• Irena Kolbuszewska

English Art Vocabulary... Can Be Practical?!

Updated: Jan 24

Art vocabulary in everyday life: surreal vs. mundane, ordinary vs. extraordinary

This post is an attempt at showing you how you can use art vocabulary to describe your personal experience.

It is divided into the following sections:

1. Introduction

2. Exploring the meaning of the adjective “surreal”

3. Exploring the synonyms of “surreal” along with practical examples

4. Exploring the meaning of the adjective “mundane”

5. Exploring the synonyms of “mundane” along with practical examples

6. Conclusion

You may think that talking about art seems far away from real life. But artists simply interpret what they experience and transform it. In other words, it’s actually real life that inspires people to create works of art. In addition, expressions used to describe someone’s works or to indicate what the latter ones are NOT about can be also applied to depict our everyday experience.

To prove my point, I would like to refer to the post I published at the end of December, about Anna Strutyńska aka Anee Dove’s works (http://www.aneedoveart.com). I used there a couple of adjectives to describe her pieces or their context. One of these adjectives was “surreal” – a word she also likes to use to describe her works. Another one was “mundane”. These two words are pretty much the opposites. Let’s explore them more in detail.

When we want to say that something is surreal, it means that it’s dreamlike, that some elements of what we see or experience are combined in a completely unexpected way. Have you ever experienced such circumstances that things around you seemed surreal? For example, you had the feeling that someone you didn’t expect was looking at you and it turned out to be true? Was it a positive or negative experience?

Maybe you went out and there was a thick fog, you couldn’t see anything in front of you that was further than 200 meters away and the buildings around you had this dreamlike aura? This was definitely a surreal experience.

Another way to use the word “surreal” is to describe something absurd. Surreal can also mean absurd. Let’s say, you hear a comment and you have a hard time believing that someone might have said something like that, it just seems so absurd. Red tape (bureaucracy) is also often absurd. When you have to deal with countless and impractical paperwork, it can definitely seem surreal. Other possible meanings of surreal (this is not an exhaustive list):

· bizarre (very strange),

· weird (strange),

· freakish (something not normal nor natural eg. a freakish voice),

· abnormal (unusual in a way that is quite worrying eg. abnormal behaviour),

· unearthly (unusual, not natural, therefore quite scary – eg. an unearthly light),

· uncanny (strange and difficult to explain – I had an uncanny feeling that I was being watched – Oxford Learners’ Dictionary),

· odd (strange or unusal – we can say that something looks odd.)

Can you relate to any of these examples? Has something similar ever occurred to you? What kind of connotations does the word surreal carry? Positive or negative? These examples suggest that it can be usually something quite negative, however when we use it to say that something can seem unreal or dreamlike, we are describing something that can be quite pleasant to experience.

Now, let’s explore the word “mundane”.

Mundane is defined as dull (boring), ordinary, not interesting or exciting, for example we can talk about a mundane task, job or existence. Unfortunately, most likely each one of us has experienced them at one point or another.

Another good adjective to substitute mundane with is “everyday”. It suggests something regular, ordinary. Other possible synonyms or close synonyms of “mundane” are (again, this is not an exhaustive list):

· standard (for example we talk about standard replies, standard letters),

· average (average performance, nothing exceptional or outstanding),

· normal (eg. normal routine, normal or ordinary course of events – the way you expect them to happen)

· ordinary (eg. an ordinary house, an ordinary Sunday morning – very normal, not special),

· plain (simple in design, with no decoration or not very attractive eg. plain furniture),

· typical (day, reaction, comment etc.),

· unremarkable (defined in Macmillan as “very ordinary, with no qualities that interest you or impress you, for example an unremarkable day, person or performance).

What connotations do these adjectives evoke? Positive or negative?

We probably have all come across people or things that are average, ordinary, plain, typical... Often ordinary things or people are a major source or inspiration to create something unusual, surreal, exceptional. I’m not sure if you agree with me, but I would say that art is always related in some way to our everyday lives. By reading about art, by watching or practising art you can learn how to communicate about your personal experience. Which is, in my opinion, number one reason why we learn a foreign language: to be able to share our experience with more people than it would be possible just in our mother tongue.


Thank you for reading it until the end. If you like this post, please share it on social media, so more people can find it and make the most of it. If you like the idea of learning English through art and you would like to find out more about it, you are welcome contact me at passionate.language.stories@gmail.com.