Key thinkers on the arts
Adding authority to your TOK essay and presentation
The knowledge questions in your TOK essay and TOK presentation should be supported not only by your own ideas and evidence, but also by those of other people. We have therefore put together a list of key thinkers for each way of knowing and area of knowledge who will add extra authority to your TOK essay and presentation, and help you to explore the KQs connected to your title. You can see the complete list of key thinkers here.
But we’re thinking of more than just the TOK assessment: these minds are the source of some of the most incredible ideas ever put forward, and have shaped the way we view the world and our place in it. So we think they are worth getting to know in their own right, because they will genuinely help you to figure out this mysterious thing called existence.
Making use of these thinkers
We have indicated which elements of the course they are particularly useful for (remember you should be trying to link the different parts of TOK, so don’t just focus on one WOK or AOK in isolation), and we have provided a Wikipedia link for each person. However, you should see this as the point where you begin, rather than end, your exploration of these paradigm-defining figures. We’ve also identified one person for each way of knowing and area of knowledge whom we consider an ESSENTIAL THINKER, due to way they challenge assumptions or provide a particularly important idea. Each of these thinkers are accompanied by a video in which they outline their theories, and which you can quote as a source for your essay or presentation.
TNK = the nature of knowledge
SP = sense perception
HS = the human sciences
IKS = indigenous knowledge systems
NS = the natural sciences
RKS = religious knowledge systems
Achebe, Chinua (1930 – 2013)
Achebe was a Nigerian poet, novelist and academic, who was outspoken on colonialism and racism. He was a supporter of Biafran independence, but ultimately lost faith in politics due to the way in which he felt that power had corrupted those originally seeking freedom.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, language, arts, ethics, history, NS
Bernini, Gian Lorenzo (1598 – 1680)
Bernini is regarded as one of the most talented sculptors who ever lived, surpassing even Michelangelo in his ability to make marble and stone come alive. His Ecstasy of St Agnes, is of particular interest, in the way it makes an impact on its viewers.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, arts
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (1571 – 1610)
Caravaggio was an Italian painter with a taste for the underbelly of Rome’s society, unlike many other painters of the time. His David with the head of Goliath must rank as the most shocking and original self-portraits in history (his is the head).
Also helps us to explore Emotion, imagination, reason, arts
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772 – 1854)
Coleridge was a British poet, writer, and philosopher, who is noted for the way in which he used imagination in order to create literature, particularly in his poem Kubla Khan. Apparently, his great work was inspired by a dream, which he spent the rest of his life trying to recreate via the use of chemical stimuli.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, language, memory, arts
Dutton, Denis (1944 – 2010)
Dutton worked as a philosopher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and was the editor of Arts and Letters Daily. He believed that far from it being dictated by culture, our aesthetic sense is innate, and has evolved over the course of time as a result of Darwinian adaptation.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, intuition, arts, HS
Glennie, Evelyn (1965 – )
At the age of 12, Glennie lost nearly all her hearing, but her passion and talent for music (as well as her determination) meant she was still able to enter the Royal College of Music in London, changing the way admissions were handled for people with disabilities.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, imagination, SP, arts
Greene, Graham (1904 – 1991)
Apart from being one of the most interesting writers of the 20th century on the psychological motivations of human behaviour, Greene is interesting to us for what he says on the therapeutic value of writing. For this reason, he is an excellent thinker to consider when it comes to the TOK journal. He was also a noted Catholic, though had a difficult relationship with his faith.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, Faith, intuition, arts, HS, RKS
Hesse, Hermann (1877 – 1962)
Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter, and spiritual thinker. His quest for enlightenment via self-knowledge characterised his writing, and helped to inspire the countercounter thinkers of the 1960s and ’70s.
Also helps us to explore Emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, arts, HS
Iqbal, Muhammad (1877 – 1938)
Iqbal was born in modern day Pakistan, and combined the arts with politics. Known as the ‘Poet of the East’, he was one of the figures who inspired the Pakistan movement, helping to lead to the establishment of the state in 1947.
Also helps us to explore Faith, arts, ethics, HS, RKS
Kahlo de Rivera, Frida (1907 – 1954)
Keller, Helen (1880 – 1968)
Keller was an American author, and social and political thinker. The first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, her ideas can be summed up by her famous quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
Also helps us to explore SP, arts, ethics
Levi, Primo (1919 – 1987)
Levi was an Italian chemist, writer, and concentration camp survivor. He wrote widely on the abuse of power by fascist leaders, on the nature of humanity, and tried to bridge the gap between natural sciences and the arts. Tragically, he killed himself in 1987.
Also helps us to explore Memory, arts, ethics, history, NS
Matisse, Henri (1869 – 1954)
Matisse was a French painter, sculptor, and printmaker. His new way of conceiving of reality helped to define the way the whole of the arts developed in the C20th, and he is regarded as one of the most important figures in the arts in the last 100 years.
Also helps us to explore TNK, emotion, imagination, SP, arts
Owen, Wilfred (1893 – 1918)
Owen was a First World War poet who wrote bitterly about his experiences as a soldier, attacking the ruling classes and the generals who in his opinion had no idea of what they were doing. This amounted to a revolutionary view of the world, and helped to change society utterly after the conflict ended.
Also helps us to explore Language, arts, ethics
ESSENTIAL THINKER Picasso, Pablo (1881 – 1973)
Picasso was a Spanish painter and sculptor, who completely altered the way in which we view reality. He was one of the co-founders of the Cubism artistic movement, and is regarded as one of the most important artistic thinkers ever to have lived.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, arts
Sassoon, Siegfried (1886 – 1967)
Sassoon was a poet who wrote scathingly of the First World War, and helped to shape the style and ability of Wilfred Owen, who eventually eclipsed his own fame. Sassoon was particularly critical of the ruling classes, and this revolutionary view helped to change people’s perspectives of human society after the war had ended.
Also helps us to explore Arts, ethics, HS
Schama, Simon (1945- )
Shafak, Elif (1971 – )
Shafak is a Turkish writer whose books draw on a whole range of different themes and cultures, but for which one thing is vital: the imaginative story. She argues against pigeonholing artists and people due to race, culture, and identity, and asserts that fiction allows us to connect with others.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, arts, ethics, HS
Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1902 – 1991)
Singer was a Polish-American writer and Jewish thinker. He was strident in his view on language, only ever writing in Yiddish, and believed that it wasn’t possible to ‘know’ God.
Also helps us to explore Faith, language, arts, HS, RKS
Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum (1932 – 2003)
Tjapaltjarri was a one of the key figures in the indigenous Australian art movement. His art often featured representations of dreaming stories, thus making use of both imagination and indigenous knowledge systems.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, arts, IKS
Wilde, Oscar (1854 – 1900)
Wilde was an Irish playwright, poet and writer. The archetypal C19th wit, he also wrote widely on art, but was persecuted for his sexuality, and his anti-establishment outlook ensured his downfall.
Also helps us to explore Arts, ethics, HS
Woolf, Virginia (1882 – 1941)
Woolf was a British writer and intellectual. She was one of the key modernist thinkers of the the 20th century, and also held strong opinions about religion.
Also helps us to explore Language, arts, ethics, HS, RKS