REAL ENGLISH: How to talk about art


Hello. I’m Gill at www.engvid.com, and today’s lesson
is about visiting an art gallery and the kinds of things you’d see there, and also how to
talk about them. So, you may have seen a lesson I did a while
ago on arranging to meet a friend, and one of the places you could have met your friend
was at an art gallery, so this lesson follows on from that. If you’re meeting your friend at the art gallery
and you go around the art gallery with that person, what do you talk about and how do
you say things? Okay? So, first of all, then, you have to decide
where… You’ve probably already arranged where to
meet: Outside the gallery; inside the gallery; in the foyer – the entrance to the building;
if there’s a cafe which there usually is, meet in the cafe, have a drink first maybe;
or there’s usually a shop or more than one shop – there could be a gift shop, a book
shop, so you might meet in a… In the shop in the gallery. You might decide to meet in a particular room
in the gallery. If you know there’s a room with paintings
in it that you’re particularly interested in, you could say: “We’ll meet in that room
where they have those paintings”, because you can start looking while you’re waiting. So, a particular room or a particular gallery. Within an art gallery, the separate rooms
are also called “galleries”. So, you might say: “Let’s meet in the… Oh, the gallery where they have all the… The kings and queens in the portraits”, something
like that. I’m thinking of the… The National Gallery in London because this
lesson really is for the big art galleries, museums, so I’m thinking of the National Gallery,
the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, big art galleries like that. Okay, so they have different rooms which are
called “galleries”. You might also say: “Let’s meet on the first
floor or the second floor”, because you know that that’s a good place; you can sit down
somewhere or you can start looking at something while you’re waiting, whoever gets there first. So, that’s how you decide where to meet. And then once you’ve met, then you want to
go in and start looking at some of the… The art. So, what are you going to see in the art gallery? You… You may already go to lots of art galleries,
so you will have a good idea of what to expect; but if you haven’t been to many art galleries,
this is just a summary, and also giving the English names for things of all the kinds
of things you would expect to see. So, the kinds of things you see could be pictures
and paintings, sculptures, statues, photographs, and these modern things called “installations”. And all of those, those types of art – that’s
called the “medium.” The “medium” is really what’s… What the work of art is made of. So, all these things here in brackets, some
of them are telling you what… For example, you could have a painting. And what is it made of? It’s canvas, which is a kind of cloth with
oil paint on it. So, it’s called “oil on canvas”. Sometimes pictures are painted on a panel,
a wooden panel, so it could be: “oil on wood” or “oil on panel”. Panel. Okay. Sometimes the… The paint is not an oil paint; it’s a water
colour. So… Which is much paler. So, it could be a water colour. So, there are different… The medium is the type of material that’s
been used to make the work of art. Okay. So, with a sculpture, for example, a statue,
it could be made of stone, like marble; metal, like bronze; or could be wood, it could be
carved out of wood. Okay, so those… That’s the medium used to make the sculpture. And then photographs are always, of course,
black and white or colour. Oh, there’s another type as well. There’s one called “sepia”; very old photographs
from the 19th century are often… They’re not black and white; they’re more
sort of brown and white, so that’s called “sepia”. Okay. And then these installations, they’re… They’re a very sort of modern idea, and they’re
experimental. They may even be like machines that… That move or just things hanging from the
ceiling, you know, like a piano hanging down from the ceiling upside down, which I’ve seen
in an art gallery. All sorts of things like that; just very,
you know, unusual, unexpected things. Okay, so those are the kinds of things that
you would see, depending on which art gallery you go to. If it’s a modern art gallery, a lot of it
will be this kind of thing. Other art galleries has… Have a much wider range, and they have some
much older paintings, like the sort of traditional oil on canvas or oil on wood, so… And sculptures which are a traditional form
of art going back hundreds of years. So, that’s what you would see. And if you find it all a bit difficult, because:
“How do you understand a work of art?” there is usually a little bit of information
at the side on the wall; or if there’s a sculpture, in the middle of the floor there’ll be a little
piece of information in… In words to tell you a little bit about the
artist, so you can find out: “Who…? Who was the artist who made this? Was it a man or a woman? When did they live? How long ago? Are they still alive now? What country did they come from?” Because all of that affects what kind of work
they produce. So, you can always look at the… The written information, and that will give
you some more vocabulary as well, and more understanding. You… Sometimes you have to decide: “Do I read this
first, and then look at the work of art; or shall I look at the work of art first, get
my first impressions, and think: ‘What is this all about?’ and then look at that?” You can experiment and decide. Try… Try to look at the work of art first probably,
see what you think; your own personal response is important. And then see what it says about it here, and
that will add something to your understanding, and then go back to the work of art again
probably is a good idea. Okay. So, that’s the kinds of things you’ll see. And then if we’re looking at pictures in particular,
paintings, there are different types of painting, and they all have different names to describe
them. And this is… The types, it’s a French word called “genre”. So, “the genres of painting” means the types
of painting; the different types of subjects in the paintings. So, a portrait, for example, is… Is a human figure. And it can either be a famous person or just
somebody, just somebody that the artist wanted to paint. It… It may be some person we don’t know who they
are, but the artist just thought they looked interesting and wanted to do a portrait of
them. And even the title, even the information may
not tell you: Who is that person? But a lot of portraits are of famous people,
and an art gallery like the National Portrait Gallery in London specialize, of course, in
portraits where you can see portraits of kings and queens going back in history, politicians,
all sorts of people who… who were famous. So that’s a portrait. And then you could have a landscape, which
is a scene… scenery of the outside world. So, it could be of the sea, which is called
a “seascape”, so you can see the sea maybe with some ships on it, and maybe a little
bit of land somewhere as well, or you can just see the beach and then the sea. A cityscape or townscape where you’re seeing
buildings and a city, and maybe a river going through. But often, traditionally, landscape is countryside
scenery as well because hundreds of years ago, cities were not so big, so a lot of landscapes
would be the countryside. Okay. Fields, and trees, and so on. So, that’s landscape. Another type or genre is called “still life”,
and that is things like fruit, and flowers, and any kinds of objects just put together
often on a tabletop and the artist… Maybe a bowl of fruit or something, and the
artist just paints a picture of what’s in front of him or her on a table; they arrange
it themselves, and decide what to put there, and paint it. So, that’s called “still life”. Okay. And then, confusingly, there are genre paintings,
and it’s a bit strange because we have the word “genre” here, meaning types, but it can
also mean scenes from everyday life, showing ordinary people. You know, even someone working in a kitchen,
for example. In a Dutch painting, for example, Dutch paintings,
a lot of them are everyday life scenes of people inside their homes or in the street
just doing… in a market buying some food, anything like that; just everyday life, ordinary
people is called “genre painting”. Okay. Then you could have history painting which
can either be events that really happened; there could be a battle or some political
event, or it can include mythology as well, classical mythology, gods and goddesses, that
sort of thing. So, history painting includes that, even though
that’s not really history; it’s imaginary, but it’s in the same category. Okay. And then, finally, another type is an abstract
painting. When we come into the 20th century and 21st
century, a lot of paintings are modern and abstract; they’re not of anything in particular. They’re not what’s called “representational”;
they’re not of something that you can see in the world around you. They may just be some coloured squares or
rectangles in a certain arrangement of colours and shapes, and it’s just geometrical. Or it could be just a few sort of marks on…
on the… on the painting in different colours as if the artist sort of threw… threw some
paint at it, which sometimes they do. Or put it down on the floor and ride a bicycle
over it. You know, empty some paint onto the canvass
on the floor, ride a bicycle over it to get some track marks and just make a nice pattern,
and… And then put that up on the wall. And so, it can be like that. There are artists who do that, and they’re
just abstract, you know, arrangements of paint, colours, and shapes, and they are not meant
to… to be anything; it’s just what it is, really. Just some colours and shapes inside a frame. Okay. So, that’s the first half of our lesson. I hope all that vocabulary is useful for you. And we’ll move on now to see what else you
can do, and especially how to talk about… with your friend how to talk about what you’re
looking at. Okay, so let’s have a look: What happens when
you’re standing in front of a picture with your friend, and you want to talk about it? What sort of things do you say? So, there are different things you can look
at. You can look at the subject, if it’s a famous
person, or it’s of an event in history, or there’s some sort of story in the picture
– you can sometimes see in a picture there’s a kind of story going on. That’s called a “narrative painting”. Narrative, where you just look at the details
in the picture, and you can work out what’s happening. So, that’s one thing you can do, you can look
at the subject and talk about that. You can look at it in terms of the colours
that have been used. If the artist has used very bright colours,
for example; or the opposite of bright is the word “muted”. If the colours are pale, pale colours, they’re
called “muted”; the opposite of “bright”. And then the idea of whether the… the range
of colours is a wide range or a limited range. So, if you think of the colours of the rainbow,
for example, that’s the… the spectrum. Okay. The spectrum. So, the colours of the rainbow: Red, orange,
yellow, blue, green, indigo, violet. Okay? So, if you look at any painting, that’s like
a checklist you can use: Has the artist used all those colours or only some of them? And then you can decide whether they have
used a full range of colours or a limited range of colours. If it’s mostly blues and greens, then it’s
limited. If you can see more or less every colour in
the picture, then it’s a full range. And there’s always a reason why the artist
has done that; that’s a choice that the artist has made, which colours to use. So, that’s something you can talk about, just
the colours. Even if you don’t understand what the painting
is about, you can look at the colours and talk about that. Another sort of technical thing you can look
at is… is the texture; the… the surface. If… if you’re in the art gallery… of course
there are some things you can’t do; you can’t sort of do this and touch the picture to see
how smooth or rough the surface is. They don’t allow you to touch things, even
sculptures sometimes, they… An attendant will come and say: “Please don’t
touch anything”, so you have to be careful not to touch. Other things, you shouldn’t talk too loudly
because you might disturb other people, so if you’re talking to your friend, don’t talk
so that everybody in the room can hear – things like that. Also, in front of some pictures there’s a
little barrier, so it keeps you at a distance. So, if you see a… something on the floor
around the painting, don’t sort of step over it to have a look; stay this side of it because
it’s there for a reason. They don’t want people touching or even breathing
on… On the picture, especially if there is no
glass covering the surface. A lot of paintings, they don’t have any glass
covering; it’s just the picture surface there, so you can look and see, you can see whether
the surface looks rough or smooth. You can see brushstrokes. If you think of the paint brush that the artist
has used, it’s… it’s made from little hairs; it could be made from horse hair or human
hair. They’ve used a brush of some kind to put the
paint on. So, sometimes you can see on the surface little
lines, which are from the brush, so that’s an interesting thing to look for. You can say: “Oh, look, you can see the brush
strokes, there. Can you see?” So, that’s another thing you can talk about. And if it’s… if the surface is very lumpy,
it means the… the artist has put the paint on very thickly, maybe with a knife or something. So, that’s interesting to look at as well. Some oil paintings are very, very smooth. They’re so smooth that the light sort of reflects
from them, and you have to look at them from a certain angle to stop the light reflecting
at you so you can see properly. The same… if there is some glass covering
the picture, the glass can also reflect the lights from the room, and you can’t see it
properly, so you have to move around a bit to see the details. Okay, so that’s texture. Size is fairly obvious, but if you see a picture
in a book, it’s not so easy. On the page of a book, you wouldn’t know how
large or small the picture was. If you see the original picture in an art
gallery, if it’s a very big picture or a very small picture, that makes a difference in
the effect it has on you as you look at it. So, there’s always that to think of. And just generally, your own personal reaction
is important, as I said earlier. If it makes you laugh; or makes you feel happy
or sad; or it’s confusing, you’re not quite sure what’s going on in the painting so you
feel confused; or even something about the painting annoys you, you feel irritated – you
can say so and try to explain why, what it is about the painting that has that effect
on you. Okay? So, all those things you can talk about. But then if… If you’re a bit unsure, you don’t know what
to say, you can say something like this: “I wonder what the artist is trying to say”,
if it’s just impossible to know what… What to think. Or you can say: “I’ve never seen anything
like that before.” Or just a little bit general: “That’s quite
an interesting work of art”, or interesting or unusual, or challenging, anything like
that; anything you want to call it, really. If you do like it, you can say something like:
“Wow, that’s amazing! I really like that!” If you don’t like it, you can say something
like: “That isn’t really my cup of tea”, “That’s not my favourite style or subject”. You don’t want to be too critical, because
if you are, your friend will think: “Oh, dear, we shouldn’t have come. She’s not enjoying it” or “He’s not enjoying
it.” So, you… Don’t be too negative, but you can say something
politely: “Oh, well, that’s not really my… My sort of thing; my cup of tea.” Okay. And then after a while you probably feel you
want a break; you’re getting a bit tired. You can on-… Only look at so many pictures in one day,
or one afternoon, or morning, so you… You might need a break, so you could say:
“Can we sit down for a while?” Often there are some seats in the gallery
itself so you can sit down and you can still be looking at some pictures as you’re sitting,
and maybe chatting about other things. Or you can say: “Shall we go to the cafe?”
or “Shall we look around the shop?” anything like that just to change… Change your surroundings; have a bit of a
break from looking at the pictures. Okay? So, there we are. That’s the kind of thing to talk about on
a visit to an art gallery. I hope that’s been useful. And at the end of the visit, when you’re saying
good bye to your friend, you can say something like: “Thanks for coming – it’s been great! See you again soon.” Okay? So, there we are. So, you might now like to go to the website:
www.engvid.com where there is a quiz on this subject. You might like to test yourself on that, see
if you remember some of this useful vocabulary. So, thank you very much for watching and see
you again soon. Bye for now.

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