CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6
You are going to read four extracts from introductions to books on popular culture. For questions 37-40, choose from the reviews A-D. The extracts may be chosen more than once.
An introduction to popular culture
Four writers summarise their beliefs about various aspects of popular culture
The whole concept of ‘popular culture’ is a relatively modern one and as a phenomenon it is key to the understanding of any modern society. Earnest studies on the subject are abound and indeed there are whole branches of academia dedicated to research and theories on the topic, but in many cases what these do is over-complicate something that is in reality a relatively simple matter. Popular culture springs from small groups of like-minded people getting together with new ideas and then it spreads out to the population at large if they find these ideas appealing. Much of it relates to the young and for them it gives a happy sense of being separate from other generations and therefore ‘special’ in some way.
Popular culture may once have sprung from the people themselves, and indeed this was the original definition of the term for many experts, but it is naive to consider that this remains the case. Instead, it has become something imposed on the public from on high, a business commodity that merely pretends to have its roots in the creativity of ‘the people’ but in fact is simply a money-making enterprise like any other. What people choose to buy and consume in the area of popular culture speaks volumes about their society and is a main indicator of what that society is like. This is especially true in the area of ‘youth culture’, where the young gain a sense of self and of belonging via shared tastes and possessions. Studies of popular culture tend to focus on the more exciting aspects and to ignore the more mundane, which ironically are often the most interesting.
To summarise it briefly, popular culture is developed by the people for the people and when it has become popular enough, commodified for profit by the business world. Studies of popular culture have proliferated over the years, and experts in the field have developed their own vocabulary and criteria for analysing it. These studies often stress the social aspects rather than the commercial ones. For the younger participants in popular culture, these issues are irrelevant, as what they get from it is a sense of identifying with a particular contemporary group, a comforting sense of community. They are disinclined to analyse this themselves. It is worth remembering, however, that at any age, popular culture is often a minority interest – today’s media like to give the impression that the vast majority of people are swept up in it whereas this is frequently not the case.
If ordinary members of the public were to read most of the worthy studies of popular culture that academics produce, they would find them overblown and ridiculous in taking such everyday and essentially trivial things so seriously. In the media, excitable journalists and experts exaggerate the importance to most people of the current popular culture phenomena, which in reality do not much occupy the minds of most people. The one area where these observations may not hold true, however, is among the young, where popular culture can have undue influence, encouraging them to acquire unrealistic ideas about how they can live their lives and therefore potentially having a damaging effect on their futures. One of the more interesting aspects of popular culture for all ages is its unpredictability – a new phenomenon can suddenly emerge that grips a section of society and that takes the commercial world entirely by surprise, forcing it to react swiftly to keep up and to capitalise on that latest phenomenon.
Which writer …
37 takes a similar view to writer A on studies of popular culture?
38 differs from the others on what causes popular culture to arise?
39 shares writer B’s opinion on the significance of popular culture?
40 has a different opinion from the others on the impact of popular culture on young people?
CAE Reading and Use of English Part 7
You are going to read a review about an art exhibition. Six paragraphs have been removed from the article. Choose from the paragraphs A – G the one which fits each gap (41-46). There is one extra paragraph which you do not need to use.
An exhibition of works by the artist John Craxton
‘A World of Private Mystery: John Craxton RA’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum is a small show, but it does full justice to an artist whose career divides into two parts: the years before and during the Second World War, and the work he did afterwards, when for long periods he lived outside England.
It begins with his small-scale landscapes in pen and ink, pastel, gouache and watercolour. His subject is arcadia, but a distinctly English one in which poets and shepherds sleep and dream amid blasted landscapes under darkening skies. Suffused with longing and foreboding, these works reflect the reality of living in a rain-sodden country under constant threat of foreign invasion.
Most of the early work is monochrome. In many landscapes, writhing branches and gnarled tree trunks fill our field of vision. Beneath the surface of the self-consciously ‘poetic’ motifs, the country he shows in these pictures feels claustrophobic and joyless.
As this exhibition makes clear, by the age of 25 Craxton’s artistic identity had matured. With his style, subject matter and working method all fully formed, it is hard to imagine how he would have developed had he remained in England after the war.
On his first visit to Greece in 1946, Craxton was swept away by the light, colour, landscape, food and people. The dark cloud that hung over the work he did in England lifts and overnight his palette changes to clear blue, green and white.
Goats, fish, cats or a frieze of sailors dancing on the edge of the sea: in the Greek paintings beautiful creatures move naturally across bare rocks and blue waters. The compressed joy you find in these pictures doesn’t exist elsewhere in British post-war art. With a few interruptions, Craxton would spend the rest of his life in Crete.
But if there is little exploration or discovery in Craxton’s later work, you find instead a sense of fullness and completion, a feeling that in accepting his limitations, he remained true to himself. As he once said, it can work best in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than art; then I find it’s possible to feel a real person – real people, real elements, real windows – real sun above all. In a life of reality, my imagination really works. I feel like an emigre in London and squashed flat.’
It’s most noticeable in the works on canvas, especially in formal portraits like his 1946 ‘Girl with a Cock’ and it’s there too in the faceted geometric planes of Greek landscapes like his panoramic view of Hydra of 1960-61.
Craxton wasn’t an artist of the first rank but he was inimitable. This show is just the right scale and it comes with a beautifully illustrated book about his life and work.
A It comes across this way even when he uses strong colour, as in one sunlit landscape in particular, where the yellow is harsh and the red murky. It’s as though he’s painting something he’d heard about but never actually seen: sunlight.
В It was not only London that oppressed his spirit, I think, but the overwhelming power of the new art being made in Paris by Picasso, Miro and Leger. In assessing Craxton’s work, you have to accept his debt to these artists, and particularly Picasso.
C And though he would paint large scale murals and design stage sets and tapestries, neither his subject matter nor his style changed in any fundamental way during that period. It may sound harsh, but when he decided to live there permanently, he elected to write himself out of the history of art.
D Indeed, I well remember how I’d step into a large gallery, hung floor to ceiling with paintings, and out of the visual cacophony a single picture would leap off the wall. It was always by John Craxton.
E My guess is he’d have responded blindly to market forces and critical pressure to do new things. What he needed was to develop at his own pace – even if at times that meant standing still. But to do that he had to leave the country.
F They do so through tightly hatched lines and expressive distortion which ratchet up the emotional intensity, as in his illustrations for an anthology of poetry. In these, a single male figure waits and watches in a dark wood by moonlight.
G Gone are his melancholy self-portraits in the guise of a shepherd or poet – and in their place we find real shepherds (or rather goat-herd) tending living animals. Now Craxton is painting a world outside himself, not one that existed largely in his imagination.