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  Reported by
  John Easton, AM'77
  Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93
  Richard Mertens
  Sharla Stewart
  Mary Ruth Yoe

  Photography by
  Dan Dry


  > > The End of Consulting?
  > >
Records of a Revolution
  > >
Campus of the Big Ideas
  > >
You Go Girl!


Chicago: Campus of the Big Ideas
The launch of The Chicago Initiative-the University's five-year, $2 billion fund-raising effort-was marked by an April 12 event that focused on Chicago's intellectual initiatives.

Art for art's sake?

What does it mean to be an artist at a university primarily dedicated to research? How does art contribute to the life of the mind?

For panel moderator Bill Brown, master of the Humanities Collegiate Division and the George M. Pullman professor in English, the "Chicago caricature" would suggest that mind and senses are entirely separate. In fact, Brown pointed out, as early as 1934 John Dewey argued in Art and Experience that we cannot think of art as distinct from thinking or science as separate from art.

Danielle Allen, associate professor in classical languages & literature and the Committee on Social Thought, demonstrated perhaps most clearly the falseness of the Cartesian distinction. A scholar of democracy and political theory, Allen is also the organizer of "Poem Present," a contemporary poetry series at the U of C, and a published poet.

In the days after 9/11, Allen said, U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins was asked what poetry could do for the nation-and his answer was "nothing." "I could not disagree with him more," Allen said, reading from W. H. Auden's war poem "September 1, 1939."

"Why did Auden's poem circulate so widely after 9/11?" she asked. "It spoke to our emotions at a time when we needed solace and resolution." Poetry has another, equally practical purpose, she said: "Poetry teaches me how to look at politics," because "it puts pressure on words." After the attacks, Allen, like the rest of the nation, was "glued to the television," waiting to hear what President Bush and other world leaders would say. "Words mattered," she said. "Based on words, the shape of events would change."

Several panelists spoke of the equally artificial division between creating art and studying it. At many conservatories, history and analysis are considered a waste of time, said Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker distinguished service professor in music; the attitude is "you should be practicing." Similarly, many universities have "built barriers to performance. Professors actually frown on practicing music." Chicago is different: the music department sponsors student ensembles from gamelan to Middle Eastern music, as well as two professional groups in residence. "To write about art," agreed photographer Laura Letinsky, associate professor in the Committee on Visual Arts, "it's important to try to make it."

For Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin professor in music and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, the lure of on-campus performance groups proved irresistible when she was asked to join the faculty 30 years ago. "A painter or sculptor can see the work evolving," she said, "while a composer sees dots on paper." Performance groups can fulfill "a composer's dream-hearing one's own sounds."

Conversations with colleagues in other departments, Ran said, are just as valuable. Struggling with the writing of her opera, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk), she talked with Michael Fishbane, the Nathan Cummings professor in the Divinity School and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, about a style of ecstatic Hassidic prayer. His insights, she said, provided "fuel to what was churning inside me. I'm so grateful to be part of a university community where we have such fruitful conversations."

1. In the beginning: what do our origins tell us about ourselves?

2. Homo sapiens: are we really rational creatures?

3. Integrating the physical and biological sciences: what lies ahead?

4. Money, services, or laws: how do we improve lives?

5. Clones, genes, and stem cells: can we find the path to the greatest good?

6. How will technology change the way we work and live?

7. Why do we dig up the past?

8. Art for art's sake?

9. In the realm of the senses: how do we understand what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste?

10. Can we protect civil liberties in wartime?


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  JUNE 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 5

  > > Class News

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  > > e-Bulletin: 06/14/02



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