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Duke does not have a proper arts requirement

Cutting a roll of film perfectly in a dark room. Signing your initials to the bottom of a completed painting. Bowing at the end of the opening night of a play that you worked three months on. Completing the final rotation of a pirouette you have been learning forever. Editing that last bit of blue sky to pop against your photo’s subject. There’s no better feeling than seeing the final version of art you create come to life. 

Yet, Duke does not have a proper arts requirement. I touched on this in my Duke 2022: What’s in and what’s out opinion piece and have decided it is worthy of its own wordier moment due to the overlooked centrality of art in our everyday lives. 

The issue with the current arts requirement is two-fold. 

Firstly, although the university technically has an arts requirements through their Arts, Literature and Performance (ALP) Area of Knowledge code, not every student has to fulfill this requirement. Trinity students must take two credits coded for ALP, but Pratt students are given the choice of choosing other Areas of Knowledge over ALP for their requirements. Secondly,  the majority of ALP coded courses are seminars or simply a study of certain arts. Out of the 230+ ALP coded courses offered for the Spring 2022 semester, roughly less than a third of the courses are hands-on; meaning students create in their own works of art such as dances, plays, creative writings, films, photsets, paintings, etc. 

Thus, Duke has an improper arts requirement due to Pratt students not having to partake in an ALP coded course and the relative lack of hands-on arts courses. Studies and seminars on art focus on the comprehension of other people’s art. Although important as a foundational tool to pursue one’s own art ventures, this style of class does not push students to think of their own world and daily life as inspiration for something to be created. Hands-on arts courses such as Producing Docu-Fiction, Advanced Painting, or Acting for the Camera provide this inspiration as students create their own artistic pieces instead of solely learning about the art form in question.

When discussing my desire for a better arts requirement, a friend disagreed, saying that the lowest grade they ever received was in an arts class. This is a fair point given the Duke obsession with perfect GPAs; however, to quote one of my Economics professors “it’s not about the grade, it’s about what you learn.”

Creating art teaches you how to think outside of the box. Creating art teaches you how that visible ray of sunshine shining on that one specific booth in WU is inspiration for an entire photo series. Creating art teaches you to recognize how the number series that you are inputting into your computer science code can be manipulated and shifted to make something totally different. Creating art teaches you to notice the biological patterns of an organism’s system that is crucial to their survival. Creating art teaches you which NFTs hold true artistic value that will mean something in the future. Creating art teaches you that everything is art and that there is something to be created in everything, everywhere.

I remember my physics teacher from high school proclaiming something along the lines of “you can know every concept in the textbook, but to be on the pioneering end of any industry, you have to be able to create new ideas and concepts on your own”. 

This has stuck with me ever since and I have found that since the beginning of time, pioneers in industries outside of the arts world have not only been known for their creativity, but are exceptional because of their creativity. 

Leonardo da Vinci’s creative curiosity and background in art arguably led to his invention of items such as amateur flying machines and diving suits for sea exploration. Albert Einstein himself said that “the greatest scientists are artists as well” and believed his scientific work was inextricably linked to art. Economist John Maynard Keynes, who laid the foundation for the Keynesian economic principles followed in the US, made a point to engage with the arts as he saw economists as the trustees of “the possibility of civilization” and believed art was crucial to this position. Philosopher Karl Marx recognized the importance of artistic aesthetics in his commodity fetishism theory that is still applicable today.

The focus on these well-known pioneers and their accomplishments is not to say that only someone in tune with their creativity could imagine such things as they did. The difference is that these pioneers knew how to take what was only in their mind and give it life in the real world, a skill that art teaches you how to accomplish. It can be argued that these pioneers’ previous artistic endeavors taught them how to tangibly create something that others had only imagined. With Duke’s strong focus on shaping the pioneers of tomorrow, a hands-on arts requirement is in their best interest.

I want to note that there is something to be said for creating art voluntarily, which a required arts course could defeat. I know a lot of us hated being forced to sketch the same city scene as everyone else in elementary art school, especially knowing it was going to be graded subjectively. However, I have found that the hands-on arts courses here are taught by professors who encourage and uplift unique creations from each student, allowing their ideas to flourish and come to fruition.

Overall, having a hands-on arts requirement would benefit every person in the Duke student body. The experience that the courses will provide will carry over into their economic, scientific and business endeavors—creating the pioneers of tomorrow. 

Olivia Bokesch is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.  


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