IB TOK: To what extent do the arts convey knowledge and insight?

Personal examples matter in TOK. It’s one thing to come up with examples of novels or poems that have conveyed some knowledge of the human condition,¬†from the insight into the determination of human survival in the ‘Life of Pi’ to Tolstoy’s portrait of human relationships in ‘Anna Karenin’. It’s another thing to consider how far the arts convey insights using non-verbal language. You might consider how far knowledge can be conveyed using the non-verbal language of dance, painting and music.

The 19th century German poet, Heinrich Heine is known to have said, ‘Where words leave off, music begins.’ You might consider the justification for this knowledge claim and evaluate how far music conveys knowledge and insight. Some people might argue that music contains no knowledge; it is there to be enjoyed and experienced for entertainment. On the other hand, it could be argued that music conveys something that non-verbal language cannot. What implications might your view have for other areas of knowledge? You could investigate the range of emotions conveyed in the following pieces by Mahler and Debussy:

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