How many faces of poverty do you know? Are you aware of the working poor phenomenon in the richest countries on this planet? What’s chronic poverty, generational poverty? Are there any institutions* that advocate change and fight for systemic changes to eradicate the problem? Can we really do away with the sources of poverty, i.e. conflicts, discrimination, unemployment, climate change, racism, abuse, addiction, food and shelter insecurities, limited access to clean water, education, healthcare to name a few?


Let’s learn more about the way poverty has been handled by the world of art.


Task 1

You may be familiar with Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up”. Have a look at a few lines from the song related to the hardship of life.  Notice the spoken grammar forms (ain’t/gonna/ain’t meant to), abbreviations (‘cause), double negation (ain’t no///a no-no in standard English) etc. Then, listen to the tribute paid to the singer and follow the song with lyrics.

“….. to my sister on welfare…….dry your eyes….forgive, but don’t forget…

…time to heal our women, be real to our women and if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies that make the babies…….I know you are fed up, but keep your head up…

….I remember Marvin Gaye used to sing to me, he had me feeling like black was the thing to be, and suddenly the ghetto didn’t seem so tough, and though we had it rough, we always had enough…

…and I realize momma really paid the price, she nearly gave her life to raise me right….

…it’s hard to be legit and still pay the rent…

..I try to find my friends, but they’re blowing in the wind, last night my buddy lost his whole family, It’s gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity….

….You know, it’s funny, when it rains it pours, they got money for war, but can’t feed the poor, say there ain’t no hope for the youth and the truth is it ain’t no hope for the future. And they wonder why we crazy, I blame my mother for turning my brother into a crack baby, we ain’t meant to survive, ‘cause it is a set-up

..don’t blame me, I was given this world, I didn’t make it…”

Task 2


“Caravaggio, Bruegel and Van Gogh all made studies of the poor in spite of rich patronage. Why aren’t more artists doing that now?” asks J. Jones in his article about the way artists have approached the issue. Read a fragment of the text and choose the correct linking words.

“(…)The urban poor, shoeless 1______ ragged, populate baroque art. In Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Harvesters, peasants enjoy lunch in the sun in a golden wheatfield. Maybe it’s an idyll, 2_____ this painting shows that you do not need to be a lord or lady to enjoy the sunshine. It’s free. Some 300 years later, Vincent van Gogh set out on a personal mission to the poor. The son of a pastor, he was torn between religious and artistic vocations. His most ambitious portrayal of poverty,The Potato Eaters, is a passionate attempt to put the lives of poor country people into art. Van Gogh admired the social conscience of Charles Dickens and of British artists 3)_______ depicted workhouses and the underside of Victorian life. These included Dickens’s friend Luke Fildes, 4.________ painting Applicants to a Casual Ward portrays homelessness in 1870s London. 5.______ stark image of British poverty by Luke Fildes is simply called Houseless and Hungry. One to remember at Christmas. Van Gogh and his contemporaries were still motivated by the same ambiguous mix of Christianity, compassion and honest observation that had drawn artists to the realities of poverty back in Caravaggio’s day, but the world was changing fast. The poor were no longer passive objects of pity. Socialism was stirring.(…)”

  1. so / and / or
  2. however / but / and
  3. which / where / who
  4.  whose / that / but
  5.  Other / Also / Another
Poverty lines: where are the poor in art today?
Caravaggio, Bruegel and Van Gogh all made studies of the poor in spite of rich patronage. Why aren’t more artists doing that now, asks Jonathan Jones


Maja Witowska-Rubaszek

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