This is an explanation for passage 1 of LSAT preptest 71, the December 2013 LSAT. This passage is about Sam Gilliam, an abstract artist who was part of the Washington Color School.
This section has paragraph summaries and an analysis of the passage, links to the explanations for the questions are below.
- Sam Gilliam was part of the Washington Color School, a group of abstract African-American painters.
- Gilliam thought African-American art was too conservative and too overtly political. He wanted art that abstractly expressed the African-American experience.
- Gilliam captured the African-American experience with folded drapes.
I normally don’t teach LSAT vocabulary words, but this passage uses one that crops up often enough that you should know it: representational.
Representational art is the opposite of abstract art. And the word itself contains the key to its definition: representation.
You’ve been to art galleries. You’ve seen abstract art, and representational art, you just didn’t necessarily know the word for the latter. Any picture you saw that painted a real object from the world is “representational”, meaning that a painting of a fruit bowl “represents” the fruit bowl.
Rene Magritte played with this idea in 1928, when he painted “The Treachery Of Images”. It shows a pipe, with the text “this is not a pipe”. The painting is, in fact, not a pipe. It is merely a representation of a pipe.
A purely abstract painting, on the other hand, does not represent anything. Think of Jackson Pollack’s work, or google “Voice of Fire”, a work whose purchase caused no little controversy in Canada.
If you’re clear on representational vs. abstract, then you will find some reading comprehension passages and logical reasoning questions easier to understand.
This passage is a good example. The first paragraph confuses many students. But all it’s really saying is that the Washington Color School was more abstract than preceding groups.
Likewise, look at the start of the second paragraph. Gilliam rejected the strictly representational and explicitly political art of his African-American contemporaries.
It’s easy to read over that sentence and not understand what it’s talking about. But the passage will make more sense if you think of what such a painting would look like.
“The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell is an example of such a piece. Rockwell was not African-American (as a Canadian, I confess ignorance of African-American political art of the 1960s), but his painting is both strictly a representation of a scene, and explicitly political in that Rockwell criticized the crowds who taunted the young girl as she was escorted to school.
Gilliam thought paintings like that were too conservative. He wanted to represent the African-American experience through purely abstract works. Now, I’m not enough of an art connoisseur to understand how abstract works can represent an experience, but you don’t need to know that. If you understand everything I’ve written so far than you know more than most students do when they read this passage.
The final paragraph describes how Gilliam aimed to achieve his effects. I still frankly don’t know enough to say how draped canvasses represented the African-American experience, but that’s not something you need to know. For a paragraph like the third one, you just need to be able to quote details if a question asks about them.
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