Thinkers on the arts

Thinkers on the arts

These thinkers will provide you with brilliant insights into the world, and help you to consolidate your understanding of the arts.

You can also draw on their ideas to help develop and justify your TOK essay arguments, support the discussions within your exhibition commentary, and add depth and authority to the assertions you make about knowledge.

Chinua Achebe (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.

Ai Weiwei (b. 1957)

Ai is a Chinese artist, photographer, architect, and activist. His work deals with political and social issues. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore whether to be an artist you have to deal with moral themes in your work.

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.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (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).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (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.

Denis Dutton (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.

Evelyn Glennie (b. 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.

Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)

Greene was an English writer and journalist, regarded by many as one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the way the arts can be drawn on to understand the world.

Frida Kahlo de Rivera (1907 – 1954)

Kahlo was a Mexican painter, whose self-portraits are amongst the most evocative of sadness and loneliness of all works of modern art – giving her particular resonance in the age of Covid.

DH Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

Lawrence was an English writer and poet. His works explored issues such as sexuality, emotional lives, and the effects of industrialization. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the purpose of the arts, and their relationship with ethics.

Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007)

L’Engle was an American writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her works reflect her Christian faith and her interest in the sciences. She is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the nature of great art.

Dorian Lynsky

Lynsky is a broadcaster and writer, who explores a range of subjects such as music, politics, literature, and film. His most recent work was a biography of George Orwell. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore how the arts develop over time.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (b. 1980)

Miranda is an American actor, singer, composer, and playwright. He created and starred in several successful Broadway musicals, most notably, Hamilton. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore how the arts help us to understand moral issues.

Henri Matisse (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.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, and theatre designer who was one of the most influential artists in history. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore how the arts develop over time, and what prevents them from moving onwards.

Bridget Riley (b. 1931)

Riley is one of the most influential artists of the last 70 years. She is best known for her op art paintings. She is one of our knowledge heroes, and helps us to explore the nature and scope of the arts.

Siegfried Sassoon (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.

Simon Schama (b. 1945)

Schama is many things: a historian, art critic, and cultural commentator. His thoughts on the ‘power’ of art are inspiring and enlightening.

David Salle (b. 1952)

Salle is an American painter, photographer, and stage designer. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the arts, perspectives, and context.

Elif Shafak (b. 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 is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the way the arts can be used to break through antagonistic perspectives.

Michelle Thaller (b. 1969)

Thaller is an American astronomer. She works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as the assistant director for science communication. She is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore the relationship between the arts and science.

Oscar Wilde (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.

Virginia Woolf (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.

Make full use of this content in the classroom!

Knowledge Heroes enables you to link these thinkers to the course. For each thinker, you’ll find a notable quote, a description of how their ideas relate to TOK, an associated exhibition prompt, and activities and media sources to explore their work. Access the resource here.

Many of the key thinkers make regular appearances in our TOK newsletter. This helps you to make sense of the most important events going on today, and grasp how TOK concepts manifest in the real world. Read a recent edition here, subscribe to the free version here, and gain access to the premium version by joining