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Arts requirement should promote creativity

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: Opinions


After finishing up my work one evening in the Goldman-Schwartz art studio, I was signing myself out when I overheard a conversation between the building monitor and a friend. The monitor’s friend mentioned that many students fulfill their fine arts requirement by taking some sort of art history course. Instead of taking a class that would involve creating art in any medium, they look for the least consuming course that would fill the university’s requirements so they can get back to studying the Krebs cycle.

At one point this semester, in the midst of taking an introductory painting course, I would have wished I had done what these two were complaining about. I am not a fine arts major, and I have no real past experience painting anything, so I have struggled through this class. And having to drudge down to the art studio numerous times to work on a piece is something that I completely loathe, as well as finding oil paint on my clothes after class, having no idea how it got there. Yet, now I share their feelings, and think that to fulfill the fine arts requirement, a student should have to actually take a creative arts class, not just a classics class that happens to be cross-listed in fine arts.

I have found this class to present so many different challenges that I never would have had to face if I just took a lecture on the age of cathedrals. How to mix the perfect color, how the light reflects off an object, how to accurately paint a shadow or arm and how to project the volume of the subject onto a flat canvas all teach skills that are not focused on in other classes. While the skills being built here are mostly things that you would be working on in kindergarten, like patience and motor-skills, they are so greatly enforced in a painting course that it improves your ability to really break down a problem and find a solution, a skill that can be transferred to any other discipline. Other classes just teach the subject matter that might not help in other aspects of life. But when taking a creative arts class, the subject matter transcends the course and really enriches the student.

The first painting I completed was pretty terrible, if I do say so myself, and I was rueing the rest of the semester having to drag myself through a two-hour, twice-a-week class just pushing paint around. However, during the past few months, I can see the improvements I have made directly in my work, and it makes me proud. It is very uplifting to be able to see tangible progress in something and can help with any sort of unhappy mood. In addition to that, creating any sort of art can be a somewhat cathartic act, one that will help express feeling and emotion in a safe way.

More than just appreciating your own work, you learn to appreciate others’ works and all other art much more than by sitting through a lecture, looking at a slide show. After struggling to paint a squash on a 16”-by-20” canvas, it simply amazes me how Michelangelo was able to paint the Sistine Chapel. The difficulty of working in that position for months, the ability to focus on the minute and the patience to get through the whole thing. Plus, where did he get all of that paint? I could not imagine there being a paint store in 16th-century Italy. From now on, just walking through a museum will make me more interested in what really went into that painting of a bowl of fruit.

I think the university should refine their requirements for undergraduates from the fine to the creative arts, but could it be done? The first consequence of this would be the need for more classes, classrooms and professors to teach all 3,500 undergraduates in typically small classes. The subject matter would probably be watered down as well, with a great host of students not completely invested in a course that is required to graduate. This would force the curriculum to be drafted around them, dragging the courses down to a more remedial level. It would not be fair to those who do plan to major in a creative art to have these formative classes be diluted by other students who do not want to pursue it. It would not be fair to those students who have no skill in a creative art, and being forced to take one would just cause great anxiety and possibly a poor grade.

Even if it would be extremely difficult and somewhat ludicrous to change the graduation requirements, I still believe that every student should make an attempt at a creative arts class, be it in studio art, music or theater. It creates a diverse skill set, and broadens the education received, something a liberal arts college like Brandeis wants to enforce. The creative arts generate a greater appreciation of the process involved and the achievement of others to a level that leaves you able to recognize the beauty all around you.