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How to be a discerning culture vulture

What to say and do to prove (or pretend) you’re in the know


Want to sound super smart about art, culture and the classics? In this week’s #GetPacking series with Shopcade, we’re here to help you out. We’ve taken three things that are commonly associated with culture – art, wine and literature – and created a cheat sheet to help you sound like a pro. So next time you’re admiring a painting, while sampling some wine, with a book tucked under your arm – you’re welcome.


Top tip:
Rather than try to impress people by understanding what an artist was trying to say, talk about how the piece affects you. Artists are all about evoking a response or emotion from the viewer, so ask yourself how a piece makes you feel, and then think about why it makes you feel that way.

Word up:
Brushwork, composition, balance, contrast, rhythm, juxtaposition, aesthetic, avant-garde

Picasso, da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Kandinsky, Monet, van Gough, Warhol

Don’t say:
A five year old could paint that.

Do say:
It speaks to me.

Think old sculptures are boring? Try to imagine the gleaming white marble painted in detailed, vivid color. Most statues would have been painted in their day.

The Art Book (Phaidon Press) and How to Read a Painting by Lifehack. To stay in the know, check out

Still confused? Take some tips from this guy:


Top tip:
When sampling a wine that you’ve ordered in a restaurant, you’re checking that it’s not corked (contaminated by mold from unclean corks) which gives the wine a musty, old socks like smell; cooked (too hot) which makes it sour; or oxidized (when air gets into the wine) which makes it cloudy and smell vinegary.

Word up:
Tannin, aroma, vintage, palate and if you really want to sound like you know what you’re talking about: terroir

Name dropping:
Bordeaux, Barolo, Chateauneuf du Pape, Penfolds, Torres, Gallo

Don’t say:
White wine gets me drunk.

Do say:
I’m getting an oaky aroma with hints of coffee and chocolate

A screw cap doesn’t mean the wine is cheap. It means the winery is committed to avoiding corkage among its wines, which ruins about 8% of bottles.

Winefolly has a great tutorial, 10 Most Important Things to Know About Wine and here’s a handy infographic to help you sound like a wine expert.

Still confused? Learn the art of swilling from the Wine Guy:


Top tip:
Rather than try to absorb everything, choose a genre you’re interested in and focus on that. Research the best books in the genre and go from there. (And it’s totally acceptable to Google ‘What is {Book Name} all about anyway?’)

Word up:
Plot, character, nuance, symbolism, dramatic irony, archetype, protagonist, denouement

Tolstoy, Proust, Hemingway, the Lost Generation, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Orson Welles

Don’t say:
Man, this book is boring

Do say:
The post-structuralist Foucauldian writing is the true recourse to a nuanced understanding of the epistemology (thanks for that, Bidness, Etc).

You may have heard about the “mass panic” that ensued after Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds was read out on the radio in 1938 as “millions of people” believed it to be a true report of an Alien Invasion. In fact, almost nobody was fooled by the story.

Brain Pickings is an excellent resource for interesting book reviews and you can get yourself a copy of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (just don’t leave it on your bookshelf next to that Hemingway you haven’t, erm, read.)

Still confused? Here’s a great video on finding the deeper meaning in literature:

So, now that you’re clued up on all things cultural, head on over to Shopcade to find out how you can look the part, too!

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