Thursdays in Review

On Thursdays, we read reviews or news stories about art or design and study the language used in them. This week’s article is about Ai Weiwei, a famous Chinese protest artist. He works in many mediums, such as architecture, installation art, and film. Below is the trailer for one of his most recent works, a film about refugees called Human Flow.

Here are the first four paragraphs from NPR Arts & Life, in italics.

Chinese authorities are razing one of the Beijing studios of dissident artist Ai Weiwei. He said that demolition crews showed up without advance warning, and have begun the process of tearing down the studio.

Ai has been a longtime critic of the government, and on Saturday, he began posting videos to his Instagram feed of the studio’s destruction. “Farewell,” Ai wrote. “They started to demolish my studio ‘Zuoyuo’ in Beijing with no precaution.”

“We didn’t receive any advance warning or announcement of the demolition,” Ai told NPR. “We were required to move by a certain date, which we have not yet reached. The demolition came as a surprise.”

Ai continued:

“Works were damaged due to the unannounced attack on the studio. There was no caution taken. However, compared to the memories which have been lost, compared to a society which has never established trust in the social order, a trust in the rule of law, or a trust in any kind of unity in defending the rights of its people, what has been lost at my studio is insignificant, and I don’t even care. There are profoundly deeper and wider ruins in this deteriorating society where the human condition has never been respected.”


My comments:

In the first paragraph, we learn that the Chinese authorities, or people in power, are razing one of Ai Weiwei’s studios. He tells us that the demolition crews showed up without advance warning. A crew is a group of people who do a specified kind of work together. In this case, their work is to demolish his studio. We also see the phrasal verb showed up, which means appeared or arrived. Advance warning means you know something is going to happen before it happens. Tearing down is another phrasal verb which means to completely destroy something.

In the second paragraph, we see the phrase a longtime critic. A critic is someone who shares their opinions about things – it’s similar to the verb critique. We also see the word precaution, which means something that is done to prevent possible harm or trouble from happening in the future.

In the fourth paragraph, which is a quote from the artist, we see the phrase established trust in the social order. To establish something means to create it, and social order means the way a society is organized. We also see the phrase rule of law, which means that everyone in a society must follow the law equally, including the leaders. Insignificant means small or not important. So Ai is saying that Chinese society has never had trust in their social order, their leaders, or in having unity to defend the rights of the people, and so in comparison to this, the loss of his studio is not important. In the last sentence, he uses the words profoundly, which means greatly, and ruin, which means something that is badly damaged. We also see deteriorating, which means to become worse as time passes.

The human condition is a concept that means the most important things that make us human and that we share with other humans, such as birth, growth, our emotions, our dreams, conflicts, and death. So he is saying that there are much greater problems than his studio being destroyed in a society where the human condition has never been respected.

It is always difficult to put the complex ideas of art into words, but it can be even more difficult for a protest artist. It can be a challenge to find the balance between saying something strongly enough that it will get people to pay attention to important issues without saying it so strongly that it gets you into trouble. A good language coach can help you to be sure you’re choosing the words and phrasing that best match your intentions.


At Artglish, we help artists and designers to describe their work with the best vocabulary and language possible. Every Thursday we study reviews and articles to share useful words and phrases to help you improve your reading and writing skills. If you want to learn more, click here to join The Studio and try some free ways to improve your English, or check out our Lessons page to learn how Artglish can help you succeed.

I’ve chosen 5 words or phrases for you to focus on today. They are in bold. If you don’t know them, look up the meaning, synonyms, antonyms, and other forms of these words. You can find links to Merriam-Webster dictionary sites at the bottom of this page.

To read the original article, written by Shannon Van Sant on August 4, 2018, click the link below:
https://www.npr.org/2018/08/04/635654200/ai-wei-weis-beijing-studio-destroyed-by-chinese-authorities

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