Read the text carefully and answer the questions that follow it. Use your own words throughout as far as possible.

An artist friend of mine recently presented me with an enormous portrait of myself completely out of the blue. It was a real shock which rendered me speechless for several minutes as I fought for the right thing to say. The portrait was horrendous. I was so concerned not to offend my friend by revealing my true emotions that I went way over the top with vacuous flattery2: I simply loved it, the best painting I’d ever seen, I would treasure it forever. I silently knew that I could never live with it.

But this monstrous caricature moved into the flat and was here to stay. As I sat and stared at it (at me!) it began seriously to disturb me. Was this how I really looked? Did the artist really see me like this? My flatmate said there was something positively evil about it, and thought the artist must hate me with a vengeance, while others thought it was a joke.

When I saw the photograph from which the portrait had been taken, I could vaguely see a resemblance. But I had looked like that only for the millisecond during which the camera shutter had been open; the artist had captured me in that form4 forever. I knew she was not trying for a literal likeness (the camera had done that, sort of5) but was seeking to portray the essence of my personality, or some characteristic of my inner soul. When I looked at my portrait I expected to recognise some part of me, but all I saw was this vile lump.

The problem I faced was what to do when the artist came round to the flat. After declaring dishonestly how much I loved it, how would I be able to explain its absence from my walls? How would she attract new commissions (which she desperately needed) if it wasn’t prominently displayed? How could I say I was so attached to it that I’d had to put it in the attic for future generations to find? Or should I bring it out just before her visit? Supposing I forgot one time? I would have to live that lie9 forever. That fear destroyed our friendship.

Now it has happened again. Another friend has just changed careers and taken up painting. I thought it my duty to support and encourage her (as good friends do). She suggested I commission her to paint a picture of my mother’s house, as I was stuck for a present for her birthday. When it eventually arrived it was a real horror. I knew my mother would hate it. It was totally unsympathetic to the feel and character of the little country cottage, all overgrown with rambling wild roses.

This friend had been to the cottage on many occasions and I thought she had shared in its tranquil and timeless atmosphere. But she had chosen to portray it as a shocking confusion of violent and clashing colour. I tried to be objective and judge it as a work of art, but it was too personal; however I looked at it, it was my mother’s home and the place where I had spent an idyllic childhood. I felt it was insensitive and insulting.

The dreaded moment came when she asked me what I’d thought of it. I um’d and ah’d and played for time12. I really tried to like it so that my critical appraisal could gush with sincerity. As I had been in this situation before, I was determined to be honest this time and not get tied up in knots of deceit13. Then my friend asked me whether my mother liked the painting. I said I thought so, that it already had pride of place14 up on the wall. This was hardly critical, but not effervescent with praise either. She immediately went into a massive sulk that unleashed a string of pent-up emotions about what a bad friend I was. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

(adapted from Kat Thurson’s ‘Honest Opinions’)

Questions

1 How did the writer react when the portrait was presented to her and why did she react in this way?

2 What does the writer mean by ‘I went way over the top with vacuous flattery’?

3 What explanations did other people give for the way the portrait looked?

4 What does ‘in that form’ refer to?

5 What does the writer mean by ‘sort of’?

6 What had the artist attempted and not attempted to do in the painting?

7 Why was the writer worried about the artist visiting her and noticing that the painting was not displayed?

8 What did the writer consider telling the artist about the painting when she visited her?

9 What was ‘that lie’ that the writer would have to ‘live forever’?

10 Why did the writer commission a painting of her mother’s house?

11 Why did the writer have strong feelings about the cottage?

12 What does the writer mean by the phrase ‘played for time’?

13 What are the ‘knots of deceit’ mentioned in this context?

14 Explain the phrase ‘had pride of place’.

15 How did the artist react to the writer’s comments and why did she react in this way?

16 In a paragraph of 70–90 words, explain what the writer disliked about the two paintings.

Sample Answers

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