Friday, March 16, 2012

Reading Comprehension: Attitude on [Piece]

This is another post describing the classification system Zen of 180 uses for the reading comprehension section; if you're not sure how to approach studying for the LSAT, our 19 reading comprehension standards break it down into manageable chunks; also, our free online LSAT analyzer will let you know which types of passage structures give you the most trouble.

We'll be continuing with the passage we used for primary purpose, but zooming in on identifying the author's attitude on [piece], in this example, Lichtenstein's artwork.

Nigel Farage delivering his opinion on the European Union's handling of member states' sovereignty during the debt crises. Note that this level of passion is common in the real world, but is far more forceful and strongly worded than any LSAT RC passage has ever been.
A common phrase bandied about starts off with: "Opinions are like..." It's important to remember that the LSAT is a stilted version of the real world, if it can even be called a part of it at all. That is, you are far more likely to deal with strongly held opinions in your daily interactions that you are to encounter one on a RC passage. In order to pick up on the cues provided by the author, then, you must be especially sensitive to any whiff of an opinion.

The example question we pulled from the sample questions LSAC provides on its website is a good representative of the attitude on [piece] task, although it is somewhat easy because the passage is overall an opinion structure. The entire purpose of the passage is to outline the author's opinion, and the question zeroes in on the passages' main subject. However, the same skills that we'll outline today will work for all attitude on [piece] questions.

Before we can even get to the question, though, we of course need to go over the passage:
       The painter Roy Lichtenstein helped to define pop
       art—the movement that incorporated commonplace
       objects and commercial-art techniques into paintings
       by paraphrasing the style of comic books in his work.
(5)   His merger of a popular genre with the forms and
       intentions of fine art generated a complex result: while
       poking fun at the pretensions of the art world,
       Lichtenstein’s work also managed to convey a
       seriousness of theme that enabled it to transcend mere
(10) parody.
       That Lichtenstein’s images were fine art was at
       first difficult to see, because, with their word balloons
       and highly stylized figures, they looked like nothing
       more than the comic book panels from which they were
(15) copied. Standard art history holds that pop art emerged
       as an impersonal alternative to the histrionics of
       abstract expressionism, a movement in which painters
       conveyed their private attitudes and emotions using
       nonrepresentational techniques. The truth is that by the
(20) time pop art first appeared in the early 1960s, abstract
       expressionism had already lost much of its force. Pop
       art painters weren’t quarreling with the powerful early
       abstract expressionist work of the late 1940s but with a
       second generation of abstract expressionists whose
(25) work seemed airy, high-minded, and overly lyrical.
       Pop art paintings were full of simple black lines and
       large areas of primary color. Lichtenstein’s work was
       part of a general rebellion against the fading emotional
       power of abstract expressionism, rather than an aloof
(30) attempt to ignore it.
       But if rebellion against previous art by means of
       the careful imitation of a popular genre were all that
       characterized Lichtenstein’s work, it would possess
       only the reflective power that parodies have in relation
(35) to their subjects. Beneath its cartoonish methods, his
       work displayed an impulse toward realism, an urge to
       say that what was missing from contemporary painting
       was the depiction of contemporary life. The stilted
       romances and war stories portrayed in the comic books
(40) on which he based his canvases, the stylized
       automobiles, hot dogs, and table lamps that appeared in
       his pictures, were reflections of the culture Lichtenstein
       inhabited. But, in contrast to some pop art,
       Lichtenstein’s work exuded not a jaded cynicism about
(45) consumer culture, but a kind of deliberate naivete,
       intended as a response to the excess of sophistication
       he observed not only in the later abstract expressionists
       but in some other pop artists. With the comics
       typically the domain of youth and innocenceas his
(50) reference point, a nostalgia fills his paintings that gives
       them, for all their surface bravado, an inner sweetness.
       His persistent use of comic-art conventions
       demonstrates a faith in reconciliation, not only between
       cartoons and fine art, but between parody and true
(55) feeling.
After reading the passage and before you have reached an attitude on [piece] question, you will have hopefully answered a broader, passage structure question or two (main idea, primary purpose, overall organization). The correct answer choice from one of those questions will serve as a great reframing of what the LSAT considers the most important part(s) of the passage, and will thus help you better consider how the author considers the "piece" from the attitude on [piece] question. As a reminder, this passage's primary purpose question and answer was:
The primary purpose of the passage is most likely to
B) clarify the motivation behind an artist’s work
Answer choice B nicely presents an opinion phrase that matches the author's goals: convince the reader of why Lichtenstein chose his complex aesthetic, and explain how those choices achieved that goal and made his work transcend parody into great art.

With that prephrase, we can now better consider the attitude on [piece] question:
Which one of the following best captures the author’s attitude toward Lichtenstein’s work?

(A) enthusiasm for its more rebellious aspects
(B) respect for its successful parody of youth and innocence
(C) pleasure in its blatant rejection of abstract expressionism
(D) admiration for its subtle critique of contemporary culture
(E) appreciation for its ability to incorporate both realism and
Answer choice E captures the author's clear respect for Lichtenstein's ability to create a complex aesthetic by blending contemporary culture with an innocent tone and disarming medium (comics).

While the author clearly has respect for Lichtenstein's work, answer choice A and C probably goes to far in inferring that the author takes pleasure in it; add in the problematic focus on rebelling from or rejecting abstract expressionism rather than celebrating his handling of a complex aesthetic (see lines 5-10), A and C can be quickly removed.

The other answer choices all start off with nouns that appropriately map onto the author's general views of the work. However, a good examinee will remind herself that the author's overall purpose was to argue that Lichtenstein used such a complex aesthetic, drawing from popular culture as well as serious themes, to transcend parody.

Thus, answer choice B will quickly be eliminated because the author thinks that Lichtenstein's work transcends parody by incorporating youth and innocence, not parodying them.

Similarly, answer choice D is clearly incorrect because the author incorporates and celebrates contemporary culture; see the list of topics he draws from in lines 35-48, all of which are parts of his everyday world.