Inside the Classroom: Comparative Arts; Towards Understanding and Appreciation
HONR 1204 – Comparative Arts: Towards Understanding and Appreciation, was an Inquiries and Arts and Humanities course offered through the Honors program in Fall 2010. This course was an introduction to the arts via interdisciplinary methods of analysis. In this course we placed the “texts” (music recordings, poems, paintings, dances, readings) side‐by‐side to see what one could teach the other. Sources of these texts included Internet links, YouTube videos, podcasts, PowerPoints, and mp3s – there was no single textbook. Additional “texts” were the works of art that honors students experienced outside of the classroom – including performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, visits to the Museum of Fine Arts, plays at the Huntington Theatre, and numerous other arts-based events offered throughout the city of Boston.
The music, poetry, painting, dance, theater, and literature explored in this course were viewed with various lenses, including some perspectives borrowed from philosophy and anthropology. As it is difficult enough for any one of us to become “expert” in a single discipline, let alone a series of disciplines, the first goal of this class was to develop the courage to look at disciplines that we are not expert in (many of us will probably feel knowledgeable in at least one discipline, which we can call our “home” discipline). A second goal was for each of us to learn a few things about the “other” disciplines. The third goal was to apply our new knowledge to our home disciplines, with hopes of achieving new perspectives on what we know. I believe that this develops innovative thinking, and may be applied to any discipline we choose to study. Stepping outside of one’s home discipline (and our comfort zones), in order to “look” at other disciplines that we know less about, takes courage.
This course sought to develop in each of its students to ask questions without worrying about being perceived as not understanding, the courage to seek new ways of thinking with the hope of moving towards understanding and appreciation.
As a Professor of Music, the area that I am closest to being an expert in is music; for this reason, music was a “home base” for our interdisciplinary arts inquiry. The primary subject matter of this class, was three pieces of music, each of which was developed after an interdisciplinary collaboration, or an interdisciplinary pursuit:
Debussy, Prélude à l’aprèsmidi d’un faune (1894) [music]; Mallarmé’s poem, L’après-midi d’un faune [poem]; Monet, Sunrise [painting]; Sergei Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky [dance]
Stravinsky, Pulcinella (1920)[music]; Picasso [set design, costumes]; Sergei Diaghilev and Léonide Massine, [dance]
Luciano Berio, Sinfonia (1968); Berio, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958) [electronic music]; Joyce, Ulysses [excerpt, novel]
Claude Lévi‐Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked [excerpt, book on anthropology]
Because I am not an expert in the aforementioned other disciplines, a number of invited guest lecturers came to our class to provide for us their perspectives, including: Ed Andrews, from Art + Design; Jessica Berson, dance historian; Sara Doris, art historian; Nancy Kindelan, Theatre; Robert Kirzinger, Publications Associate, Boston Symphony Orchestra; Patrick Mullen, English; Hilary Poriss, Music; Holbrook Robinson, Justin Townsend, Theatre; Eliot Fisk, Guitarist, New England Conservatory; Neal Rantoul, Art + Design; and Guy Rotella, English.
Together, we experienced different ways of thinking about creativity, innovation and appreciation in the arts; and emphasized how such an interdisciplinary pursuit could lend itself to critical and innovative thinking that may be applied to any discipline.
This course was both a learning experience for me, and my students as well. I must also give a shout out to my teaching assistant, Fran Sales, and to Brian Dixon, who videotaped and recorded every class for podcast. I include here some quotes from students in the class:
“The guest lecturers were extremely helpful in understanding the course material in an interdisciplinary fashion. It was also interesting to go to various events in Boston and experience art shows and concerts to which I normally otherwise would not have been exposed.”
“The strength of this course was the numerous perspectives we gained due in large part to the various guest speakers. Since this course focused on interdisciplinary studies the different viewpoints was vital to its success.”
“The guest lecturers were definitely the highlight of this course however, and I liked that we had access to videos of their lectures afterwards as it helped me solidify the learning material after the class.”
I also received excellent constructive criticism from my students as well. Some thought that class was too music-centered, and not interdisciplinary enough; some felt I could the pacing of the course, and others wished I focused more on the journals in the class, allowing for more class discussion.
All in all, as I re-read some of the essays I received from the honors students last semester, one thing became very clear to me – these are the most intelligent students that I have ever had in a single class in my thirteen years at Northeastern.