ARTH101 Study Guide

Unit 7: Our World – Nature, the Body, Identity, Sexuality, Politics, and Power

7a. Describe how visual information is a source of knowledge and explain how this is reflected in works of art

  • What kinds of knowledge about the world might be found in visual representations?
  • How might we uncover clues in art that refer to the representation of self?
  • What are the various kinds of identity that can be represented in art?

We can think of artwork as sometimes being loaded with 'clues' which it is our job to uncover in order to piece together a story as to the artwork's meaning. We can derive knowledge from art, whether that knowledge is about the world or ourselves. Such knowledge can bear a close resemblance to sensory experience (such as a photograph based on similar optical principles as the eyes), or be seemingly highly abstract, as when patterns of DNA sequences are used as a new kind of contemporary portraiture of the self. It is part of our role as experiencers of art to come to grips with the kinds of knowledge that can be obtained in works of art.

To review, read sections 5.2 and 5.4 of Meaning in Art.

7b. Explain how the use of animals and other natural phenomena as subject matter in art offers clues to cultural differences

  • How do scientific visualizations differ from other kinds of art?
  • What are some of the ways the depictions of animals and nature differ across cultural contexts?
  • How can the Greek concept of mimesis be applied to representations of animals and nature in art?

Nature, and the objects of nature (landscapes, animals, flora) have been a source of artistic inspiration and subject material as far back as can be traced historically, for instance to the animals depicted in cave paintings many thousands of years ago. Such depictions of natural subject matter can range from highly idealized and stylized imagery, such as when an animal represents a god or a force of nature, to a very different kind of aesthetic treatment when used in scientific contexts as illustrations grounded in accuracy of representation.

For example, see this work by Albrecht Dürer.

To review, read Nature.

7c. Explain how political art uses nature, the body, identity, sexuality, politics, or power as a public reflection on these issues

  • What are some examples of art addressing major political events unfolding in history?
  • How have some artists approached themes of sexuality and gender in their art?
  • What are some examples of artists being interested in the expressive potential of the human body?

Artworks are often grounded in themes, which are generalizations about social life about which artists may want to make particular statements, whether their aims are to challenge or borrow from the thematic material. In social discourse, debates rage about sex and power, politics and violence, nature and the body, and artworks take up creative positions in these spaces of the public contestation of ideas.

To review, read Politics, Conflict, and War and Peace.

Unit 7 Vocabulary

Be sure you understand these terms as you study for the final exam. Try to think of the reason why each term is included.

  • knowledge 
  • idealized imagery
  • stylized imagery 
  • themes
  • statements