Thursday, November 1, 2012

APS bank Art Exhibition 2012



Recently, I have been invited to the APS second collective art exhibition which is set at the APS head office building in Swatar, Malta. The launching event took place on Friday 12th October 2012. 

The exhibition features a collective of four contemporary Maltese artists namely Raymond Azzopardi, Charles Cassar, Anna Grima and Valerio Schembri. The four artists are considered to be amongst the major exponents of Malta's current artistic scene. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Louis Laganà who is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art and Art History at the Junior College, and also lectures on Art, Culture and Tourism with the Institute For Tourism, Travel and Culture, University of Malta.

Introduction to the artists (the information is being reproduced form the APS exhibition catalogue):

Raymond Azzopardi, a self-taught sculptor, was born in Hamrun in 1956. Azzopardi was interested in drawing at a very young age and used to draw in class during English and Maths lessons. As a boy he never had sculpture in mind but he kept drawing and painting. When he was about 8 years old he had the opportunity to visit the studio of the famous Maltese sculptor and painter, Joseph Kalleja who happened to be a great friend of his grandfather.

In the early 1980’s Azzopardi became a member of an Art club “Nghinu Bl-Arti” where he met his first friends with the same interests. In 1985 he exhibited his first paintings with seven other members at the Museum of Fine Arts. The title of the exhibition was “Wirja bla Isem”. During those years he became interested in wood carving and sculpture and because wood was always at hand he tried his first 30cm sculpture in Parana wood. Raymond Azzopardi never attended any carving lessons but read about carving and sharpening tools which he considered a very important aspect in carving. He continued to work on sculptures made with different kinds of wood.

In the early 1990’s the artist took part for the first time as a sculptor by participating in a collective art exhibition which was held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta. It was curated by Mr. E.V. Borg. It was the most important exhibition during that period which encouraged him to pursue his artistic expression in sculpture. This was an art exhibition entitled “An Idiom in Wood” and was held at the Cathedral Museum in Mdina. Azzopardi was the youngest sculptor of the group and showed 8 works all made in mahogany. The artist is inspired by everyday life, the people he meets and the media. His most favourite subject is maternity. Azzopardi works on different shapes and textures. He believes that wood carving is a strong medium which will not die out as other crafts did. Wood carving provides the artist a great challenge to work on different themes.

Charles Cassar is one of Malta’s leading senior artists. He hails from Valletta but resides and works in Kappara. He was educated at the Lyceum, University of Malta and at the Malta School of Art. In 1964, he placed first in the scholarship exam and was awarded a four-year- government grant to further his artistic education abroad. He studied for two years at Croydon College of Art, Surrey, England and for another two years in Italy at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome where he graduated in 1967. He spent 43 years in the Education Department, where he served as a teacher, Assistant Head of school and as Head of School until he retired in 2005. For a number of years, Charles was a part-time Lecturer in Printmaking at the University of Malta and Lecturer at the School of Art.

During the late sixties he created awareness in graphic design and was a pioneer of computer generated art during the eighties. In 1983 he designed the set of four stamps marking the ‘Commonwealth Day’ and later served on the Stamp Design Advisory Board.

Charles Cassar works incessantly in his studio but travels a lot, visits museums and adores historical archaeological sites. He has nine one-man exhibitions to his credit and participates regularly in collective shows locally and abroad. His works are to be found in private collections worldwide. Cassar has works at the Museum of Fine Art in Valletta, il Museo d’Arte Moderna in Pistoia and La Pinacoteca d’Arte in Locri. Throughout his long artistic career, he has won various competitions, obtained prizes and recognitions from both local and foreign associations. In 2003 he represented Malta in the European Artist Exhibition which was held at the Italian Embassy in Washington DC. His last retrospective exhibition was held at the BOV Centre in Santa Venera in June and July 2009.Cassar’s art is about painting nature’s textures reflected in powerful representations of changing moods. He loves the sea, the rocks, the land and vegetation and all the creatures which dwell in this mysterious human world. His work is an exploration of the self open to the manifested world of reality and life’s journey.

Anna Grima is a visual artist who has exhibited her art extensively in Malta and abroad. Her work navigates around the concept of ‘time-space’ relating to natural phenomena between earth and sky matter and spirit which include a philosophical and metaphysical discourse on thoughts and theories that access the dynamic creative impulse. Interdisciplinary practices as diverse as Painting and Drawing, Paper Sculpture and Woodcut Printing, Creative Writing/Illustration and Spatial /Landscape Design are combined in fine art contexts, exploring, defining, researching and converting the multiple considerations around the subject of life into a definite art form or framework.

Born in Malta in 1958, Grima studied art at the Malta School of Art and the Accademia di Belli Arte in Perugia, Italy. She continued to study painting and practised the ancient Japanese art of Gyotaku and had sailing expeditions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans (1984 – 1988). Her first invitation to exhibit her work was in 1982 when Norbert F. Attard and Denis Vella presented the exhibition ‘Maltese Women Artists’ at the Gallerija Fenici, Valletta. Her first solo exhibition was at Galerie Ripard, Fontainebleau, France, in 1984.

In 1995 she represented Malta in a collective exhibition at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, celebrating the International Woman’s Day. That same year she was the first woman artist in Malta to design a postage stamp for the Malta Post Office on the occasion of the United Nations International Woman’s Conference in Beijing, China.

Recently, her works have formed part of international exhibitions and symposiums related to the study and interest in temple culture and sacred sites with a focus on sacred geometry and iconic presentations of the sacred in relation to time, space and light, depicting symbols and concepts that echo her native ancestral heritage to resonate with universal truths and beliefs. Many of her paintings hang in private and public collections, and most recently two of her abstracts were chosen to represent Malta for the coming 5 years as part of the prestigious Summa Artis Collection at the Berlaymont building, Brussels.

Valerio Schembri (b.1969) who was brought up in Mosta (Malta) has strong ties with his native village where he spent days exploring the beauties of Wied il-Ghasel, (meaning: valley of honey). He read architecture at the University of Malta (1988 – 1993), tutored in design amongst others by abstract painter Alfred Chircop (b. 1933) and Architect Richard England (b. 1937). A few years later he set up his own practice: Valerio Schembri Project Workshop in 1997. Later Schembri obtained a Masters degree in Baroque Studies at the University of Malta (2000 – 2002) under the guidance of the architectural historian Prof. Dennis De Lucca (b. 1952), Philosophy Professor Rev. Peter Serracino Inglott (1936 – 2012) and art historians Prof. Keith Sciberras (b. 1970) and Prof. Mario Buhagiar (b. 1945). In 2003 Schembri had his first experience of artistic clay expression with ceramist Zell Osbourne (b. 1953). In 2005 he started attending lessons with George Muscat (b. 1962) and participated in throwing workshops with Kenneth Grima (b. 1971) in 2006. He has been under the constant guidance of Paul Haber (b. 1940) since 2007.

As a ceramist he participated in various local collective exhibitions including several editions of the prestigious Malta-Cyprus Collective Exhibition, in Malta and Larnaca, Cyprus. Schembri participated in the International Ceramica Multiplex in Varazdin, Croatia in 2009 where he was also invited to deliver a lecture on his ceramic works. He has also been selected for participation in the 2012 edition. In 2010 the ceramist was awarded an honourable mention in the prestigious European Biennale for Ceramics in Mamer, Luxembourg. In 2011 Schembri also took part in the Sicily-Malta-Cyprus collective in Bagheria, Sicily. In 2012 he was selected among the finalists and exhibited in the 32nd Concors Internacional de Ceramica de l’Alcora which was held in Alcora, Spain.

Locally he won two honourable mentions and three runner-up awards in open competitions by The Malta Society of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce and was also runner up in the Sculpture Section of The Malta International Arts Biennale in 2007. The two works that Schembri submitted for the Public Arts in Gozo 2011 competition were short listed among the winners. On commission by the Ministry for Gozo, one of these models is actually being reproduced full scale in Gozitan hardstone.

Valerio Schembri presently lives and works in Naxxar, Malta, where he runs his own architectural atelier and his ceramics studio. The artist’s gallery is available online on www.valerioschembri.com.


On a personal note:

The setup:

I must say that being present at this exhibition resulted to be a very positive experience. The event showcases contemporary art in Malta and its progress. This feeling is generated through the works presented to us by these four artists who break away from their established niches and embark on a virtual voyage of artistic experimentation and technical ability.

From a logistical point of view, I must say that the organisers should have opted for a more adequate setting to house this corpus of works. Large works, like the ones by Charles Cassar and Anna Grima, which are aimed to capture the viewer’s attention and transport him into a surreal world of colour, ought to be exhibited adequately thus ensuring the work’s dignity. Presentation is a vital element in an exhibition, and it is not to be taken lightly by the ones hosting the exhibition. The logistical environment of an exhibition should complement the qualities present in each and every exhibited work of art thus ensuring the event’s success.

Artists:

Azzopardi’s corpus of works presents to the viewer a variety of elements ranging from technical draughtsmanship to naivety. The caricature-like nature of Azzopardi’s work recalls prehistoric elements which mould our Maltese cultural essence. In fact one clearly senses the element of exaggeration present in the work entitled “Child’s Play” which recalls a corpulent figure, traced in the natural creases offered by the raw wood, which the artist chose as his point of departure. Azzopardi’s link with ancient civilizations is also present in his work “Arabesque”. In this case the sculptor brings to the viewer the Greek Archaic physiognomy which is subdued through the mask representations recalling the Ancient Greek Dionysian cults. The Classical masks help in bringing the characters' face closer to the audience through the intensely exaggerated facial features and expressions. The masks may represent Azzopardi’s sculptural contributions in which he appears and reappears in several different roles. This element is very much sensed through the rest of the exhibited works such as “Moods” and “Duo”.

A couple of years have passed from Cassar’s successful retrospective exhibition held at the Bank of Valletta’s headquarters in St Venera. On that occasion Cassar has introduced his audience to his notions of colour and its application. Cassar’s innovative manner breaks away from the traditional application through the use of the brush and stretches it to include a more personal approach. The series of paintings exhibited in this current exhibition reaffirms Cassar’s intimate relationship with colour and texture.  Cassar’s compositions depart from nature itself thus making use of nature’s detritus, mainly dried leaves, and regenerate itself in the artistic conceptions of the artist. “Guardians of Transparency” conveys the artist’s interest in immortalising the ephemeral beauty of butterflies. A fragile and enchanting species brought to life through the use of vibrant colour.

The diversity of colour explored by Cassar shows the virtuosity of the artist in mastering his palette. This is also evident in the works “Sparks in the Air” and “Intimacy at Risk”. The works by Cassar contrast the element of technical rapidity featured in contemporary art. Meticulous and researched brushstrokes replace the frivolous ones. Both works manifest the well-calculated and premeditated risk of textures which Cassar exploits to his very best.

One final note goes to the work bearing the title “In the Beginning Perhaps”. Cassar’s academical artistic upbringing resurfaces in this work. The Eternal Father, recalling Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, is brought back to life through the use of freely applied brushstrokes loaded with almost fluorescent pigments. Possibly, Cassar is inviting the viewer to think about his essence and existence. It is as if the artist is recalling Darwin’s theories of evolution, thus presenting the human being as the outcome of a natural process which was brought forward by minute organisms present in our cosmos. This is very much sensed in the importance being given to nature which contrasts the subdued human figure set in the background. This idea is strengthened through the bold pronunciation of the leaves which is not so present in his other works.

Grima’s inclination towards the primordial sphere is more direct. In her work “The Holy of Holies”, the artist refers to Malta’s own hypogeum at Tarxien. She is more into capturing the spiritual nature of the subterranean structure rather than just stone. The aura which is recreated with the use of purples and reds echo the mystical and eschatological purposes for which the building was hewn into rock.

In her works “Echo of the Music of Spheres” and “Sound Vibration”, Grima hints a close connection to the organised sounds which generates music. The former projects the artist in a cosmos of spirals which revolve into the mystical reds emulating elements of passion. The spiritual element projected by the artist is more pronounced in the work “Echo of the Music of Spheres” and contrasts the latter where the focus evolves to be a feminine figure set in an embryonic position at the verge of precipitance. The morphed symbols or medallions depicted are mirrored in the reflection and compliment the distorted image of the figure.

Schembri’s ceramic abstracts offer a challenging experience. The artist invites the viewer to explore creases, pointed forms and the intermingling relationship of form and space. Schembri’s ceramics recall elements from nature such as trees and rock formations. His sound architectural background is very much reflected in works like “Abstract III”, who’s quest to bridge the form together with its abstract nature is very much present. “Abstract VI” is a work filled with drama. It is set on diagonals and the play of space and form generates an element of mystery which is also complimented by the application of subdued glazes.





Exhibition Catalogue:

A final note goes to the exhibition catalogue which was presented to the audience, for free, during the exhibition night. One must say that the printed work is professional and pleases the eye. The play between gloss and matt lamination elevate the quality of the catalogue.

The biographical notes present in the book are well compiled together with a thorough yet concise critical analysis of the works exhibited.  Contrastingly, the fancy dividers diverges the publication’s main focus at the expense of what one generally finds in an exhibition catalogue, that is, full-page reproductions of the featured art works. The lack of focus is complimented with the inclusion of two critical essays, which are published at the introduction of the exhibition catalogue, which have no close connection to the works on show. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Art and Photography in London


In the light of an up and coming exhibition at the National Gallery London - "Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present", I came across this article entitled “The Camera comes of Age” from The Independent by Adrian Hamilton published on Saturday 27 October 2012. Both events mirror what I was lecturing about on 21st October 2012 at the MIPP Convention 2012. This article take us on a virtual tour through a good number of notable exhibitions set in illustrious galleries in London which stress the medium as a fine art and sheds light on various photographers who earned a name in the field.

The Camera comes of Age

Next week the National Gallery mounts its first major photography show. It's a decisive moment that marks the medium's overdue acceptance as fine art

By ADRIAN HAMILTON

Saturday 27 October 2012

Of all the great art galleries in the world, the National Gallery in London has proved one of the last to either embrace photography as a branch of art or as a fit subject for exhibition. Which makes its first proper show of the relationship between photography and the Old Masters, opening next week, something of an occasion. It joins, by coincidence, a veritable host of other photographic exhibitions at the present, Davidson, Eggleston and others from the Sixties and Seventies at the Barbican, William Klein and Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern and Hiroshi Sugimoto at Pace in London, with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams to follow at Somerset House and the Maritime Museum, next month. Rarely can an audience be quite as well provided for as London at the moment.

The National Gallery may be late on the scene but its timing could hardly be bettered. With photography increasingly recognised as an art in its own right, prints from the original negatives by well-known photographers regularly sell for £5,000 or £10,000 each. When limited-number prints from big names such as Richard Avedon are concerned, the sums leap to as much as £500,000 and, in the case of the German photographer Andreas Gursky, between £3m and £4m, as museums compete with modern-art collectors for the privilege of owning iconic images of our time.

Photography has always vied with painting for a position as a fine art in itself. What the National Gallery is now seizing on – quite rightly – is the development in the last decades of an art photography which deliberately looks back to the high art of the past and the Victorian pioneers of photography as its model. Large in scale, often monumental in intent, the works now form a genre all of their own. Placing them side by side with their forebears makes a wonderful exhibition.

Why art photography should have developed in this way is an open question. It has a lot to do with advances in technology which have enabled artist photographers to size up their deep single shots into life-scale and to control the colour and the textures in printing. The best photographers have always taken care of the printing process but we now have a generation that uses technology as painters have traditionally used the brush, to refine, to elaborate and to deepen the effect. It goes deeper than this, however. Over the last 30 years, and even more in the aftermath of 9/11 and the midst of recession, there is a retreat from post-Modernism, with its obsession for irony, jokes and a multi-faceted approach to art, to something much more detached and classical. Just as many artists after the wars of the last century stepped back to a kind of cool abstraction, so many artists today are searching for a kind of melancholic sobriety, a sense of the frozen moment which photography is uniquely able to provide.

Which is where photography entered in the first place. From early on the young discipline saw itself as a form of art and contender with paintings for seriousness. The major figures of the Victorian period – Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, Gustave Le Gray and the others represented in the National Gallery show alongside their painting models and their modern imitators – quite consciously sought not just the dignity of art but its moral thrust. Cameron, in particular, during the late 1860s and early 1870s walked hand-in-hand with the Pre-Raphaelites and the art of her time in an effort to combine realistic detail with ethereal sentiment. Place her portraits, as the exhibition does, side by side with the paintings of George Frederic Watts and you see precisely the same purpose.

So with the still lives of Roger Fenton and other photographers of the mid-19th century, which aim to replicate both the glowing realism of 17th-century painters but also their indications of decay and the fragility of beauty. Look at the seascapes of Gustav Le Gray from the 1850s and you see an artist reaching out to portray the sublime in the way that Turner was doing.
With nudes, of course, the realism became a problem. While photographers such as Rejlander bathed their photos in the aura of classical statues and the painting of Ingres and Botticelli, the photograph gave the female form a living reality which shocked some and excited others. Art and pornography merged in a way that even the most erotic works of Velazquez and Goya could never have.

And it was the truth of the real which took photography away from art in the last century to pursue its own courses in the photojournalism made possible by the 35mm camera, in the avenues opened up by magnification and skewed viewpoint and in the colour film introduced in the 1930s. For most of the 20th century, photography didn't vie with painting or refer back to it. It felt it was itself the art of modernity with no need for a backward or even a sideways look.
The radical thing about the contemporary photographers assembled by the National Gallery is not just that they look backwards to the traditions of painting and early photography for their models, but they do it by glorying in the realism which makes photography unique. Their works ranges from the masters of the monumental such as the Canadian Jeff Wall and the German Thomas Struth to the more intimate studies of bathers of Rineke Dijkstra from Holland and the exploding still lives of Ori Gersht from Israel.

Wall famously showed his life-sized narrative picture The Destroyed Room, based on Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus in the form of a negative, back-lit, in a gallery window in 1978. Struth makes his pictures as large but they are of scenes in which the people are dwarfed by the space so that the viewer both looks on and in. Sarah Jones enlarges her pictures of flowers to three or four times life-size so that every detail is shown and the whole given huge presence. Dijkstra sharpens the detail of her life-size pictures of bathers by using fill-in flash photography. Richard Learoyd employs plain, neutral backgrounds and suffused lighting to give his figures sculptural presences.

Magnification on this scale has the effect of bringing the viewer directly into the picture as much a participant as an observer. It encompasses the viewer as she or he stands before it. The heightened realism only adds to the effect. Where painters had to work up their paintings in layers and in meticulous detail, the photographer has realism at his or her instant disposal. The drawback of having to complete in a single shot rather than being able, like a painter, to keep returning to the canvas, is turned to advantage. The subject is caught in a moment that, properly composed, communicates something beyond the face or the landscape that is presented. They become faces in your face, impossible not to be gripped by.

The National Gallery exhibition is only part of the story, of course. Where the contemporary artists in its survey of "photography past and present" are bent on bettering the photographic process by imitating painting, other artists are bent on bettering the painting process by drawing in photography. The history of contemporary art, indeed, could be written in the way in which painters, following the lead of Gerhard Richter and the example of the Pop Artists, have incorporated photography into their creative process and how photographers, learning from modern painters, have pushed their craft away from realism into the realms of abstraction. Photography and painting, which seemed to go their separate ways through most of the last century, are now, thanks to Richard Hamilton, Gerhard Richter, David Hockney and many others, now merging.

Anyone interested in the uses of digital photography in art and the possibilities opened up by inkjet printing need only slip within the National Gallery to the Sunley Room to see the late Richard Hamilton works, in which the artist both pays homage to the past masters and grapples with the challenge posed by the realism of modern reproductive technology. What fascinated Hamilton, as it has intrigued Hockney, is the extent to which digital enables the painter to compose and sketch graphic work and, in the printing, to achieve hyper-realistic effects of colour.

Go to almost any show of a contemporary artist and what you are likely to see is he or she adopting the technology of photography, and often its language, to express their conceptual art. At Dulwich Art Gallery, the contemporary artist Clive Head has installed across one wall of a room of Nicolas Poussins, a large scale painting of a rail terminus. Part of his From Victoria to Arcadia, it is a painting of the most precise detail but also of unnerving space, a narrative of passengers and anonymity based on photographs of Victoria tube station but composed and painted with a traditional eye.

It has been colour as much as anything that has really brought art and photography together. In the era of black-and-white, the photographer reigned supreme in his own field. Ansel Adams, whose photographs of water and the sea go on display at London's Maritime Museum next month, showed that photography could achieve in detail and in depth the sense of the sublime in nature which painters had so long sought, and in its own way do it better. With faster film and lighter cameras, photography became the means of commenting on the human condition and on events in a way which painting seemed too contrived to compete. The photographers on display at the Barbican's current show of pictures of the 1960s and 1970s barely gave traditional art a passing glance as they sought composition in what Cartier Bresson called the "decisive moment".

As the techniques of exposure and printing improved, so photographers became more "arty" themselves. Just a few hundred yards along Piccadilly from the National Gallery's show you can see the seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto – to me the finest art photographer of our day – hung alongside Mark Rothko's late dark abstracts at Pace's new Mayfair Gallery. While at one in horizontal composition, they are quite different in texture. Where Rothko works in paint, building it up layer by layer to achieve his effects, Sugimoto is all about light and exposure. Rothko encloses his pictures firmly within the frame, Sugimoto's studies of the sea's horizon seem to extend way beyond the frame into infinity. Both are alike in their ambition to make their separate forms reach beyond representation into the absolute.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of scale, Daido Moriyama, on show at Tate Modern with William Klein, blows up the close-ups of tights and lips to create works of abstract force but human and erotic resonance. What the painter has to do with imagination, the photographer can do by the magnification of detail. Ansel Adams did it with trees, contemporary photographers do it with the stuff of urban life.

Colour, introduced to film in the Thirties, changed things, as an exhibition due next month at Somerset House hopes to show. For purists such as Cartier Bresson it was a dilution of the realism of black and white photography. But for painters it took photography into the glossy surfaces and hectic pace of the new consumer world. With it, photography joined advertising, colour magazines, flashy billboards and brightly-coloured plastic. It was the world in which the old distinctions between genres had no place. All could be used as one in the portrayal of life.


And yet there remains something distinct about photography, in its realism and in its relationship with the viewer. Go to any exhibition and you will see people, young and old, responding without self-consciousness to the picture before them. There's something about the reality of photographs that needs no explanation. Which is why so many painters are now incorporating it into their works.



Friday, October 26, 2012

MIPP Convention 2012



On the 21st of October 2012, I addressed a lecture to a good number of professional photographers who attended the MIPP Convention 2012. The lecture was entitled Art and Photography: Art and its co-relation with photography 1836-1970

An abstract of the lecture follows:

In the second half of the 19th century, artists were introduced to a new medium which many believed was to become their main competitor. Photography affected in a adverse manner artists who at the time were earning a living out of producing pictorial portraits and fine art scenery. Contrarily, avant-garde 19th century artists (Manet, Eakins and Monet) and successively major exponents of Modern Art (Picasso, Duchamp and Warhol) considered photography as a new medium of expression which helped them to create and enhance their artistic spirit in an innovative way. Was photography in competition with the artistic sector or else it was moving in a parallel direction? In what ways did artists utilise such medium and to what extent it helped them discover new artistic ways of expression?

The lecture resulted to be a fruitful experience in which several issues were discussed on Art and photography. It was stressed the importance of photography as being a form of art. In fact the lecture dealt with the element of having artists making use of photography for didactic purposes (Thomas Eakins) and also utilizing such an art form to extend their vision and artistic production (Manet and Picasso). In return, Photography, as a branch of learning, was later to benefit and to escalate the realm of fine art.

Finally, I would like to thank the Malta Institute of Professional Photography for once again granting me the opportunity to lecture and present to the audience an interesting subject, which I hope it generate artistic conscience and sparked inspiration in each and everyone who was present.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Teachers work 53 hours per week on average

Survey: Teachers work 53 hours per week on average
This was written by Francie Alexander, chief academic officer for Scholastic, Inc. She has has taught at all levels, was a district reading consultant for Pre-K through high school, and has authored numerous professional articles for educators and dozens of books for children.
Teaching is a much talked about yet often misunderstood profession. Educators frequently hear well-meaning comments from parents and friends like “It must be so sweet to spend your days with children” or “How wonderful to be done for the day by three o’clock.” Are they serious?
Teaching is joyous, but it is also hard work! It is fast-paced, multi-faceted, and complex. I should know. I spent many years as a teacher and it is the hardest and most satisfying work I’ve ever done.
A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week!

These numbers are indicative of teachers’ dedication to the profession and their willingness to go above and beyond to meet students’ needs. It never was, and certainly isn’t now, a bell-to-bell job.
The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. As one Kentucky teacher surveyed put it, “Our work is never done. We take grading home, stay late, answer phone calls constantly, and lay awake thinking about how to change things to meet student needs.”
The 10,000 teachers surveyed in Primary Sources 2012 convey a very real portrait of the challenges and joys of the teaching profession. They share their thoughtful, nuanced views on both their daily practice and critical issues at the heart of education reform. Here are some more key findings:
* Teachers are seeing the effects of joblessness and a difficult economy on their students’ families and in the classroom. Fifty six percent of teachers who have been teaching in the same school for five years or more are seeing more students living in poverty, and 49% are seeing more students coming to school hungry.
* Teachers welcome and are even eager for more frequent evaluation of their practice. Again and again, teachers spoke of the need for feedback on their practice in order to become the best teachers they can be. Plus, they are open to hearing from a variety of sources including principals, peers and parents - and students!
* Challenges facing students are significant and growing. 46 percent of veteran teachers say they are seeing fewer students prepared for challenging work than when they began teaching in their current schools. The percentage of children who struggle with reading and math is increasing at all socio-economic levels.
* The majority of teachers are satisfied in their jobs: Eighty nine percent of teachers are either very satisfied or satisfied in their jobs. They also share their reasons for satisfaction and for frustration, and identified the kinds of resources teachers need to be as successful as they can be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hilary Spiteri on Malta l-Lejla - NET tv re.: Academic Artistic Training in early British Malta

Recently, I was invited for an interview regarding my latest publication during the popular afternoon TV show Malta l-Lejla.

Stephanie Spiteri (conductor) hosts this daily early evening magazine show which is balanced between being informative and educational, inquisitive and fun. Daily interviews with people making the news or people less in the limelight, people from our past, people with something interesting to say. 

I was invited for this fourth edition which tackles various aspects of Maltese life and touch on topics which will surely allow our viewers to relax and watch, watch and learn, learn and do! The show is aired daily from Monday to Friday between 17:00-18:45 on NET TV.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Artists and Optics Lecture by Hilary Spiteri

In January 2012 I had the opportunity to address the Malta Institute of Professional Photography members during a lecture entitled 'Artists and Optics -  photography techniques employed by artists 300 years before the advent of photography'.   

The lecture turned out to be a very positive one in which the very first photography techniques employed by artists 300 years before the Deguerrian practices of photography were discussed.


The lecture was held at Corinthia Hotel, St Georges Bay, St Julians Malta on the 4th of January 2012 at 20:00.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Academic Artistic Training in early British Malta - The Sunday Times review by Kenneth Zammit Tabona

With the decision taken by the government to move the national art collection back to Auberge d’italie from what is still popularly known as Admiralty House in South Street comes the publication of Hilary Spiteri’s Academic Artistic Training in Early British Malta.

This is an erudite tome that required a humongous amount of research to complete and which casts a revelatory light on a period that was initially obscured in historical turmoil and later absorbed in the great British ideal as laid down by the visionary Prince Consort.

What comes out loud and clear is what a debt of gratitude we owe to Canon (later Bishop) Francesco Saverio Caruana who was, besides Malta’s premier patriot, hailed as Malta’s Maecenas and who founded and directed the School of Design within the ambit of Malta’s re- established university in 1803 after the disagreeable Napoleonic interlude, which flourished till Caruana’s installation as Bishop of Malta in 1822.

Born in 1759 into a wealthy Żebbuġ family with strong aristocratic connections, Francesco Saverio was a great patron of the arts and was the prime political mastermind during the turbulent period which saw the final days and expulsion of the Order of Malta, the Napoleonic aberration and the insurrection of the Maltese against it. He was also the chief negotiator who facilitated the transition of Malta from a semimonastic sovereign principality to becoming a jewel in the British King’s crown.

Much has been written about Mgr Caruana, who still remains a controversial figure in Maltese history depending which end of the political lens one observes him from.

To have received an accolade from the notoriously difficult and abrasive Governor Thomas Maitland, is enough to show that this statesman brought peace to Malta at a time when Europe was in conflagration.

His elevation to Bishop of Malta in 1822 marked the beginnings of the accords between Church and State which, believe it or not, are extant even today. His biography was written by his great nephew the Count of Beberrua, Vincenzo Caruana Gatto and is a primary source of reference in Spiteri’s treatise.

This tome proves two diametrically unrelated theories: one that art is interderivative and that nothing can exist in isolation. Trying to prove otherwise reminds me of those stories of babies raised by wolves ( not Romulus and Remus, of course) who in their post- pubescence had to learn the rudiments of being and acting like a human being.

Therefore, the history and development of art is like case law; dependent on previous experience whatever anyone says.

The other theory is that art and politics are and will always be inextricably linked. In Malta this is amply proved by the establishment of that august institution which still exists today: the Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, which though it may sound anachronistic today, represented at its foundation in 1852 the latest in modern academia in accordance with the theories devised by Albert of Saxe- Coburg and Gotha, husband of Queen Victoria and universally known as the Prince Consort.

It is indeed intriguing to note that the society was set up a year after the great exhibition in London which was by all accounts epochmaking at many levels and which established the British Empire as the primus inter pares of European states.

The remote outpost of Malta was indeed blessed to have been included in the prince’s intellectually sound plans. It is interesting to note that this was before the opening of the Suez Canal – an event that transformed the economic history of Malta forever, turning a hitherto fossilised and still ecclesiastical ruling class into a dynamic mix with the newly established plutocratic tycoons who established great fortunes in their dealings across the Mediterranean form Gibraltar to Alexandria.

Visually the book’s impact is minimal and has no pretensions to being what can be termed a coffee table type feast of design and colour. What it does have is a wealth of drawings mistily by Raffaele Caruana that are found in the five portfolios consisting of 440 works found in the reserve collection of the National Museum of Fine Arts.

I was also intrigued that the plaster casts we have all gazed and studied at the School of Art, which was set up in 1926, has the same plaster casts that were purchased by Francesco Saverio Caruana for his School of Design; this is providential, as towards the middle of the 19th century it became increasingly difficult to use live models as Roman Catholic bigotry and Victorian prurience joined forces to eventually make this impossible.

Although the casts replicate great works of art like the Apollo of the Belvedere and a number of Parthenon friezes, to mention but a few, there is absolutely no comparison – and believe me I know first- hand – to the real thing.

No matter how artfully lights are placed a plaster cast remains what it is and can never ever remotely replace the real thing. Yet for decades upon decades Maltese artists had to make do.

As Sandro Debono, senior curator of the National Museum of Fine Arts, points out in his foreword, Spiteri is the latest in the growing number of researchers whose interest in the National Collection has enriched our knowledge of the history of art in Malta.

Again, with the reestablishment of the History of Art Department at the University as late as 1988 by Fr Peter Serracino Inglott, the former rector, and Mario Buhagiar who still today is the head of the department, the study of our creative history has been under scrutiny for the past 23 years.

I well remember two great books which only a couple of decades ago set the trend and changed local bibliography forever; one was the same Buhagiar’s The Iconography of the Maltese Islands and the other was Nicholas de Piro’s The International Dictionary of Artists who Painted Malta.

These books laid the foundation stone for the vibrant art scene that thrives in Malta today; one which I hope will continue to flourish and place Malta on the international artistic map as a unique island with a unique history, if and when the powers that be understand the need to have a museum of Modern and Contemporary Art besides the extant Fine Arts one.

Only then will we be able to fully appreciate the artistic activity of this small but spunky island population, which despite all odds tries its best on many counts to disprove Aesop’s fable of the frog and the cow, and more often than not manages to do so.