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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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The Next Wave
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Why Art Matters
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Fall 2004
Why Art Matters
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The arts are a medium of intellectual and ethical inquiry, a way of investigating the ever-changing world, of exploring the meaning of memory and tradition, and of charting the inner, subjective surfaces of human experience. Just as the medical sciences are devoted to extending and improving the quality of life, the arts help us to understand the essential reasons for that life, the deeper values, visions and commitments that sustain our will to survive. The study of the arts by its very nature challenges the boundary between theory and practice — between knowing about and knowing how.

The arts are as necessary as the humanities, medicine and sciences to the mission of a great public university.

One way to maximize the advantages of having strong arts programs within a research university is something that I call project-based education. It is an approach that takes as its starting point neither the established academic disciplines nor the various genres of art. Rather, one takes an aesthetic or intellectual problem, a question or conundrum, the exploration of which inevitably encourages us to traverse the frontiers that divide the disciplines and separate theoretical knowledge from creative practice. This is, after all, where the word university comes from — the notion of a holistic, aggregate universe of knowledge. Three examples of innovative interdisciplinary projects will illustrate this point.

Let’s begin with an intercultural performance piece called Ah Q!, a project incubated in the Department of World Arts and Cultures (WAC) that involved artists from China and the United States and collaboration with faculty in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures in the UCLA College. The piece, based on a popular Chinese story, first took shape as part of the Asian-Pacific Performance Exchange, a Ford Foundation-supported program that brought artists from Asia and the United States together for six weeks under the guidance of WAC Professor and Director of the Center for Intercultural Performance Judy Mitoma ’70, M.A. ’75. Ah Q! grew out of the interaction between Victoria Marks, a member of WAC’s choreography faculty, and visiting artist Xu Ying, a renowned Chinese opera director and actor. The piece itself is based on The True Story of Ah Q, a short story published in the early 1920s.

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