Thursday, October 21, 2010

Of Concept Maps and Crucifixions

I visited the National Gallery earlier this year and I spent a lot of time looking at a few paintings of crucifixion or passion paintings. I was particularly interested in a few early renaissance paintings. These paintings come from a time when art served a teaching and learning function; they had a didactic purpose and not just decorative or expressive one. Paintings that fit this bill will have the crucified Christ at the center and in the landscape behind him, arranged radially, will be scenes that illustrate the life of Christ or the events of the Passion. One example that is in Wikimedia is Hans Memling's "Tafel mit Szenen der Passion Christi"

This is a painting of Jerusalem and at the center of the painting is the scourging of Christ. All of the scenes around it, in various parts of the city represent different events in the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus. There are even two scenes representing the crucifixion; one with him dying on the cross and another on the next hill, of him being taken off the cross. There is even a resurrected Christ in the lower right corner about to harrow hell. This is all typical of Flemish painting especially.In the extreme lower right and left corners, I believe we have the devout patrons of this painting.

The point of all this is that the painting represents a central idea, The Passion of the Christ. It has a series of connected stories that are all related to that central idea - spatially and temporally. This painting represents a concept map of that narrative. Concept maps allow us to see connections to different ideas in new ways, but they also help us describe knowledge in a way so that we see how all of the pieces are connected. There are many examples of this throughout history and the world. Art is used to share ideas and their connections in the tangka paintings of Tibet and the Navaho sand paintings. Concept maps and "mind mapping" are not something new, they are an integral method of sharing knowledge and ideas.
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