Throughout the spring semester, Western honors students taking the Honors 100 Gateway course have been pondering, “What is art for?” by exploring the many dimensions of how art can convey truth, power, ethics, morality, and beauty. The class has observed and studied these themes in various art mediums such as paintings, plays, films, and more.
On March 30 and 31, the students were able to travel outside of their classroom in Taylor Hall to see such art forms in person during a field trip to Denver. The weekend trip included a viewing of the Colorado Ballet’s Directors Choice performance and a trip to the Denver Art Museum to see the works of art done by French artist Edgar Degas in the Degas: A Passion for Perfection exhibition.
“I’ve always wanted to get out see more art, more performance, more theater, things like that,” said student Gabriel Portis. “So just being able to do that through this class and think about art and what it means has been cool.”
According to the course’s instructor, Dr. Kelsey Bennett, the trip serves as an opportunity for the students to apply the critical thinking skills they learn in the course and to experience firsthand how powerful the different art forms can be, which ultimately, will help the students answer the question, “What is art for?”
The question is theme of the Honors 100 Gateway course, which is a required class for all honors students looking to enter the program. The class is supported by a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities submitted by Bennett, who also serves as the Honors Program Director. The grant was awarded in 2016 and has been in use for the class for the last two spring semesters, and will conclude at the end of the current semester.
To utilize the skills learned in the course, Bennett asked her students to not just simply observe the ballet performance or the work of Degas, but to focus on their initial “spontaneous, emotional reactions” and ask themselves why it made them feel a certain way.
“I want them to get past the commentary and reputation (of the artists), and focus on that immediate experience they get,” Bennett explained. “Then, having them break that down. Go beyond just saying ‘I like that’ and getting people to think personally why they’re drawn to something.”
For some students, their search to find the meaning and purpose of art in the classroom has effected them in their everyday lives, as Portis explained.
“I feel like I’ve really changed in the way that I see the world,” he said. “I would try to see art but I didn’t know how to comprehend it. So seeing these different mediums has been really cool, and going to the museum and seeing the ballet, my mind was just blown seeing these things up close instead of just reading them.”
Bennett added she hopes her students continue to utilize their critical thinking skills and to ask those personal questions after the course ends.
“My hope is for my students to ask deeper questions about who they are and who they want to become but also be able to ask meaningful and enduring questions about the world and communities around them in a deeper way,” Bennett said.
Story by Roberta Marquette-Strain; Originally published in Top O' the World Newspaper on April 13, 2018. Photo by Taylor Cull, Marketing Communications.