Monday, April 22, 2019

On Being an Artist at Duke

Art at Duke-

Being an artist at Duke is at once a challenge and an opportunity. While it is true that Duke offers unparalleled resources for artists-- state of the art facilities for performing and visual arts, along with countless chances to experience and participate in the art of world-class professionals-- art can oftentimes feel secondary at a school so intently focused on academic prowess, cutting-edge research and athletic achievement. In an environment where the stresses of career prospects, social pressures, and personal distinction are constantly present, it is easy to see how art often takes a back seat, akin to a form of recreation or therapy rather than a serious study.

The undeniable truth is that extraordinary artists need time and focus to be able to create successful and valuable art, neither of which are abundantly available to most Duke students. If being an artist were as simple as participating in a certain craft, then the majority of Duke students would fit this descriptor-- most students will surely make an exploration into some form of art while at Duke, whether in the form of  a dance group or visual arts class or comedy troupe or symphony orchestra. Duke, for its part, provides as many opportunities and resources for these fields to be explored as any other major university, whether it be through beautiful facilities, experienced professors, or the best tools that money can buy. Being an artist, though, takes more than exploration. Being an artist takes a devotion that cannot easily be taught, and will never be taught properly at a school that places so much emphasis on academic legacy and professional prestige. At Duke, students are encouraged to explore the arts, but not to BE artists.

In this way, Duke will never be an "arts school." Though the university may attract talented students by channeling more and more funding into artistic resources, successful artists can only be born in areas where they are not only allowed but encouraged to devote themselves fully to art. At the end of the day, most Duke students did not come to the school solely on the basis of their art; likely the ones who included artistic elements in their applications did so in a supplemental way, just as most Duke students only supplement their career interests with artistic endeavors. The fields of visual and performing arts likely will never appeal to the university as promotable areas of study as long as they remain less respected and lucrative careers.

There is certainly a community of art patronage, or "tourism" at Duke, but the university has very little invested in creating a community of actual artists. Perhaps Duke is fulfilling an obligation by expending plenty of resources to campus arts (a more cynical person might say the school is simply trying to appear more attractive to multifaceted students in whom it sees large returns), but little will be done to create a community of devoted and serious artists at the university until Duke offers the same preparation for students to be professional artists that it offers students hoping to be doctors, consultants, and engineers.

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