“What is art for?” This is the central question of Dr. Bennett’s Honors 100 Gateway course. Recently, the class traveled to Denver to apply classroom discussions to the real world.
The trip included stops at the Denver Art Museum, historic Tattered Cover Bookstore and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The purpose of the trip, funded in part by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, was to examine art with a critical eye, observing the variations between what is displayed in the museum, on the street and in the theatre.
In the Denver Art Museum, students roamed free for a full afternoon, pausing to examine works according to their interest. Bennett tasked them with finding at least one piece of art that stopped them in their tracks. At that piece they spent time writing and/or sketching, reflecting on what made them halt.
“In the classroom we’ve been talking about art as art and art as a tool for social change. I think we really saw that,” said freshman Eliya Sorenson.
The following morning students walked through downtown Denver, noting the differences between public art and the art they had seen the previous day at the museum. Amid advertisements on 16th Street Mall and various public sculptures and paintings, students had plenty to write about.
In the afternoon, students participated in an acting workshop with Western alum and DCPA teaching artist, Heather Hughes. Hughes graduated from Western in 1997 with a major in Communication Arts, emphasis in Theatre and minor in Sociology. She has lived around the country working as an actor and teaching artist in theatres from Santa Ana, California to New York City.
“Kelsey Bennett gave me a whole lot of great information in terms of what she and the students have been working on in class, examining the question, ‘What is art for?’ I don't think there's ever been a better time to ask that question,” Hughes said.
With Hughes, students switched gears from observing the art around them to actively participating in theater through various acting exercises and games. In one exercise, students had to choose from a stack of photos at random and share with the group why this image spoke to them.
“Acting for me is all about empathy, listening and gaining a new understanding of someone else's life and experience. It’s to get us talking and feeling,” said Hughes as she asked students about their own experiences.
Among their responses, students said art is for: expression, creativity, relief, expressing emotion, storytelling, criticizing, communicating, perception and life.
The trip culminated with an afternoon viewing of Pulitzer-prize winning play Disgraced at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Discussing difficult political themes, the play challenged viewers on their preconceived notions and elicited a range of responses from the students and audience members alike.
Fiery discussion followed the curtain closing, when students participated in a moderated talk-back and conversed with their classmates on the ride back to Gunnison. In an effort to answer the question “What is art for?” this field trip raised many more questions for the class to explore during the remainder of the semester.
Story and photos by Taylor Cull, Marketing Communications.