In the IELTS speaking test, you may be asked to describe a piece of art. In today’s lesson, we are going to learn how to give a great answer to that task. I will explain how to analyse the cue card, make notes, pick the right language, and then I will even give you a sample band 9 answer of my own.

If you really want to hear my answer, you can just watch this video instead:

Describe a Piece of Art – an introduction

Hey, everyone, this is David at TED-IELTS, and I’m back with another guide to IELTS speaking part two. This week, I’m going to help you analyse a cue card and then give you a sample answer. I’ve done this before with lots of different topics. You can check out my previous lessons to see me discussing books, friends, sports, people, holidays and so much more. Today, we’re going to look at the topic of art and look at a cue card that asks you how to describe a piece of art that you like.

The topic of art does come up every now and then in IELTS, but it’s not very common as an IELTS topic. Still, it is definitely something you should prepare for in advance. I don’t mean to memorise an answer, but rather to think about vocabulary and prepare some ideas. The cue card we’re going to look at today asks you to describe a piece of art. It may also say a work of art or artwork as those are more common expressions.

However, in all the reports I’ve seen, the cue cards said piece of art. Here you can see our cue card for today.

Describe a piece of art that you like.

You should say:

– what the piece of art is

– where and when you saw it

– what it looks like or what it show

and explain why you like this piece of art.

So what do you have to do? Well, you need to first think of a piece of art. That could be a painting, a sculpture or an ornament or anything else. Art is a pretty broad term. Now, it is debatable just how wide the definition could be. Some people might say that a movie or a novel or a poem is a work of art. That’s probably true. But the word piece here seems to imply a physical thing, like a painting or a sculpture. Then you have to focus on those ideas.

As for the cue card, it asks:

  • When and where did you see this piece of art?
  • What does it look like and why do you like it?

Remember also that it just says piece of art. It doesn’t say famous piece of art. This is a small distinction, but it means that maybe your friend made something and you can talk about that rather than a famous painting such as the Mona Lisa. There’s a lot to think about in just one minute, by that I mean, of course, that you will be given one minute to plan your answer and then you have two minutes to speak.

Planning your Answer

In the one minute that you’re given, you should make a few notes on the paper, although it’s important that you don’t try to write too much.

Try to write down a few useful words of vocabulary or ideas that you might forget about later. Looking at these notes will help you to remember what you wanted to say and stop you from drawing a blank when the timer begins. Don’t waste any time here. For example, you might think about a painting and then change to a sculpture later, this is a bad idea, given that you only have one minute, you should pick something, stick with it and focus on making that into a good speech.

For my notes, I might write:

  • Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
  • Oil painting on canvas
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence,
  • Greek mythology.

These are all ideas that would help me with what I’m going to talk about. I will be giving you a sample answer later based on those notes. When talking about a work of art, you will need to be quite specific in your use of language. You don’t need expert vocabulary like an art critic might use, but it’s helpful to refer to specific details in the work.

Language for Talking about Art

You will need to be able to discuss the materials. For example, paintings may be done with watercolour or oil paints, a picture could be drawn with pen, pencil, or charcoal, and a sculpture may be in bronze, marble, or clay.

You will also need to be able to describe key parts of the work. If it was a painting of a ship, could you label its different features? Could you refer to the different parts of the human body in a painting of a person?

What about a busy urban scene? Art is strongly related to mood and emotion, so you have to be able to talk about the way that a painting makes you feel or makes people feel in general. Is it sombre, evocative, inspiring, or compelling? Is the work intended to make the viewer think about something or is it meant to make the viewer feel something? All of these require different words, and so you should prepare for this topic accordingly.

Here are some more useful words for describing works of art:

  • awe-inspiring
  • intricate
  • precise
  • thought-provoking
  • controversial
  • iconic

Using words accurately and having a good range of them can help you to get a better score for Lexical Resource.

In addition, you should be wary of how you use grammar. Remember that the cue card asked you about where and when you first saw it, so you cannot say “I first see it when I am in Madrid with my family. I think it is looking very impressive.”

No, you need to use some past tenses to show the particular time:

I first saw it when I was in Madrid with my family. I thought it looked very impressive.

If you are really struggling with language to describe the work of art that comes to mind, you can visit Wikipedia and get some ideas there.

Just remember to avoid copying anything. It is pretty obvious when candidates use memorised phrases and examiners will penalise you for this. So just look to find a few useful words.

birth of venus painting

Sample Answer

It’s time for me to answer this question.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit Florence in Italy. When I was there, I spent a day exploring the Uffizi Gallery, which has one of the best art collections in the world. I walked around the whole gallery and took in thousands of paintings and sculptures, but I suppose the one that really captured my imagination was Sandra Botticelli’s painting, “The Birth of Venus.”

This is a large oil painting dating from, I think, the 15th century. It is one of the world’s most famous paintings and is considered an icon of the Italian renaissance. Although it is an Italian painting, the subject matter is Greek mythology. The nude female figure at the centre of the painting is Venus, a goddess worshipped by the ancient Greeks. She is riding a giant scallop shell, which is what makes the scene so unusual and memorable. The painting is not very realistic, of course, this was before artists began trying to capture perspective and light as they appear in reality.

Instead, the painting is intended to tell a story and make the viewer feel a certain way. I like it because it is captivating when you look at Botticelli’s work, you are drawn into the painting and you feel curious about the central character.

It makes you wonder where she is going and what will happen, as well as the significance of the various objects and people around her. Like many great paintings, I could sit and marvel at this all day.


It is quite difficult to describe an object, even one like a painting for such a long time, it is easy to run out of things to say in less than a minute, and this would result in a poor grade. As such, I decided to describe my painting in terms of a story. (Read about how to use storytelling in your IELTS answers here.) I began by rearranging the cue card so that the when and where parts come first. This allowed me to talk about the painting within a more convenient story arc.

My answer began and ended with me in the museum, and I described the painting within the frame of reference of my visit. I was able to describe my feelings and my ideas about the painting, rather than just describe the actual painting for a long time. This can be difficult. Even a native speaker like myself might struggle because we cannot remember exactly what the painting looked like.

This makes your speech more natural as well as giving it logical development and makes it more engaging for the reader.

Learn more about how to handle difficult IELTS cue cards.