Join the discussion
"What I think has been
missing is the critical discussion of these works of art and
their performance in our midst."
Saliers, Parker Professor of Theology and Worship
"Before you can have critical discourse,
you need to have a widespread direct experience."
Radell, Associate Professor of Dance
art and making tenure
times for the arts
Academic Exchange April/May
2000 Contents Page
has been almost ten years since Associate Professor of Dance
Sally Radell was asked to propose the criteria for her own tenure
"It was kind of amazing,
but there had been no precedent, so it was understandable,"
says Radell, who became the university's first tenured faculty
member in dance in 1993. "I was aware that this would also
be the criteria for subsequent tenure-track people in dance,
so it needed to be rigorous yet flexible, to accommodate different
areas of creative research--performance, choreography, or reconstructing
Radell's forethought proved timely. Since she came to Emory in
1987, the dance program has grown from one and a half positions
to three tenure-track appointments (two of which are now held
by tenured faculty), one full-time lecturer, three part-time
instructors, two half-time musicians, and an administrative assistant.
The program, part of the health, physical education, and dance
department in Emory College, also launched a new major last fall.
The growth of the dance program is emblematic of the rise of
the performing arts at Emory, but complex questions persist about
the role of the arts in the university's intellectual life. As
ground is broken this summer for the Donna and Marvin Schwartz
Center for the Performing Arts, to be prominently situated on
the corner of North Decatur and Clifton roads, many arts faculty
still wonder whether their contributions are valued as an essential
and integral part of the academic program.
The $30 million, 98,000-square-foot center will include a 750-seat
concert hall, ample rehearsal space, a director's lab, and a
150-seat dance performance studio. Associate Professor of Theater
Leslie Taylor believes the facility will give the performing
arts a more secure station in the academy. "Having a space
designated for the arts says that Emory values the arts and will
stand behind them," she says. "Without it, we have
no face. Many faculty and students don't know there is a professional
theater company here at Emory."
Such ambiguity reflects a deeper misunderstanding of the role
of the arts, Taylor adds. "Academia--especially the humanities--is
often set up to study things that have already been created.
The people who are creating the art are somehow suspect. At Emory,
at least, this contributes to the perception that maybe this
is something students shouldn't be doing: they should study it,
but they shouldn't be doing it."
This distinction between reflection and action points to another
unstated assumption, Taylor says. "Sometimes theater is
thought of as all play, not an academic pursuit that correlates
with the sciences or social sciences." While some people
assume theater is not intellectually rigorous, she insists, "it's
no different in some ways than what a physicist might do in a
laboratory. It's the same thing in terms of creative play. It
has a lot of the same investigative qualities."
Parker Professor of Theology and Worship Don Saliers agrees that
those common qualities serve a necessary function in the academy.
"The intellectual life of the university can easily devolve
into sheer cognitivity and rational productivity, particularly
with the overload of data," says Saliers, whose remarks
are part of a longer interview in this issue. "The arts
touch that part of the human intellect deeper than rationality
and cognitivity--where imaginative power suffuses knowing and
feeling. People working in the neurosciences, for example, have
to have a certain kind of imagination in their inquiry. Patterns
of interpretation require the imaginative capacities in many
Saliers notes, however, that this function of the arts is not
universally recognized at Emory. "There has always been
an appreciation of the arts here, particularly the musical arts,
but I think a lot of people regard art as ornamentation: nice
to have but not really at the center of intellectual life,"
he says. "And that, to me, is disturbing. It's a sign of
parochialism about the life of the human mind."
One way to remedy that parochialism, he suggests, is to encourage
a more reflective culture around the performing arts at Emory.
"What I think has been missing is the critical discussion
of these works of art and their performance in our midst,"
he says. "A university must be about preserving knowledge
and culture--yes, but also reimagining the world, the cutting
edges. This requires critical reflection on specific art forms,
on the performance practices, if you will."
Dean of Emory College Steven Sanderson raises concerns about
the elitism this critical approach might engender. "I don't
reject the idea at all; I think there is real value in it,"
he says. "But I don't want the arts to become the domain
only of people who are professionally sophisticated, which might
intimidate other people out of thinking about art in their lives.
I'd prefer to allow the popular appreciation of a variety of
aesthetics. If we had a course in classical Indian music, for
example, is it really necessary to have critical sophistication
in the genre, or just to soak it up, to puzzle through to what
drove that tradition to develop in a particular place, in a particular
religious and cultural context?"
Provost Rebecca Chopp wonders whether casting the debate in terms
of a performance/critique dichotomy is the best way to understand
the place of the arts in the academy. "It assumes that the
arts in themselves do not carry any kind of
constructive or critical function in society," she says.
"I am not saying that all art is critique, but it is always
part and parcel of a culture. We should both appreciate and understand
the arts--and recognize that understanding always involves critical
"But I do recognize how focused the modern academy has become
on abstract methods of interpretation in everything from literature
to philosophy to religion. I have had students who have read
a poststructuralist on philosophy but have never read the philosophy
itself. The either/or reveals more about how the academy and
culture have viewed art rather than how it should be viewed."
Saliers adds that the ambiguous role of the arts in the university
reflects their status in the larger culture. "With the travail
of the arts and the enormous splintering that popular culture
has undergone," he says, "we're struggling against
this postmodernist milieu in which everything, including the
arts, is commodified. This is here to stay.
"But even though we're up against these larger cultural
forces well beyond our control, what we can create is at least
an atmosphere of expectancy. Our everyday lives are diminished
when we can't move in the world with ever-deepening humane capacities."