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Scholars and Painters

Brass Tacks

By Cennino Cennini

At the end of this terms, Fine Arts 16 (Introduction to Drawing and Painting) and Fine Arts 18 (Advanced Painting), the only two studio arts courses for credit offered by the University, will be dropped from the Catalog. At the same time, Theodore Lux Feininger, who has taught the two courses for the past nine years, will leave the University.

Just why Mr. Feininger and his courses will depart in a few months is muzzily unclear. Mr. Feininger himself attributes the idea to terminate his courses to former Dean Bundy, who supposedly decided in the spring of 1960 that all studio courses would be separated from the Fine Arts department, and, presumably, placed under the aegis of the new Carpenter Visual Arts Center--as soon as the Center was able to shelter these courses.

One the other hand, Arthur Trottenberg, the vice-chairman of the Visual Arts Center Committee, a group that has planned the Center, and will run it when it is runnable, says that the Fine Arts department itself decided to drop Fine Arts 16 and 18, and that the Center has been, at the same time, independently studying plans for courses in the studio arts.

Such an interpretation seems eminently plausible. The Fine Arts Department's own opinion of studio courses is that they are valuable only when they set out to teach the principles and techniques of painting; and the department takes a much dimmer view of studio courses when they attempt to make painters--professional or Sunday--of the students. Unfortunately, as one member of the department has put it, it is "hard to keep these two motives separate"--a student often simply must learn to paint in order to understand the techniques he is investigating.

And whether or no Mr. Feininger has kept these motives clear and distinct in his own mind, certain it is that at least 31 out of the 35 under-graduates in his two courses are not Fine Arts concentrators, and that many of them are taking a course with Feininger for no other reason than that, as one student has expressed it, "I want to paint."

To the Fine Arts department, then, the academic value of F.A. 16 and 18, is not to put too fine a point on it, almost negligible. Sydney Freedberg, the chairman of the department, goes so far as to say that the studio courses give a Fine Arts concentrator "no aesthetic, technical, historical or creative advantages" unobtainable in the regular lecture courses. The department, Mr. Freedberg explains, originally assumed the function of presenting studio courses only because there was no other unit in the University able to offer such courses. (Why the department bothered to take on this task is a question which intrigues Mr. Feininger: "I've often asked myself not so much why I'm leaving, as why I was asked to come in the first place.")

Whatever its actions in the past, the department now appears only too happy to divest itself of Mr. Feininger's courses. And, presumably, it has found in the Carpenter Visual Arts Center the proper closet for these discarded classes--even though the full faculty has officially recorded its disapproval of a plan to create a "Division of Studio Arts" at the Center that would be able to offer courses in painting, sculpture, architectural drawing, and even acting. (This idea, incidentally, can be traced to the 1955 Brown Report on the Visual Arts which first planted the idea of building a Center, and which inspired Alfred St. Vrain Carpenter '05 and his late wife to give the money for it.)

It now remains for the Center to decide whether it wishes to offer, with or without academic credit, studio courses in painting and/or sculpture (or perhaps, it is rumored, film-making)--the Center will have no crack at architectural drawing, which remains firmly a part of the Architectural Sciences department, or at acting, the responsibility of the English department and the Loeb Drama Center. This decision, the province now of the Center's Program Subcommittee, will be published some time this spring, hopefully within a month; it will settle the fate of Mr. Feininger's expiring courses, and also of the general future of studio arts courses at the University.

If the Subcommttee determines not to present such courses, they will disappear completely from the curriculum--there is, once again, no other group at Harvard willing to sponsor these studio arts. If, however, the subcommittee recommends their continuation, Mr. Feininger's purposes will live after his own departure, and all the muzziness will probably have resolved itself into some sort of an extension of the status quo.

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