Learn IELTS Vocabulary: Art

Oct 18, 2023 | IELTS Test

IELTS Speaking Test Sample: 

Art has been a common topic and often appears as a Part 1 question set, e.g Painting and Drawing, or as a Part 2 subject (see the example below). 

Read the following speaking-style questions, paying close attention to words you dont know and the words in bold. There are definitions for the words in bold at the end of the page.

Before you read the conversation, you might like to download this free PDF quiz and have a go at completing the blanks.

Part 1-style questions

Examiner: Did you enjoy growing up in your hometown?

Candidate: For the most part, I did. We lived on the edge of town, not far from the countryside, and so my friends and I were able to enjoy activities like riding our bikes to have a picnic somewhere, for example by a river, where we could also go swimming. 

There was also a public park with playing fields close to our home, so we could go there to play football after school or on the weekends. 

Examiner: What would you recommend a tourist do in your hometown?  

Candidate: Hmm…..It’s not a large town so, frankly, it doesn’t usually attract large numbers of visitors. But one place I guess would be interesting is a large miniature railway layout near the town centre, that was built about 90 years ago by a wealthy factory owner. It’s got stations, tunnels, a castle, farmlands, and you can ride on the train itself. That’d be special fun for families with young children. 

Examiner: Do you think you will live in your hometown in the future?

Candidate: Well, probably not. I mean…I’ll always have a strong attachment to it, and with family and good friends still resident there, I’ll go back for regular visits. But job opportunities are limited, and for graduates like myself, there will generally be more, and better paying, positions in the large cities. 

Examiner: Let’s talk about friends. Do you have a lot of friends?

Candidate: I’m not sure what constitutes a “lot.” I guess I’m probably average in the number I’d consider a friend, which is more than just being an acquaintance or someone you know in passing. For close friends that I’m in contact with more often, there would be say five or six. 

Examiner: What do you like to do when you get together with your friends? 

Candidate: Let’s see…… A number of things. We might meet for a meal, or just a chat over coffee or tea at a cafe. Sometimes there’s a sports event like a local football or tennis match that we’ll go to. We’re generally quite a sports-minded bunch

We also like pop and rock music, so if there’s a concert on that we can get to, we’ll generally make an effort to go.

Examiner: How long have you known your oldest friend? 

Candidate: Oh…many years now. That would be Jennifer, whom I’ve known from early days at primary school. We hit it off right away, and have been great friends ever since. Unfortunately, for me that is, she left two years ago to study in Australia, but we still get together when she’s back in our hometown during vacation time. 

Examiner: Do you think you’ll make new friends in the future?  

Candidate: I think so. I hope so. When we start work in a company or organisation, we’re normally going to find colleagues with whom we work and socialise, and some of them are likely to become true friends. 

Plus, social media means we can make contact with several new people with whom we share interests and experiences. Even if we can’t meet in person, we can still converse face-to-face online and get to know each other to the point that it’s reasonable to say we are friends.  

Part 2

image of some paintbrushes with a blank canvas in the background

Describe a piece of art you like.

You should say:

  •  what the work of art is 
  •  when you first saw it
  •  what you know about it

and explain why you like it. 

Candidate:  An oil painting I like is called The Flowers of Evil, by the Belgian artist Rene Magritte. It was painted I think in 1946, and I first saw it in a book on 20th Century modern art which I borrowed from the university library in my first undergraduate year. Art wasn’t in my course of subjects, but I saw this large book on display as a new acquisition on a table in the library, and as soon as it became available to borrow, I took it out.

The painting is in what they call a surrealist or symbolic style. This kind of style is not everyone’s cup of tea, for sure, but I generally find it engaging. Magritte  painted a number of other well-known artworks in this fashion too, which I also find interesting.  He usually took everyday objects or figures and put them into odd situations, which are kind of thought-provoking. 

Flowers of Evil shows a female nude from head down to her knees, and in some way she looks like a sort of sculpture. Her colour I suppose would be described as flesh-toned, but it’s kind of very creamy and exaggerated. She has a rather blank expression, and her right side is largely in shadow. Her right hand rests on what looks like a large piece of stone, and her left hand holds a single flower pointing downwards – it looks like a rose, again kind of flesh-coloured.

She’s posed between two red curtains or drapes behind, and it looks like the sea or maybe a lake in the distance beyond her.  

I believe the original painting is held in a museum in Brussels. If I ever get to Europe, I’ll make an effort to go and see it if I can.

Then, why do I like it? Well, it’s really an intriguing piece, isn’t it? Why is it called “Flowers,” plural, when there is just one flower and it’s hardly the main feature in the scene? How can flowers be “evil”? There’s so much more I’d like to know about why Magritte chose that title. In French it’s Les Fleurs du Mal, which is also the title of a book of poetry by the poet Baudelaire from the mid-19th century. I understand Magritte was a great reader, so it would seem there’s some kind of connection he saw there. 

Anyway, it’s always fascinated me since I first saw it. Last year I ordered a large print of it online, which is now framed and hanging on my bedroom wall.    

Examiner [follow-up question]: Thank you. Are you generally interested in art? 

Candidate: I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as an art lover, but yes, it’s fair to say I’m quite interested in seeing different styles. I sometimes go to art exhibitions at our local museum. 

Part 3-style questions

Examiner: So we’ve been talking about a piece of art you like. I’d like to ask you one or two  more general questions on the subject of art.

What kind of art do people in your country favour if they want something in their own home? [Evaluate]

Candidate: Different people have different tastes, but most older Chinese people would probably choose something in a traditional or classic style. Typically, water colours showing scenes such as someone fishing on the river, horses running in a field, fish, flowers and so on. Quite often with some kind of calligraphy here too. But younger people nowadays are quite likely to go for something more modern, possibly more abstract, whether Chinese or western in origin.

Examiner: Do you think schools should have at least one class a week devoted to art in some way? [Agree/Disagree]

Candidate: Certainly. Especially for elementary and junior high school level. Giving pupils even, say, just an hour a week to learn about art and to paint and draw themselves is a great break from constantly studying the core subjects. Some who are naturally talented can develop their skills further, if they have an experienced teacher, and even those who are not so gifted can still have the chance to express themselves … be a bit creative. 

Examiner: Do you think something produced by AI can really be regarded as art? [Agree/Disagree]

Candidate: That’s really a tough one, isn’t it? I’m just not sure, one way or the other. This is an area of technology that is advancing so quickly, and it’s quite controversial with AI programs able to write whole stories, compose music, and draw or paint to instructions.

I have to say, for me there’s something that just doesn’t sit quite right about the idea of a computer program producing true artwork, rather than a human. Although, looking at it from another viewpoint, all the computer is doing is calling on all the previously human-sourced elements and styles to come up with its output. Perhaps the test is to ask someone what they think of a particular graphic production without telling him or her that it is AI-generated? If they say, for example, “That’s really beautiful,” or “That’s certainly interesting,” on what basis would we argue with their opinion

Definitions for IELTS Achievement Vocabulary

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Part 1

For the most part  — This is just a variation of saying mainly, principally, or mostly.  

Frankly — This, and to be frank, is very similar in meaning to honestly, to be honest, in fact or actually. 

Constitutes – To constitute (something) is a higher-level way of expressing to make up, to form, to qualify as, or to be seen as. 

Bunch – When used in this context to describe people, it is an informal alternative to group

Hit it off –  an informal way of saying to get on well together. Similarly, you might hear someone say “We clicked.” 

Part 2

Surrealist — If something is described as surreal, it is seen as very strange, odd, and not what one would normally expect to see. The Surrealists were artists and writers whose work was in this style, intended to be thought-provoking in some way. Famous artists besides Magritte include Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso, while authors include Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut, and some of the works of Franz Kafka.

Cup of tea —  An idiom, meaning not to one’s taste, favour or liking. (Note that it is always expressed in a negative form. It would sound odd to the listener if you were to say you found something to be your “cup of tea.”) 

Engaging In this context, it means interesting, or attracting one’s attention in some way.  

IntriguingThis is somewhat similar to engaging, but with a rather stronger implication, similar perhaps to fascinating. If something intrigues us, it generally suggests there is something of a mystery or something unknown about whatever is in question.  

Part 3

Advancing – Moving forward or making progress, often in the context of technological development.

Controversial – Causing disagreement or discussion due to opposing opinions or views.

Doesn’t sit quite right — This is a slightly informal way of saying something doesn’t seem or feel quite right or correct. (Note that similar to cup of tea above, it is always expressed in the negative form.) 

Graphic Production – The creation or generation of visual images, designs, or artwork, often digital or computer-generated.

AI-Generated – Produced or created by artificial intelligence (AI) systems or programs.

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