

Personally though, I feel this attitude runs against the very concept of art. For me, liking a film, liking a book, liking an's kind of like (forgive the ridiculousness of the following statement) falling in love. It's something kind of instinctive and natural and personal. People like art for different reasons - they can relate to it, they find it beautiful, they think it expresses something they understand or find fascinating - but whatever the reason, it's nothing that can be quantified or regulated. There are a lot of films out there that I don't like, and there are some films which - I'm sorry - are just plain bad. Paris Hilton for example should never be allowed near a camera crew again. But I think to feel under pressure for one's tastes, and to start seeing films not as something pleasurable but rather as a medal or a trophy, is kind of defeating the point. Which is why you'll find me tomorrow doing the ironing in front of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. What can I say, I'm still a teenager at heart.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Where the little people dwell...

Many people are probably familiar with The Little People Project, but I've recently discovered work by an artist named Christopher Boffoli who does something similar, but with products that can be found in a grocers. The series of photos is entitled "Disparity" and examines the subject of perspective and the way it can be manipulated to create art. Plus, aren't they just so cute?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

'What do the dead do, uncle? Do they eat, hear music, go a-hunting and be merry, as we that live?'

I'm back I'm back I'm back ^_^ Not only has term ended this time, but in fact my entire second year at university is over - a fact that, well, utterly terrifies me. How fast does time pass by?! Now that term and the academic year (and all its pressures - damn you essays and social obligations!) are over, I feel I can reveal a few snapshots of what my future is looking like at the moment. As you probably know, I study French and German and - as a languages student - I'm obliged to take my third year out to live abroad improving my language skills. And, um, third year is now upon me. I'm finding the whole thing a bit bizarre to be honest - over the past couple of years Oxford has become my home and the idea of leaving it and all my friends fills me with sadness and dread. On the other hand - dude, I have an excuse to travel and see so many exciting new things, and luckily I'm the type of person who will find the fun in anything so hopefully it should be an amazing year! So as of September I'm relocating for six months to a town called Worms (I know, I know) in south-west Germany to be a language assistant at a secondary school there! I can't quite believe I'm typing that sentence - it's such a grown up thing to do! After that I'll be doing some work experience in France, hopefully in a museum or gallery of some kind - but I'm not sure exactly where yet. Isn't it all exciting? And if that wasn't enough, I'm going away in two weeks time to spend just under a month in...wait for it...Shanghai! It's part of a programme called Study China which, if you're a student in the UK you should definitely apply for. So, um yeah! I won't be seeing much of England in the next year, that's for sure! But I will be updating on all the exciting things I'm doing - just writing this is filling me yet again with wanderlust and a craving for adventure. And as I'm never satisfied, let me share with you another place I one day hope to have adventures in.

I want to travel to all sorts of places - the Middle East, the United States - but one place I never really considered was Latin America. That is, until I reread the outstanding book The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris and a couple of days later watched a documentary on the Mexican festival The Day of the Dead. My thoughts? Um, please someone take me to Mexico?! I hate violence and I hate horror but I do love the macabre, I love folk traditions and I love colour and this festival seems a perfect blend of all. One day...

Screencaps taken by me from the BBC documentary "Feasts: Mexico".