This week’s readings came at just the right time for me. I needed some validation and bucking up.
My students’ final assignment is to create a work of art — collage, photographic series, painting, song, sculpture. It can be anything, but it needs to represent work, labor, or the working class and connect with one or more of the themes we wrestled with this semester. They are also required to write an artist statement justifying their decisions and do a short oral presentation to the class. To me, this is a fun project. It has some restrictions in terms of themes, but it wide open to genres and interpretations. What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, I have a small contingency of students who are not enthusiastic. On Thursday, I asked them what their level of discomfort with the project was on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the most awesome ever. It’s a 1.5. They’d rather write a research paper. I almost gave in. Instead I ended up giving a spiel about the importance of humanities to foster critical thinking, yadda, yadda. I followed that up by mentioning the need for creative thinkers to solve problems in fields like engineering and science. I even heard myself say, “If you’re struggling with it, it’s probably good for your brain.” I LITERALLY just embodied my mother.
Needless to say, I found this week’s readings validating, but I have a few takeaways for future semesters:
- Dan Edelstein uses the word innovation. I should use that. Innovative thinking is a phrase that likely carries more meaning and weight to science-types than creative thinking.
- I need to be more transparent with students throughout the semester about the value of art, literature, film and music. I often expect students — as we talk about constructed narratives, social change, and the arts — to come to an understanding about how the arts shapes our lives in real and important ways. I need to be explicit.*
*Full disclosure: I said the phrase “Let me be explicit …” in class last week and they snickered at me. Then I made them look up the definition of the word on their phones. Then we talked about why it has come to mean graphic or offensive. This is an example of why I am not the cool one. So uncool.
- I need to stop thinking about the loftier reasons for humanities’ importance (citizenship! Empathy for others!) and learn to better justify it, like Edelstein says, in terms of professional success. I believe in the arts and in their importance. I should be ready to fight for them.