What role did drawings and prints play during the Age of Enlightenment, from around 1720 to 1800? Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment explores many nuances of this complex time – when political and cultural revolutions swept through Europe and the Americas, causing profound changes in science, philosophy, the arts, social and cultural encounters, and our common sense of story. Indeed, the Enlightenment itself has been described as a “revolution of the mind”.
New concepts in all areas of intellectual inquiry were communicated not only by text and speech, but also by prints and drawings which gave these ideas visual and concrete form. They made new things visible – and familiar things visible in powerful new ways. They had the potential to visually articulate, reinforce or contradict beliefs as well as prejudices, while advocating for social action and imagining new realities.
In 1784, in response to a newspaper article asking “What is the Enlightenment?” German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that the main impulse of the Enlightenment was “to dare to know!” — pursue knowledge by oneself, without relying on others to interpret facts and experiences. But is it really possible?
Bringing together 150 prints, drawings, books, and other related artifacts from Harvard as well as collections in the United States and abroad, this exhibit offers a provocative insight into the achievements and failures of a period whose complex legacies still resonate today. today. Dare to know asks new and sometimes uncomfortable questions about the so-called age of reason, inviting visitors to embrace the same spirit of inquiry of the Enlightenment – to inquire, to persuade and to imagine.
Organized by Elizabeth M. Rudy, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Harvard Art Museums; and Kristel Smentek, Associate Professor of Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dare to know is visible until January 15, 2023 in the special exhibitions gallery at Harvard Art Museums.
For more information, visit harvardartmuseums.org.