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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
Why Art Matters
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Illustration of Scientists with Key to the Genetic Code
In our struggle to understand the complexities of an ever-changing world, the arts are more important than ever

by Christopher Waterman
Illustration by James Steinberg

As UCLA prepares to celebrate its preeminence in the visual, performing and media arts with the launch this fall of the Year of the Arts, it is a good time to reflect and ask: What role do the arts play at a great public research university?

The arts are a powerful vehicle for communication, a way to express visions that are beyond the capacity of words and a medium for cultural enlightenment. One could go even further and argue that knowledge of the arts is an indispensable foundation for enlightened citizenship in our increasingly complicated world. The responses of artists to the still-horrifying events of 9/11 are but one reminder of the essential role that the arts play in exploring the emotional dimensions of experience, in shaping public discourse about critical issues and in formulating visions of the future, both for artists and their audiences. From this perspective, the arts are as necessary as the humanities, medicine and sciences to the mission of a great public university.

What may be less obvious is the role of art-making as a form of research. As in the sciences and other disciplines, those of us in the arts not only disseminate new methodologies and forms of knowledge, we help to create them. By definition, the process of creating a work of art — a painting, a dance, a musical composition, an architectural design, a theater piece or film — is from its inception a research project. Students are asked to formulate an original response to a unique field of inquiry and to “publish” their results not only in the form of research papers, but also through the mediums of performance and exhibition. In addition, the examples of outstanding arts practice available to students at UCLA through our museums and performing-arts program help to create a unique laboratory for the next generation of cultural innovators.

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