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Scholars and the Arts


The elimination of Mr. Lux Feininger's studio courses from the Fine Arts Department (see article below) represents an unfortunate blow to the cause of the creative arts at Harvard. Hopefully the loss will be only temporary and courses in painting and drawing will soon re-emerge under the auspices of the Visual Arts Center; and hopefully they will still retain Mr. Feininger's preocupation with the creative rather than the scholarly approach to art.

While unfortunate in itself, the death (or hibernation) of these courses presents a far broader problem which acquires particular poignancy from the College's recent interest in Loeb Drama Center and the new Visual Arts Center. What role, in fact, should the creative arts play in Harvard's curriculum?

The question is being answered to a large degree right now in the deliberations of the program sub-committee of the Visual Arts Committee which within a month should submit its suggestions on what courses should be offered at the Center and which should receive credit. The situation quite obviously requires a disentanglement of the chaotic mess of theoretical bits and pieces which compose the Faculty's current position towards the creative arts.

While virtually all departments persist in their scholastic graduate school oriented philosophy, a careful perusal of the catalogue reveals a considerble number of creative courses, some of which lack any scholarly content whatsoever. Professor Leon Kirchner's Seminar in Composition (Music 268), for example, avoids any attempt to teach musical composition to the scholar for use in analyzing other composers' works. Its purpose is quite frankly to teach a creative art. The same probably holds true for English composition courses although the instructors of these courses are singularly unsure of just what their real purpose is.

More common perhaps is the part scholarly, part practical instruction which Fine Arts concentrators for example, seek in Feininger's courses. There technical understanding of artistic methods can lead to a more profound study of the masters.

Where the College fails completely, however, is in the theatre. The single offering with any hint of practical instruction in acting or direction, Professor Packard's English P, thoroughly tempers this exercise with formal study of theatrical history, the theory and principles of acting, directing, stage design, etc. Otherwise, attempts to found courses in performance have been beaten down with all the classic arguments: the study of acting is too professional--Harvard is not a vocational training school and it should leave such non-scholarly subjects to less scholarly institutions.

But this kind of thinking says more about a Puritanical past than it does about the true merits of dramatics instruction. For talk of "professionalism" merely obscures the more significant fact that experience in acting and directing provides as great an understanding of the theatre as literature as any reading or viewing can.

Certainly vocationalism offers no grounds for argument: the inappropriateness of say a brick-laying course goes unchallenged. But brick-laying is not theatre, or painting, or composing music. Vocationalism and professionalism are quite simply not the issue.

In point of fact, only three or four of Mr. Feininger's approximately 35 students concentrate in Fine Arts, the rest dabble; probably none of Mr. Kirchner's present students will become professional composers; and English composition courses (particularly English C) are thoroughly infused with dilettantes.

The real danger to the traditionally academic nature of Harvard education arises from the possibility of concentration in creative arts to the exclusion of classical academic subjects, but this danger is easily allayed by placing a limit on the number of creative courses one may take for credit.

The time has come to recognize in theory what exists in fact, and to complete the fact where gaps remain. The goal of a Harvard education falls beyond mere scholarship. It calls for the ability to express ideas as well. Thus, insofar as creative subjects reinforce academic ones, they are a necessary part of the college curriculum. Courses in the theatrical art, added to those in Fine Arts, Architectural Science, Music, and English composition, would considerably enrich the College's educational offering.

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