ARTH 301-301: The Icon as Art and for Worship

Instructor: Professor Michael W. Meister
Thursday, 1:30-4:30, Jaffe 104

Course Description:

This undergraduate workshop will allow students to explore issues surrounding the use of art within ritual and as a tool rather than as museum artifact. India's religious art will act as a focus - deity images, temples, paintings, and ritual implements - but the function of art itself will in large part be our subject. Students in the seminar will review recent scholarship and also be able to use the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


The term "icon" has become increasingly popular, if increasingly degraded, in this age of 'IT' ('information technology'). We need to explore this degradation as well as other meanings of the term. A dictionary definition 30-years ago (and still today) would have focused primarily on Byzantine paintings! An early assignment will be to bring in to class references from the press, books, the Internet, both to the current uses of the term and its original etymology. As a recent, useful example, I've just received the following description of a call for papers to a symposium next March:

CALL FOR PAPERS for the fifth annual St. Michael's College Symposium,

University of Toronto, Canada March 1-2, 2002 on the theme:



The 20th century was an age of cultural icons. Photography, Film, Television, and the Advertising Agency brought us an unending stream of people and products to "idolize," "worship" and "adore." The language of these images and of the response to them was unambiguously religious, and was drawn from the centuries of experience with religious images that went before. Surprisingly, the 20th century was also an age of iconoclasm and the purging of images. From Afghanistan to Europe .... [etc.]

Books on order:
at the Penn Book Center, 34th st. & Sansom

Richard H. Davis, Lives of Indian Images.

Vidya Dehejia, Indian Art.

Diana Eck, Darshan, Seeing the Divine Image in India, 3rd ed.

E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art.

Joanne Punzo Waghorne and Norman Cutler, eds., Gods of Flesh/Gods of Stone: the Embodiment of Divinity in India.


Read, look, think, speak
Art 301-301: The Icon as Art and for Worship
Students in this Workshop should keep assignments consecutively in a notebook file.
As a first week's assignment:
Use the Web to take notes on the etymology of the word 'icon' and its many varied (even outrageous) uses. Check the Oxford English Dictionary and other sources for its new and traditional uses. You might wish to become familiar with the Grove Dictionary of Art on-line as well. It's a particularly valuable resource. (Both are available through the Penn Library Webpage.)

Suggested introductory reading:
Diana Eck, Dar_an: seeing the divine image in India.

Advance reading:
Begin to skim Gombrich and Dehejia's survey volumes to see if you can begin to define their objectives and intellectual agendas.