Art, Identity, and Symbolism in Tarot Cards

Boston College Libraries supports faculty teaching and student learning in a variety of ways that can go far beyond a paper assignment. The Burns Library Instruction Team has worked with Professor Jane Cassidy’s Introduction to Digital Art classes for several semesters to prepare them for a key assignment: design two tarot cards, one a recognizable self portrait, and the other a design of the students’ choosing.

We worked with Professor Cassidy to develop a class plan that would give students the skills they needed to tackle this creative challenge.  The learning objectives for the sessions at Burns Library included: 

  • Recognizing symbols and understanding how they work
  • Being able to communicate complex ideas through the visual art medium
  • Drawing on historical/primary sources to generate and refine their own interpretations
  • Examining and synthesizing a variety of sources in order to construct and support an artistic argument

Our class plan includes an introduction to special collections and an overview of symbolism and allegory given by Nina Bogdanovsky, Art History Librarian.  Students then viewed a variety of illustrated materials from Burns Library Collections, and, using some guiding questions, identified a few symbols that they found interesting. Librarians helped students use reference resources—and the papers of G. William Patten, a Boston-area monument designer and artist with copious notes on symbolism—to learn more about symbols and meanings that they might include in their artworks. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Professor Cassidy and this class/assignment for many semesters to come. 

Burns Library staff is always happy to encourage wider use of Burns Library’s unique materials for teaching and research, and will work creatively with faculty and others to develop customized classes, activities, and assignments around course topics and learning objectives. Instructors interested in using special collections materials to enhance the learning outcomes of their courses and/or research assignments should contact Burns Library staff.

We’re always happy when instructors follow up to tell us how a Burns-assisted assignment went, and are pleased to provide the artwork of  Professor Cassidy’s Fall 2019 Introduction to Digital Art below. What symbols do you see?



So much creativity from our Boston College Students!

  • Katherine Fox, Head of Public Services and User Engagement, Burns Library
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