Buddhist Art as Visual Communication

Subject code ABS933
Lecturer Dr Elizabeth McDougal
Delivery mode Online, live
On campus, live
Duration 10 weeks
Next start date Visit timetable


Subject Overview

The aim of this subject is to teach the knowledge and interpretative skills of interpretation necessary to fully engage with Buddhist material culture. The subject will be structured thematically across five days. It will start with a brief assessment of Buddhist visual culture, before presenting the evolution of the image of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, including aniconic and synoptic representations. Other sessions will include an analysis of the characteristics and distinguishing qualities of diverse buddhas and bodhisattvas (with special attention to Avalokitesvara); symbols that convey the values and beliefs of Buddhism; the generation of merit through commissions; the visualisation of a deity; and the power of inscribed dharani and ‘seed’ syllables. In this intensive subject there will be sessions devoted to the visual communication of Buddhist teachings, e.g., the Wheel of the Six Realms of Existence, the Pure Lands, and the mandala. Noted monks, laypersons, and the contemporary art scene will be considered as well.



Learning Outcomes

  1. Analyse and critically evaluate the inter-relationships between Buddhist teachings and their visual expressions.
  2. Develop an ability to understand and analyse the function of images within the Buddhist framework.
  3. Develop an ability to understand and analyse Buddhist iconography.
  4. Demonstrate advanced knowledge of the history, form and meaning of Buddhist art, symbols, and material culture.
  5. Develop interpretative skills to apply to Buddhist material culture.
  6. Assess the social impact and cultural significance of Buddhist visual culture.




  • Assessment 1: Review of preliminary reading, focusing on the depiction of the Buddha (10%, due week 3)
  • Assessment 2: Slide test (20%, due week 4)
  • Assessment 3: Reflective journal on original artwork including critical appreciation of a particular work or set of works of Buddhist art in an art gallery collection (30%, due week 8)
  • Assessment 4: Research paper on a topic in Buddhist visual communication and incorporation a critical literature review (40%, due week 10)


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