Buddhist Art as Visual Communication


Key Information

Lecture dates: 11 - 15 November 2019 Census date: 11 November 2019
Lecturer: Jackie Menzies Duration: 5 weeks (incl. 5 days on-campus)*
Location: NTI Wollongong Campus, 231 Nolan St, Unanderra, NSW 2526, Australia
Subject Code: ABS933

Subject Overview

The aim of this subject is to teach the knowledge and interpretative skills necessary to fully engage with Buddhist material culture. The subject will be structured thematically across 4 days, with the fifth day for presentations during an excursion to the Art Gallery of NSW.


It will start with a brief assessment of Buddhism from the viewpoint of select contemporary Western writers, 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 course 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. Select teachers, such as the First Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma, and noted monks, lamas, and laymen, will be considered as well.

Learning Outcomes

•  Analyse and critically evaluate the inter-relationships between Buddhist teachings and their visual expressions

•  Understand the function of images within the Buddhist framework

•  Develop a knowledge of Buddhist iconography
•  Demonstrate critical knowledge of the history, form and meaning of Buddhist art, symbols, and material culture
•  Develop interpretative skills to apply to Buddhist material culture
•  Develop the ability to assess the social impact and cultural significance of Buddhist visual culture


* Time structure for this subject:

- 1st week: pre-reading
- 2nd week: face-to-face classes at NTI Wollongong Campus
- 3rd to 5th week: time for completing written assessments