Why are the Performing Arts Important to a Liberal Arts Education?

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One visit to Wake Forest’s website and will likely see this graphic:

Wake Forest, “a community of communities.” Our website illustrates to visitors the strength of our academic curriculum as well as a vital learning community bounding with recreation and co-curricular activities. We strive to “educate the whole person,” to provide each student with not only a strong liberal arts background, but also to mold each student into intelligent and perceptive life-long learners. So, where do the performing arts contribute to this community? Namely, how does the Secrest Series stimulate the campus environment? Here are 3 reasons that an appreciation and involvement in the performing arts is integral to Wake Forest’s well-rounded development.

Number One. We must be culturally literate as well as math, science, and historically literate. It is not enough to be able to regurgitate a stream of numbers or memorize historical events. We must have the ability to use the specific knowledge we have acquired to synthesize information and draw conclusions across our many difference platforms. In doing this, we show a flexibility of mind that is invaluable to innovation. Steve Jobs comments that creativity comes to someone “because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had an synthesize new things…the broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

Number Two. The performing arts help us to define our community. Recall the civilizations of the ancient world. We remember Plato and Aristotle’s contributions to philosophy and learning long after the feudal oppression of ancient Greek society has dissipated. Michelangelo’s Pietá, David, and scenes of Genesis at the Sistine Chapel, and fellow Italian Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Last Supper have left an imprint of life in the Italian Renaissance that outshines the huge income disparity that plagued Italy at the time. Chopin’s nocturnes sing over any remembrance of the Russian influence in Poland in the 1830s. For these ancient artists, the beauty they saw in their societies and the morals they held true were reflected in their arts and were transmitted for future generations to enjoy. The accomplishments of the artists of these civilizations outlive the imperial triumphs and political institutions they lived in and play a large part in evaluating the success of the civilization. Perhaps after our political institutions have fallen and violence diminished, the success of our civilization will also be measured based on our additions to the understanding of the human experience in our creative arts. Every student at Wake Forest has the capacity to be a part of this understanding because every student has the opportunity to participate and experience the performing arts. We can leave an imprint of our “community of communities” for future students to discover.

Number Three. Involvement in the performing arts creates better student achievement in other elements of life. The arts are a subject that requires active engagement in the learning process. The performer must have a vision for their piece, whether music, dance, or art. They have one chance to grasp the heart of the audience and change their thinking ever so slightly. In order to improve, the performer must have the self-control and discipline to commit the time and energy it will take to get better. In order to perform, one must have an aptitude to coordinate with others and learn self-confidence to have a stage presence. These skills that artists gain transfer directly into competencies necessary for the workforce. First, developing a vision fosters creativity and imagination. Furthermore, in order to improve, one not only cultivates self-discipline, but also matures in problem solving and critical thinking because problem diagnosis, analysis, and evaluation, are key to enhancing talents. Third, working with other performers heightens communication and collaboration skills that will make the performer a good team player in a job setting.

In conclusion, the performing arts will contribute to our community in three fundamental ways: First, the arts will enhance our creativity when we connect dots from our other coursework to experiences we have in the creative arts; second, just as ancient civilizations are remembered for their great artists and philosophers, we too have an opportunity to use creative pursuits to transmit our experiences and our sense of community to the next generation; lastly, the skills obtained from an involvement in the arts will boost performance in the workplace. The broader our contact, involvement, and appreciation for the creative arts is, the more vibrant our community will become.

Stay tuned for more updates and information about the Wayne Shorter Quartet
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