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Examining the Core: The Arts

The dilemma with the Core’s Dramatic, Musical, and Visual Arts requirement is that 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.

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.

5 comments on “Examining the Core: The Arts

  1. reply

    You seem to be suggesting that we should turn all Core art classes into philosophy of art classes. Why? Art is fundamentally something that involves technical skills, as you call them. It’s just different in that way from philosophy, or what you call “theory.”

  2. reply

    Each of the Maroon’s editorials on the Core is pretty formulaic. Read them all — every core subject needs more “rigor”, which apparently can only be found in canonical texts, and every core subject needs to be more “foundational”. What “foundational” actually means we are left to guess.

    And now we are left with the really indefensible but explicit claim that creativity is incompatible with intellectual rigor.

    Look, I took HBC, Classics, and Western Civ, but I would never insist that those are the only worthwhile courses, as the Maroon editors seem to think. Those texts are great, but too much thought-provoking and challenging work can occur in other disciplines to justify the pedestal upon which you’ve placed those “rigorous” courses.

    The bottom line is that rigor comes from the individual student. If you’re determined to learn nothing from and blow off HBC and Western Civ, you certainly can, because plenty of U of C students do, in every section. And conversely, a dedicated, interested student can get boatloads of intellectual stimulation and even “foundational” skills from Media Aesthetics, Readings in World Literature, and even “practical” courses in the visual and performing arts.

  3. reply

    1. The process of making art is very rigorous and involves a conceptual process.
    2. All of the studio art classes include info on the theoretical landscape and history of art.
    3. Once again, the maroon is silly and boring.

  4. reply

    This article is not only boring, but extremely embarrassing and just another manifestation of the Maroon’s ignorance. The production of art, when done with genuine intent, is guided by a highly conceptual process. Art demands an active participatory culture, and what better way to engage with it than to produce original works? Also, I find the assertion that “many drama courses include a number of similar games and exercises perhaps better suited for recess” to be downright laughable — have you ever taken an acting class? Do you not realize how fundamental these exercises have proven toward character comprehension and development?

    COME. ON.

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