IELTS Academic Reading Sample 1.2

Here below are the opening paragraphs of an essay “The Creative Process” by James Baldwin (from Creative America, Ridge Press, 1962). Read the extract and answer the questions that follow.


Sample Extract

(I) Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality—a banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed. Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world. There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone. But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself. The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.

(II) The state of being alone is not meant to bring to mind merely a rustic musing beside some silver lake. The aloneness of which I speak is much more like the aloneness of birth or death. It is like the fearless alone that one sees in the eyes of someone who is suffering, whom we cannot help. Or it is like the aloneness of love, the force and mystery that so many have extolled and so many have cursed, but which no one has ever understood or ever really been able to control. I put the matter this way, not out of any desire to create pity for the artist—God forbid!—but to suggest how nearly, after all, is his state the state of everyone, and in an attempt to make vivid his endeavor. The state of birth, suffering, love, and death are extreme states—extreme, universal, and inescapable. We all know this, but we would rather not know it. The artist is present to correct the delusions to which we fall prey in our attempts to avoid this knowledge. 

(III) It is for this reason that all societies have battled with the incorrigible disturber of the peace—the artist. I doubt that future societies will get on with him any better. The entire purpose of society is to create a bulwark against the inner and the outer chaos, in order to make life bearable and to keep the human race alive. And it is absolutely inevitable that when a tradition has been evolved, whatever the tradition is, the people, in general, will suppose it to have existed from before the beginning of time and will be most unwilling and indeed unable to conceive of any changes in it. They do not know how they will live without those traditions that have given them their identity. Their reaction, when it is suggested that they can or that they must, is panic. And we see this panic, I think, everywhere in the world today, from the streets of New Orleans to the grisly battleground of Algeria. And a higher level of consciousness among the people is the only hope we have, now or in the future, of minimizing human damage. 

(IV) The artist is distinguished from all other responsible actors in society—the politicians, legislators, educators, and scientists—by the fact that he is his own test tube, his own laboratory, working according to very rigorous rules, however unstated these may be, and cannot allow any consideration to supersede his responsibility to reveal all that he can possibly discover concerning the mystery of the human being. Society must accept some things as real; but he must always know that visible reality hides a deeper one, and that all our action and achievement rest on things unseen. A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven. One cannot possibly build a school, teach a child, or drive a car without taking some things for granted. The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.

 (V) I seem to be making extremely grandiloquent claims for a breed of men and women historically despised while living and acclaimed when safely dead. But, in a way, the belated honor that all societies tender their artists proven the reality of the point I am trying to make. I am really trying to make clear the nature of the artist’s responsibility to his society. The peculiar nature of this responsibility is that he must never cease warring with it, for its sake and for his own. For the truth, in spite of appearances and all our hopes, is that everything is always changing and the measure of our maturity as nations and as men is how well prepared we are to meet these changes, and further, to use them for our health.


Sample Questions

Q1. According to the author, what state of being is explored and presented by an artist? Choose the right option referring to Paragraph (I) of the extract.

A) Having a family

B) Being alone

C) Being knowledgeable

D) None of the above

Q2. Evaluate the following sentence in light of Paragraph (I) and choose the right option:

Being alone is being lonely and desolate, having no work or family.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot Say

D) Not given

Q3. The author writes about a paradoxical truth regarding “aloneness” in Paragraph (II). Identify correctly and answer.

A) Aloneness is like being beside a lake on your own

B) Aloneness is a curse

C) Aloneness is that of life and death and state of being in love

D) Aloneness is a delusion presented by an artist

Q4. Complete the second half of the following sentence based on your reading of the Paragraph (III) of the passage:

The society’s endeavour has always been, and will always be to _________________ .

A) disrespect the artist

B) help people understand the artist

C) prevent people from becoming artists

D) subdue the deeper consciousness of people with a barrage of mundane and chaotic reality

E) None of the above

Q5. What is the author’s opinion about traditions?

A) Traditions once established, become fundamental to existence

B) Traditions support the efforts of an artist

C) Traditions can be detrimental for a healthy society

D) None of the above

Q6. Evaluate the following sentence:

According to the author, traditions trap people into a prison of a particular train of thought and behaviour and they do not prefer to break them. It actually takes a revolution to break or change prevalent traditions.

A) Partly True

B) Partly False

C) True

D) False

E) Not given

Q7. Who among the options has not been referred to by the author to be one of the “responsible actors in society?”

A) Philosopher

B) Politician

C) Legislator

D) Scientist

E) Teacher

Q8. Complete the following sentence:

Unlike other vocations where a part of reality must be subdued to get the work done, the artist cannot _________________________.

A) get the work done

B) participate in politics

C) overwrite history

D) take anything for granted

Q9. In the paragraph marked (IV) a word that means to override is

A) Granted

B) Supersede

C) Action

D) Rigorous

E) None of the above

Q10. In the paragraph marked (V) a word that means uncanny is

A) warring

B) changing

C) acclaimed

D) peculiar

Q11. Based on your reading of the extract, suggest an alternative title to it, considering it to be a whole.

Q12. What is the author’s view regarding the role of artists in society? Write briefly within 75 words.

Q13. Do you agree with the view that artists are respected only when they are “safely dead?” Write your answer using 75 words.

(Answers on Next Page)

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