TOEFL Reading Exam - Sample 1.4

The following passage is an excerpt from an article titled “What Is Art For?” that has been published by City Journal, which is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI). Read carefully and answer the questions that follow.

The full article can be accessed here.

Sample Extract

For decades, Western culture has been reluctant to assign an inherent value or a purpose to art—even as it continues to hold art in high esteem. Though we no longer seem comfortable saying so, our reverence for art must be founded on a timeless premise: that art is good for us. If we don’t believe this, then our commitment—in money, time, and study—makes little sense. In what way might art be good for us? The answer, I believe, is that art is a therapeutic instrument: its value lies in its capacity to exhort, console, and guide us toward better versions of ourselves and to help us live more flourishing lives, individually and collectively.

Resistance to such a notion is understandable today, since “therapy” has become associated with questionable, or at least unavailing, methods of improving mental health. To say that art is therapeutic is not to suggest that it shares therapy’s methods but rather its underlying ambition: to help us to cope better with existence. While several predominant ways of thinking about art appear to ignore or reject this goal, their ultimate claim is therapeutic as well.

Art’s capacity to shock remains for some a strong source of its contemporary appeal. We are conscious that, individually and collectively, we may grow complacent; art can be valuable when it disrupts or astonishes us. We are particularly in danger of forgetting the artificiality of certain norms. It was once taken for granted, for instance, that women should not be allowed to vote and that the study of ancient Greek should dominate the curricula of English schools. It’s easy now to see that those arrangements were far from inevitable: they were open to change and improvement.

When Sebastian Errazuriz created dollar signs out of ordinary street markings in Manhattan, his idea was to jolt passersby into a radical reconsideration of the role of money in daily life—to shake us out of our unthinking devotion to commerce and to inspire, perhaps, a more equitable conception of wealth creation and distribution. (One would completely misunderstand the work if it were taken as an encouragement to work harder and get rich.) Yet the shock-value approach depends upon a therapeutic assumption. Shock can be valuable because it may prompt a finer state of mind—more alert to complexity and nuance and more open to doubt. The overarching aim is psychological improvement.

Shock can do little for us, though, when we seek other adjustments to our moods or perceptions. We may be paralyzed by doubt and anxiety and need wise reassurance; we may be lost in the labyrinth of complexity and need simplification; we may be too pessimistic and need encouragement. Shock is pleasing to its adherents in its assumption that our primary problem is complacency. Ultimately, however, it is a limited response to impoverished thinking, timid or ungenerous reactions, or meanness of spirit.

Another way of addressing these shortcomings is to pursue a deeper understanding of the past. Vittore Carpaccio’s painting The Healing of the Madman offers a rare visual record of the Rialto Bridge—then still made of wood—before it was reconstructed, so it has much to teach us about the architecture of Venice circa 1500. It’s also highly instructive about ceremonial processions, the prominent civic role of religion (and its intersection with commerce), how patricians and gondoliers dressed, how ordinary people wore their hair, and much else. We also gain insight into how the painter imagined the past; the ceremony depicted took place over 100 years before the picture was painted. We learn something about the economics of art—the image is part of a series commissioned by a wealthy commercial fraternity. In a less scholarly way, the richness with which a past era becomes visually present allows us to imagine what it would have been like to clatter across the wooden bridge, to be rocked along the canals in a covered gondola, and to live in a society in which belief in miracles was part of the state ideology.

We value historical information of this kind for various reasons: because we want to understand more about our ancestors and how they lived and because we hope to gain insight from these distant people and cultures. But these efforts lead back, eventually, to a single idea: that we might benefit from an encounter with history as revealed in art. In other words, the historical approach does not deny that the value of art is ultimately therapeutic—it assumes this, even if it tends to forget or dismiss the point. Hence the irony (to put it gently) of scholarly resistance to the idea of art’s therapeutic benefit. Erudition is valuable only as a means to an end, which is to shed light on our present needs.

Sample Questions

Q1. The passage opens with an indication towards a dilemma about art. Identify it from the given options.

A) Being confused about whether art is good for us

B) Putting a price on art by looking at creations

C) Reluctance to measure its value or outline its purpose

D) Recognising art as therapy

Q2. Complete the following statement:

The writer opines that we hold art in “high esteem” because we _______________.

A) believe art is good for us

B) do not understand it

C) cannot participate in it

D) cannot produce it

Q3. The writer mentions that “art is a therapeutic instrument” but it is not a therapy in conventional sense. What can be the possible contextual meanings of the word therapeutic/therapy here?

A) treatment, curative

B) restorative, infuse with positivity

C) tonic, healing

D) None of the above

Q4. The passage presents two different points of view about art:

(i) Art guides us to become a better self and helps us cope with our existence

(ii) Art shocks us

Identify the wrong inference among the listed options.

A) The statements are antithetical and present the differing impact of art upon life

B) The statements are complimentary in their outcome despite being diabolical

C) The statements present two of the many shades of art

D) The statements are loosely presented and confusing

Q5. The passage presents various ideas and facts about shock. Identify the right ones from the following:

(i) Shock is therapeutic at times

(ii) Shock can be a valuable experience

(iii) Shock is a vital element of creativity

(iv) Shock is seen by a lot of people as a cure for complacency

(v) Shock can prompt us to be paralysed in our sensibilities

A) (i), (ii), (iii) are True; (iv) and (v) are False

B) (i), (iv) and (v) are True; (ii) and (iii) are False

C) (i), (ii), (iv) and (v) are True; (iii) is False

D) All the options are correct

Q6. Which of the sentences below best express(es) the essential information in the following sentence?

“When Sebastian Errazuriz created dollar signs out of ordinary street markings in Manhattan, his idea was to jolt passersby into a radical reconsideration of the role of money in daily life—to shake us out of our unthinking devotion to commerce and to inspire, perhaps, a more equitable conception of wealth creation and distribution.”

(i) Sebastian Errazuriz' creation of the dollar sign, having been inspired from ordinary Manhattan street signs, provokes some thoughts about the role of money in life: leading us away from commerce to an equitable concept of wealth.

(ii) The history of the dollar sign makes us ponder upon a more equitable idea of wealth creation and distribution, not just commerce.

(iii) Sebastian Errazuriz was inspired by basic street signs when he created the dollar sign and this makes one move away from dry commerce to the idea of inclusive wealth creation.

A) (i)

B) (ii)

C) (iii)

D) All the options are correct

Q7. The passage refers to “impoverished thinking”. What could be the possible contextual meanings of the expression? Choose the right option.

A) Lacking inspiration in one’s thinking

B) Having thoughts without much value

C) Having no intellectual depth in thinking

D) All of the above

Q8. The last two paragraphs connect two very different faculties. What are they?

A) Painting and music

B) Art and history

C) Architecture and art

D) Psychology and history

Q9. The article refers to two artists, two cities and two artworks and two genres:

Sebastian Errazuriz, The dollar sign, Venice, Vittore Carpaccio, Design, The Healing of the Madman, Manhattan, Painting

Identify the right combinations for the correct answer.

A) Sebastian Errazuriz-Venice-Design-Manhattan

B) The dollar sign-Manhattan-The Healing of the Madman-Painting

C) Vittore Carpaccio-Venice-The Healing of the Madman-Design

D) None of the above

Q10. What is the predominant theme explored in the article?

A) The meaning and value of art

B) Art as a means of shock

C) The therapeutic value/role of art

D) Cannot say

(Answers on Next Page)

Related Links