SAT Passage Based Reading: Test 3

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Directions: The passage below is followed by questions about its content. Answer these passage-based reading questions on the basis of what is stated or implied.

Questions #1-6 are based on the following passage.

As difficult as it may be to comprehend the abstract shapes and forms of contemporary paintings and sculptures, it may be even more difficult for most people today to appreciate the art of ancient times. Though the individuals who create these works thousands of years ago were not, mentally or emotionally, so different from ourselves, few of us are willing to do what is necessary to understand the true beauty of ancient masterpieces.

But what, after all, is required of the viewer to understand the beauty of art, beyond the capacity to perceive it? Why should ancient art require more effort to appreciate than contemporary works? The answer, in a word, is context. In order to obtain a new sense of meaning in a work of art, we must interpret its depictions using the cultural language of our time. If we see a painting of a man in a business suit or a hard hat, we have some idea of what his life is like and can therefore understand the work emotionally. Even abstract works are prone to the effects of cultural context; our aesthetic sensibilities for features like shape and color are shaped from birth by the colors and shapes that appear in our environment.

For modern art, these examples might seem obvious, even trivial. Virtually everyone possesses the necessary contextual frame to understand the contemporary art of their own particular culture. When viewing ancient art, however, most of us fail to realize how very different the artist’s life was from our own, and we end up seeing through the wrong set of eyes. Take, for instance, a very simple visual figure: the straight line. Though common in today’s man-made world, straight-lines are rare in nature, so their meaning would be much different to, say, a cave painter, whose only common experiences with them might be in tree trunks and the flat line of the horizon. Color is another example. Our immediate surroundings are literally saturated with thousands of colors, but think about how different the world of color would be to an artist in an ancient forest and one in the desert. How very different must the concept of “greenness” be for each, one surrounded by it constantly, the other viewing it only rarely. Consider tales of certain Amazon tribes, raised in such thick jungle that their visual world was at all times limited to objects a few feet in front of them. When taken out onto the plains and shown mountains for the first time, such tribesmen became disoriented and could not understand why they could not reach out and touch them. As difficult as it may have been for them to appreciate our visual world, it would be equally difficult for us to appreciate theirs.

These differences obviously extend to more complex visual forms, and, in some cases, we can only speculate about the metaphorical meanings of the figures in ancient artwork. We must always keep in mind that art strives not only to depict, but also to evoke, and, as such, our understanding is always limited by our knowledge of the artist’s time and place.

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Question 1
The passage can best be described as a discussion of

the differences between the treatment of artists in ancient and modern times
the ways in which art can affect the prevailing beliefs in a society
the influence of culture on one’s ability to appreciate the works of art
the various forms of expression that have been popular throughout the centuries
the contrast between the subject matters of ancient and contemporary art
Question 1 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (C). The final sentence of the passage clarifies its overall meaning and scope: those who study and view works of art must "keep in mind” a certain consideration. The scope of the passage is on the perspective of the viewer and how that perspective allows for or inhibits an appreciation of a work of art. Details in the other answer choices may have been mentioned in the passage, but this “Main Idea” question is asking about the passage as a whole.
Question 2
As it is used in paragraph 2, “capacity” most nearly means

Question 2 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (C). In the context of the passage, “capacity” is referred to as the viewer’s ability to “perceive” or “sense” the work of art. Don’t be fooled by option (A), another common definition for the word “capacity” but one that is incorrect within the context of the passage.
Question 3
The “tales of certain Amazon tribes” (paragraph 3) most likely refers to

ancient legends handed down through oral tradition
cultural studies published by anthropologists
fictional examples used for illustrative purposes
well-known myths that have been thoroughly debunked
children’s stories intended to educate and amuse
Question 3 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (B). The author is using the story of the Amazon tribes to back up his claims with solid evidence. It is unlikely he would use fictional examples, myths, or children’s stories as solid evidence. More than likely, this account is from some type of scientific journal. The most reasonable inference here is that the example is part of an anthropological account from a scientific study.
Question 4
The author implies that many people do not fully appreciate ancient art because they

mistakenly believe that ancient people were too unsophisticated to produce artwork of lasting value
have a greater interest in artwork that is more topical and current
assume that it had mostly religious, not aesthetic, value
know too little about is cultural background to understand the artist’s perspective
have difficulty accessing museums that display ancient artwork
Question 4 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (D). The word “implies” tells us this is an Inference regardless. The correct answer will be supported by evidence from the passage and follow closely the author’s opinion. The answer to this question is in the second paragraph. In line 13, the author answers his own rhetorical question. Viewers of art require “context” to understand it fully – the greater the context about the artist’s life and world, the greater the understanding.
Question 5
The author’s opinion of the general public could most accurately be described as

honestly flabbergasted
deeply disgruntled
eagerly subservient
respectfully uninterested
gently superior
Question 5 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (E). The phrase “could most accurately” indicates this is an Inference question – we must reasonably infer the tone of the passage. Throughout the passage, the author mentions the general public requires “context” to understand art, and in the final paragraph states our “understanding is always limited.” In the first paragraph he mentions the fact that “few of us are willing to do what is necessary” to understand and fully appreciate ancient art. These examples indicate a tone that is not entirely positive – the author believes the general public has trouble comprehending ancient art, and implies a slight laziness. (E) best matches this position, while (B) is far too negative to match this passage’s tone.
Question 6
In the final paragraph, the author’s assumption is that

art’s ability to evoke feelings depends mainly on the viewer’s understanding of cultural context
the feelings one experiences due to a work of art rely on empathizing with the artist’s suffering
each era will experience the same work of art in wildly different ways
accurately depicting the subject matter has nothing to do with artwork’s aesthetic value
most people tend to concentrate on the historical, rather than the technical, merits of ancient art
Question 6 Explanation: 
The correct answer is (A). The question limits the scope of the answer to the final paragraph. In it, the author states that art strives to “depict, but also to evoke” and that our “understanding is…limited by our knowledge of the artist’s time and place.” Choice (A) is an accurate rephrase of this sentiment. Be wary of choices that use information from other paragraphs, or which reuse keywords from the passage but distort the meaning (as in choice (D)).
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