Who’s The Best? Bias Answers the Question

Posted by Ron Jones On October - 2 - 2013
Ron Jones

Ron Jones

There’s been so much written about the value of higher education and most of it, especially when it is positive, I agree with.   Lately, however, I have begun to question my own thinking, admitting to myself that I may be so biased and gullible that I will buy into anything that is said about higher education if it positively reflects upon my domain.

For years I have agreed with the argument that a broad, liberal education combined with arts training is the right balance, i.e., the best balance for graduating someone in the arts.  I also accepted hook, line, and sinker the notion that to be fully prepared, to have the full enchilada, so to speak, would require a student to major in a more professional degree such as the BFA.  Notice how I said, the “more professional,” with emphasis upon the “more.”

Why did I, and, for that matter, most, if not all of my world of colleagues buy into this notion of how to shape a curriculum intended to prepare an artist?  For others, it may be different but for me the answer is embarrassingly clear: the argument made sense because I was always in a comprehensive university and, therefore, what made sense was justifying the value of the institution in which I worked. So now, suddenly after forty years in public comprehensive and research universities, I find myself in a private professional art school.  Almost overnight I found myself rethinking the values of an institution that is not comprehensive, that subscribes to the idea that full immersion is what counts, and believes that the success of each student and therefore the success of the institution rests upon the intensity and passion that can only come from discipline, focus, and total immersion into the discipline.  Oh, there are liberal arts requirements, and most faculty value the contributions they make, but there is no question what the art school is doing and what it expects at the end of four years.

I started this rambling with the intent of persuading you that the private professional art school is where it is at; the very act of writing this, however, makes it clear to me that there are a variety of paths and there are a variety of institutions offering journeys unique to those faculty and curricula (community college, conservatory and/or art school, public or private comprehensive or liberal arts institution, etc.). In the end, however, it’s really a matter of fit and, of course, I trust you recognize the subtext is that we justify our own setting, we validate what we know, we hold the others in suspicion, or even worse.

2 Responses to “Who’s The Best? Bias Answers the Question”

  1. Ron, that was such an interesting process you went through and shared. It reminds me of a story my once Catholic husband has told me of the priest in the church he attended as a child: after a lifetime of haranguing his parishioners to believe in and follow the church’s teachings, in his last sermon he confessed that he had recently come to understand that God is within and one should not follow the dictates of others. My husband, by the way, believes most really fine musicians and artists become so because they learn in ways that are natural to them – in neighborhood Jazz clubs for example or, like Ray Charles, by the side of soulful mentors. Technique that is learned AFTER the need is felt, to serve the need to express instead of to direct or determine the expression, is then of value. Thanks for the post!

  2. Amy Cole-Farrell says:

    Ron, I’m coming upon your post months after but it resonated with me in several ways and I’d also like to share my very different experience. I entered the theatre world as a performer. I went to a comprehensive university and received a liberal arts double degree with Drama. I entered the professional world, again, as a performer but several years in felt disengaged. I began producing and teaching and an entire world of possibilities opened for me in how I can contribute to my field. I recently earned my MFA in performance at a comprehensive university that offered a multi-disciplinary program aimed at mid career theatre artists. All this to say that while I grew a tremendous amount as a theatre maker and performer during my MFA, had I not had my undergrad liberal arts experience I may not have considered teaching or producing–pieces that lead to my multidisciplinary MFA and the rewarding career in the arts I have today. I simply would not have the same skill set afforded me by my BA. Perhaps theatre arts is a different animal, being so multifaceted in how an artist can interact with the field, but for me, my liberal arts degree created a more sustained and richer experience for me as an artist.

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.