Arts and the cognitive life of the university

Harvard has issued a Report of the task force on the arts (2008, December), which argues that the arts are an integral part of the cognitive life of the university. Similar reports come out regularly from other institutions; this one is notable mostly because of Harvard’s stamp on the value of the arts, especially for inquiry in all fields. There is (belated) attention to a wide view of arts both in appreciation and in making, as well as the use of new technologies:

The use of new digital and media technologies—in virtually all forms of inquiry—provides an unprecedented opportunity for our students to take art-making seriously “for itself,” while seeing it as an enhancement of their own specific scholarly and professional interests. “Making” in the visual arts, for instance, is no longer restricted to the hand-held technologies of pencil, brush, chisel and camera…The availability of computer software for creative purposes allows for a range of artistic practices that may not “train the hand and eye” in the time-honored traditional sense, but whose imaginative and aesthetic possibilities provide the important cognitive and conceptual training of an “art-making” education. (pp. 8-9)

One side note is the recognition of Harvard’s “unusual, if not unique” relation to arts practice. The report notes for example that

By 1869, Yale had opened the doors to its School of Art . Yale now confers graduate degrees in arts practice from four separate professional schools—the School of Art, School of Drama, School of Music, and School of Architecture—and it provides as well profound opportunities for mentorship and instruction within the talented undergraduate population. (p. 6)

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