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Building a Civilization- Majoring and minoring in the arts at Eastern

     American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the creation of beauty is art.” Beauty may be found in any one of the arts featured at Eastern University, which include music, dance, theater and the fine arts. Over the years, Eastern has been blessed with talented professors in the arts, such as Elizabeth Simmons, who taught fine art classes, including History and Appreciation of Art. She is remembered for her love of art history and her desire to convey that love to her students. In fact, her many art exhibitions in the Warner Library often provided a visual reminder of the arts on the St. Davids campus. Over the years, the art departments have undergone periods of both growth and decline. In 1990, Eastern started its dance program, and the music department was soon reinstituted after the sale of original Mozart manuscripts that were found at Eastern Baptist (now Palmer)  Theological Seminary. Unfortunately, for visual art (drawing, painting and art history), there has been a continuous decline in the amount of classes offered since Mrs. Simmons’ day.

     Although there is only one visual art class currently taught,  many students advocate for a return to a focus on the arts at Eastern. For instance, Eastern senior dance major Hannah Brumbach says, “Much of American higher education is aesthetically reflective of the rest of the society that categorizes the arts as an extra; they are an unnecessary but enjoyable addition to life, and they really hold little value in learning. Eastern has the opportunity to stand against this status quo, to see that the arts are not supplemental to life, but are wholly infused in life.”

     Currently, Eastern offers both a major and minor in music and minors in dance, fine arts and theater. Sophomore theater minor Jared Maier comments, “The arts here at Eastern are general overviews of the field….It’s enough to sink your teeth into, but it’s not enough to get your fill.”

     Although there may not be many classes related to the arts at Eastern, the arts are still a worthwhile endeavor to pursue. While some may argue that the arts are worthless in today’s technological age, others will contend that they are the basis for a civilization. The arts cultivate creativity, unity and, at times, they reveal the glory of humanity. They are just as comprehensive and challenging as other academic fields, requiring lengthy practice and a strict time commitment. Both Maier and Brumbach point out that they practice many hours outside of their classes. In this respect, those who have majored or minored in the arts have dedicated a portion of their lives to the arts and to sharing their passions with the world around them.

     Besides the time commitment, majoring or minoring in the arts involves courses that are similar to other fields of study. Grading is based on an objective scale that measures how well one has learned the required material. As Maier says, “Surprisingly, the arts are graded objectively….Everything I needed to know before one of my graded performances was laid out in a rubric.” Brumbach adds, “Each class is crafted with grading methods that serve to evaluate a student’s application of the course content in writing, performance, teaching skills, technique and discussion.” Not only do art students need to know this material for tests, but they also have the added pressure of implementing the material in performances or designs. It is through such a workload that the pressure and stress involved in studying in the arts is revealed.

     Renaissance artist Michelangelo remarked, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” Brumbach adds to this statement: “Exploring the arts and providing outlets of creativity for the university is actually a mark of our Maker, the only self-sufficient Creator and the Originator of art. By emotionally and artistically investing in one another as students and staff, we learn to empathize in a way that the sciences cannot do. We cannot ignore the arts; they are everywhere; they are within all of us.”

     Indeed, a civilization that ignores the arts will end in barbarism and spiritual stagnation. Beauty is revealed through the arts, whether through a painting of windmills on a Dutch plain or a Viennese piano concerto or an American dance recital. Let us, as a university community, cherish the opportunity we have to study, watch and reflect upon the beauty of the arts.

     Sources: Hannah Brumbach, eastern.edu, Jared Maier, Cynthia Risden (’82)

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