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Creative arts classes lack hands-on learning

At Cal Poly you can get credit for driving tractors, making stickers, butchering hog carcasses, sleeping in homeless shelters and even writing newspapers. This truly is a “Learn By Doing” institution.

Except when it comes to the fine and performing arts.

I remember when I came to Open House during my senior year of high school. I was so excited to be able to sit in on a theater class. Drama at my high school was a very experiential subject with performances nearly every week. For me it was wonderful because I love the theater: costumes, makeup, set design, and most of all, acting.

But I found none of that in the Theatre History class I sat in that day. In fact, I left early because the lecture was boring.

All of the theater and dance general education courses this school has to offer are composed of nothing more than four lectures. It’s the same for a number of arts classes. How can a class on dance appreciation, or introduction to theatre be taught without any hands-on experience involved? Shouldn’t the word “performing” make it obvious that there should be an activity component?

I know we are only talking about general education, but I still argue that there should be less lecture and more activity in fine and performing arts courses. I had to suffer through a three-hour, hands-on biology lab, so I think the less artistically inclined can stand to dabble in a bit in creativity.

Even when arts classes do involve the “doing” part of our motto, any creativity is bound up by rigor and rules. My roommate, for example, is taking creative writing, which involves research and forced epiphanies. What was that line from “Dead Poets Society?” “We’re not laying pipe! We’re talking about poetry.” How can anything be creative when it is smothered by rules? I understand that structure is a good foundation, and that sometimes you do have to know the rules before you break them. However, most people will never break them unless encouraged. They’ll spend their entire lives without true freedom of expression. I say long live creative anarchy.

Now, if I care so much about the arts, maybe I’m at the wrong school. This is California PolyTECHNIC State University after all. But that name dates back to 1901. Things change. And as college-bound high school students, we were expected to be well-rounded with musical, theatrical, athletic and philanthropic talents abounding. Shouldn’t colleges be well-rounded too?

I know some professors understand the very nature of art enough to realize what the catalogue’s course description is missing. They have taken the trouble of adding participatory elements to their arts classes and I applaud them. But my point is that it should be an inherent part of the curriculum.

We pride ourselves on being a school that gets away from stale theories about how the world works, and on being a school that actually explores the world in all of its workings. But art seems to get the burden of being strictly by the books. Art is an interaction, an experience, an extension of its creator. Of all the academic areas to focus solely on theory, I think art is the worst choice.

Lauren Zahner is a journalism junior and Mustang Daily staff writer.