May 22, 2009

Examining the Core: The Arts

This is part three of a four-part examination of the state of the Core.

Like any well-rounded curriculum, the Core presents students with a wide range of challenges. They grapple with Marx and Smith in Sosc and pore over primary sources in Civ. In Drama: Embodiment and Transformation, they do trust falls.

Such is the dilemma of the Core’s Dramatic, Musical, and Visual Arts requirement: It covers a range of media and ideas, but too often gets bogged down by the details of practice instead of delving into foundational theory. The Arts requirement is marred by inconsistent intellectual rigor and over-specialization at odds with the aims of the Core.

There are plenty of bright spots among the Core Arts choices. Some classes, like Introduction to Art or Intro: Music, Analysis, and Criticism, fulfill the ambitions of the Core. Such courses, by taking a broad foundational approach, inform students’ perspectives on art, and give them the vocabulary to speak intelligently about it. By focusing less on technical artistic skills and more on theoretical understanding, these classes are accessible to all students and provide a useful model for what a successful Arts requirement looks like.

The same cannot be said of other choices. According to the course catalogue, the Arts requirement can be satisfied by “producing original works of art, drama, music, or performance.” This is a valid option for an elective or a major requirement, but just as the point of Hum is not simply to become a more skilled writer, the goal of a Core art class should steer away from technical application, like painting or music composition; theory, not practice, is the point of the Core.

The Core drama courses are particularly troubling. In addition to the aforementioned trust falls, many drama courses include a number of similar games and exercises perhaps better suited for recess. The performing arts could certainly have their place in the Core, if it focused more heavily on interpretation and theory, but the current option does not pass muster.

The Arts are a worthy aspect of the curriculum, but the College must strive for a consistent level of intellectual rigor and commitment to foundational theory, not individual creativity.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.