Sidelining fine arts will prevent students from expanding their cognitive horizons

The fine arts in institutes of higher learning are facing challenges of neglect and discrimination.

From the outset, it is regarded as not within the academic intellectual hierarchy because it does not conform to the criteria of academic disciplines, which is benchmarked by scientific rubric that exclusively emphasises verbal thought processes and knowledge creation, and transfer.

Anything outside the parameters of scientific inquiry and analysis are deemed non-academic. Textual journal publications are the main criteria of scholarship and academic excellence.

But the performing and visual arts, in addition to the normal verbal/textual discourse and communication, incorporate, as a major component of its discipline, the non-verbal knowledge expressions and transfers through kinetic performances (dance, music, and theatre) and visual creations (paintings, sculptures, etc.).

But most university administrators, who are usually from science backgrounds, and who are not schooled in the fine arts, have no inkling of the non-verbal forms of knowledge creation and transfer, which deal with abstraction, forms, and shapes to convey a different level of thought process that lends to various subjective interpretations that promote abstract, critical, and visual thinking. As a result, the arts are ignored and neglected.

Likewise, the bulk of academic staff suffer similar artistic dementia in not having the acumen of fathoming non-verbal data as represented in the visual and performing arts using forms, shapes, colours, and realistic and non-realistic images.

The arts are, therefore, considered a non-academic peripheral field of study, and discriminated against. Plays, novels and dramatic critiques are seldom published by most universities, as these are considered non-academic.

One university press totally rejects such works for publication, despite having a School of Arts that offers bachelor, Master’s, and PhD degree programmes in the performing and visual arts.

It exposes the academic myopia of those who dismiss literary and creative works (visual and performing arts) as being out of sync with academic works, simply because they do not follow the rubric of scientific research and analysis.

A huge segment of the university’s faculties subscribes to this archaic attitude towards intellectualism simply because of their ignorance and unwillingness to understand an area of intellectual expression that goes beyond the descriptive narrative of scientific language. They usually exhibit an obscurantist attitude towards the arts.

Thus, the support for the arts on campus is rather lethargic. There is a total lack of interest in the arts from students of other disciplines. Performances of dances, music, theatre, and visual arts exhibitions are confined to students directly involved in the degree programmes (major, minor, or electives).

This lethargy is even found within the artistic enclave itself. One would expect students in the arts to engage and involve themselves in cross-arts disciplines. For example, dance students involving themselves in music or visual department activities,  and vice-versa. But such interactions are not the norm. Rather, they are the exception.

This malaise also extends to the art lecturers who do not support artistic activities outside their own creative disciplines. It goes without saying that lecturers from other disciplines have no notion or inkling of on-campus artistic activities because of ignorance and apathy.

It is common knowledge that there is no vibrant art scene in all public university campuses. The administrators have not attempted to make the arts an integral part of campus life; it is tolerated as an aberration of so-called academic life.

This is the result of the prevailing attitude of, not only policymakers, but the CEOs and top management of the universities who are bereft of artistic cognition or skills, and whose mindset is based on scientific algorithm of knowledge creation and transfer.

Artistic expressions are alien to them. Such an attitude will eventually result in the demise of artistic scholarships and expressions on campus, denying students the opportunity to explore phenomena beyond the verbalised textual knowledge, and experiencing the aesthetic and spiritual percept of artistic expressions.

Our university campuses have become a place of rote learning and regurgitating data without much critical appraisal, creating introverted students. The arts could provide the much-needed catalyst for students to experience and explore the realm of visual knowledge, to spark, and engender critical and creative engagement through non-verbal communication.

This would create a holistic personality that could experience phenomena beyond the confines and dictates of verbal and textual knowledge, and expand their cognitive horizon into the realm of aesthetic expressions.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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