Do we need to know the context in which an artwork was produced in order to claim that we have knowledge of that artwork?

Being an IB art student, every time when I do a comparative study, the first thing I have to do is to do research on the context of the artwork. I think it is very important to know the cultural and historical context of an artwork. For me, art is a form of communication, if you don’t know the context of the artwork, you will not get the message the artist want to tell or just understand a really shallow meaning.


Just take one of Picasso’s most famous works, Guernica, for instance. When I first see the painting Guernica, it just seems to be a combination of abstracted man and livestock in depressing black and white colors, with almost no knowledge I can gain. However, for the people looking at the historical context (in 1937, 18 years after the first world war) and the artist’s personal experience, this artwork can have so many meanings and it becomes one of the most controversial artworks in the world.


Many artworks and styles being well-known are not because of the aesthetic values, but they can bring knowledge of other areas of knowledge, such as in history and science, which you also need to know the context to understand. For example, the art during the Renaissance is not only important of its artistic values, but historians could also find evidences of history in those works: the change in themes from gods to people reflects an increasing concern in human and their rights; also, Da Vinci’s sketches of human body dissects and machineries can show the science at that time and how brilliant was his mind. And for all these kind of knowledge you need to know the social and historical context in order to interpret them, or else you won’t be surprised by how the sketches can be drawn so accurately in that time or how advanced were the minds, nor how much improvement was it for human civilization.


Art is not just about how it entertains our sense; it emerges in the beginning of our civilization and will exist over the future. Besides the artistic values, it should have more information and knowledge included in its context. So I think, it is very important to know about the context of an artwork to claim that we have the knowledge of it.

Novels and ways of learning

Started from last week, we are now studying the novel “Jane Eyre” by the British writer Charlotte Bronte, published in 1847. It is a non-fiction novel and Jane Eyre is the first-person narrative of the title character, talking about her life from a child to when she married. There are quite a few ways of knowing that the author included in the novel.


Imagination is a way of knowing that will be mentioned in all novels: a novel is meant to be imaginary—it can be realistic, but is not a totally true story. In the book “Jane Eyre”, although it is an autobiography and many details and characters’ traits came from the author’s real life, there are still lots of imaginations about the main character’s life.


Sense perception is also very important in the novel, especially when the readers can “see” what Jane Eyre sees. In the novel, there are paragraphs of description of the environments and a clear romanticism influence. Jane Eyre uses her words to describe what she sees and hears, which is important for the readers to understand not only her thoughts but also emotions.


I would say Emotion is the most essential way of knowing used in the novel. If you have read the book, you will understand how much emotion is described and how significant it is for the character. In “Jane Eyre”, the emotion of the main character marks her developments in different stages. When she was young, she was easily provoked and gets raged, and as she grows older, more peaceful emotions start to emerge and become the dominant personality in her life. As readers, knowing the characters emotion can help us to get a deeper understanding of both the character and the novel; for the writer, using emotions in their writing helps create a more vivid and realistic character, and can contain deeper message that the novel is trying to show the readers.


Language is definitely another way of knowing included in a novel, since it has to be written in a language. However, because I am learning the novel in a Chinese class and it is translated, I really feel how language makes a difference in writing. I believe for some novels, maybe not in this one, difference in language can make great difference in the feelings. When I was reading the novel, sometimes I imagine how the paragraph is like or what word is used when it is in English. It is interesting to read translated works, especially when it is translated from a language you know, since you can compare, and see when a sentence that makes sense in one language but not in another.


I think the novel “Jane Eyre” has included many of the ways of knowing we’ve discussed in TOK.

Language: I used to think… Now I think…

Talking about language, I used to think it just as a tool people use to communicate with each other, and I never thought deeply about what language could do or could not. Now I think, language is much more important than I thought. We learn from languages when we read books or when we listen to a lecture. We give names to things both the ones we can sense and the ones we cannot feel, such as emotions and feelings. I think name is the most important part in language. It helps us to classify and understand things, it also allows further and deeper communications between people. With names, people can talk about things that are beyond the sense perceptions, we start the communication of minds, which brought massive developments in areas like science and philosophy.

TOK: Memory

Knowledge Question: To what extent should memory be trusted when one studies primary source?

RLS: In an experiment about false memory, people were shown with some original photos, and then they were showed with some photos that were edited from the original ones. The result was, most of the people were misled by the edited photo, and their memory has been “changed”, resulting in false memory.


I think when studying a primary source which is from a person’s memory, it can only be a reference, or some additions to the evidence, but it cannot be an evidence especially in a crime, since memory itself is never evident. In the real life situation written above, we can see that quite easily, people can conceal a piece of memory with false memory, which isn’t true. In fact, memories don’t work like cameras, there are clear parts in our memory but there will also be parts that are blurry, especially when time goes by. So, when other people want to change some of the details in one’s memory with false, it will be quite easy, and maybe that person will not even recognize the memory has been changed, since we trust our memory so much.

People give their memory too much trust, and we hardly question our own memory, we just tend to believe it. So for a primary source from a person’s memory, it should be carefully examined and we shouldn’t give full trust to our memories.

Sense Perception and Language

RLS: By looking at the text on the pages, I can read stories on the books.


Reading a book, this is a real life situation we meet every day. When we read a book, we look at the text which is a form of language and we gain the information. In this process of communication, sense perception is very important: we cannot read without looking at the book.


The same thing happens on all means of using language. Language is served as a tool to communicate, so it requires more than one person to interact, in which we have to receive message from others. For us as human beings, the way we receive the “message” from others, which is language, is through sense perception: we listen to others when they are talking, we look at the images to understand its meanings, and people who cannot see use their fingers to “read a book”. Language cannot be isolated from sense perception, without sense perception, people will have no language.

TOK Reflection: I.B. and Experimental Learning

As I mentioned in my last blog post, in TOK class we are now talking about categorizing our own knowledge, and recently, I have came across another category, which is experimental learning. Led by the textbook, I start to think about education and different means of learning, which I think IB to a great extent encourages student to learn through their experience.

I have experienced two education systems with totally different means of teaching, so I have a stronger understanding and feeling of why IB is special in letting students learn through their experience. For example, CAS, which stands for creativity, activity and service. In CAS, students manage their own experience and learning by doing activities and projects that is linked to the learner profile. By letting students to take part in CAS, IB encourages students to try and experience different things; it also lets students to actually learn from it by writing reflections. Actively reflecting on the experience makes students think and conclude, so they can understand what is the most important out of the experience.

Experience doesn’t always mean learning, only by thinking and reflecting students can understand the treasure in the experience, and this is what IB does and make it different.

T.O.K Reflection: Do People Always Learn from Experience?

For this week’s T.O.K, my classmates and I focused on categorizing knowledge and thinking about where it comes from. In this unit, my interest led me to a question: do people always learn from experience?

I believe all normal people in the world must have learned from their experience in their lives. It is like an instinct to human, when you feed a baby with a piece of lemon, she will refuse to take another bite when she realized that it tastes really sour. Since we were young, we know how to learn from experience without anyone teaching us.

I am surely an advocator of people learning from experience, however, the point I want to argue is, do people always learn from experience??? This question reminds me of a TV show I’ve watched; there was an actor’s line: a wise man learns from history, and others learn from experience. I think it is completely reasonable in the situations of avoiding mistakes; wise people learn from others mistakes and avoid them, but normal people learn from their own experiences and avoid mistakes by making mistakes. Recording history is one of the reasons why human are more intelligent than other species on earth; there is massive amount of knowledge hiding in history, and only if we learn from it we can improve ourselves more quickly than the others who only learn from experience.

I think it is reasonable to learn from experience, it is one of the sources of our knowledge, but we shouldn’t always learn from experience, by learning from history and others experience we can gain more knowledge and improve.

TOK: perspectives—Age and Knowledge

On the second week of T.O.K. discussion on perspectives, we came across the topic cultural perspectives. In class we talked about different manners and conventions in different countries. Our teacher, who is from Britain, mostly compares the culture in European countries; whereas I, who grown up in Asia, thinks more of Asian countries in my head, in which is an example of cultural perspective.


However, I think, the difference in perspective and knowledge does not only due to the cultural reasons. For me, as a 16 years old student, I believe the age is another very important factor affecting perspectives and knowledge of people from my observations. When you look at students in the primary school, they may be gaining knowledge from story books, but they might think it’s more important to know about their friends and the events in school; for a middle-high student, they are aware of what they are taught in classes, and talking about the last math test or an essay; for an adult, they are more focused in knowing the situation in the stock market, the price of the houses and some national or international events that are happening in the world. The desires of the knowledge people want to gain changes as their ages grow, since they have more experiences. This is why I think age affects people’s perspective and knowledge.

T.O.K: Maps and Perspectives

T.O.K., which stands for Theory of Knowledge, is a new subject for IB students starting in grade 11. Just like it is called the theory of knowledge, the purpose of it is to let students reflect on the nature of knowledge, and think about the question: “how do we know what we know? This week, started by drawing a world map, my classmates and I had our first discussion and began our discovery in T.O.K.

First, we were asked to sketch a world map from our memory. Then, we compared the maps. This process is especially interesting for me, because as a student who grown up in China, it was actually the first time I know there are world maps placing Europe in the middle instead of Asia, or me specifically, China. Before that, I always thought there was only one type of world map among the world. Also, different maps that each student draws have very different details. Victor, a student from Brazil drew South America in more details than others, and students from Taiwan all contained Taiwan in their maps, while others didn’t remember to draw it. The place where we grow up can have really strong influence of us on how we view the world, and we also pay more attention to it. For me, as an example, when I think about the news, I know the big events happening in China, and a lot of local new in Chengdu, but when it gets to Europe, it is all blurry in my mind.

There is a question our whole class talked about in class, which I think is very important and worth digging in to: “Is it wrong to place yourself in the middle of your own map of the world? This recalls me the time when I was 3 years old, the things I can now remember are my parents, a house with white carpet, and the swings in the park near my home. This is how we view the world from the very start: we start from things that are around us, and as we know more, we expand our eye sight and see more and bigger things: cities, nations and at last, the world. It is not wrong placing ourselves in the middle of our own maps, since it is a necessary process of how we know and understand things.

However, placing oneself in the middle of the map is a perspective, in which is fine and reasonable, but remember, no one is really in the middle of the world. A person can have his or her own distinguish perspective, but it is also necessary to respect others perspective. A person has the right to hold a perspective, but so do others. In life, when interacting with others, I always tell myself: a perspective is how you view things, not a criterion of how others do things, and always be respectful.

19th Century European Literature Project (2)

For the 19th Century Literature Project which I mentioned about in the last post, Eva and I are focusing on the interaction between society and Romanticism. After finishing up the time line, we’ve started writing about the influences of the society on Romanticism as an addition to the timeline. The text is basically about the Enlightenment, French Revolution and Romanticism, since they all have close relationship towards each other.

Here’s a photo of our timeline: