Since ancient times, gods and heroic figures have been represented through works of art and design. These images and objects have held special importance for the people who made them, as well as for those who continue to hold them sacred. The ritual and narrative objects included here have served, and in some cases continue to serve, various purposes and uses in different religions and belief systems. Many of the objects depict gods or ideal figures that were models of character and leadership or were exemplars of moral behavior and civic engagement; some of the objects adhered or responded to specific artistic conventions. Studying the set of works offers significant insights about the religious beliefs and social values of the cultures that created and used them.
Students are encouraged to look closely at a single object or to compare artifacts, to shift their attention from details to the whole, and to synthesize observations about the object and its broader context. The questions and activities prompt students to ask thoughtful questions about making, use, and meaning in relation to the objects, the cultures that made them, and those of the students’ own contemporary worlds. Engaging with these objects will build students’ abilities to communicate about art and design; to reflect, analyze and evaluate works; and to make connections between the visual arts and other disciplines.
Highlighted here are key objects you can use to generate in-depth investigations. Appropriate for an entire class or for small-group or self-guided learning, each object is accompanied by relevant information, possible discussion questions, and suggestions for writing, making, and doing. You can choose a single artifact or a sequence of works; project or print out images; learn about one object for a presentation or to lead a discussion; and choose or customize discussion questions and activities that address your teaching goals and learning objectives.