Core III: The Arts: Visions of Humanity

by Shane Zackery '14

Shane ZackeryThis fall, I was giving a visitors tour for the admission office. Our standard procedure is to stop at Garrison Theater to talk about Core. We explain that Core is a “three-semester interdisciplinary humanities track essential to the education of students at Scripps.” We talk about how professors from any and all fields — from biology to history to philosophy — teach Core and how that makes the experience all the more enriching. Later, we pass by Vita Nova Hall. Around the court are offices and a dance studio. On this particular day, however, I focus on Vita Nova 100.

“This is actually where I take Core,” I said. “My Core is taught by Professor Gail Abrams, and she’s amazing. She’s ….” I was cut off just as the very same professor turned the corner, walking briskly towards the dance studio.

“Hey, Shane!” she said. “I would love to stay and introduce myself, but I’ve got to run.” And just like that, she disappeared.

I turned back to the visitors: “That was Professor Abrams! She’s a professor of dance, and her Core class is hands down one of best classes I’ve ever taken at Scripps or anywhere else.” With all I had told my guests about Core, I thought they would think that a dance professor teaching the subject was a little strange. Instead, they impressed me by looking absolutely impressed. As they began inquiring about my experiences, I reflected on fall semester with Professor Abrams.

My Core III section was titled “The Arts: Visions of Humanity.” Through this class, Professor Abrams managed to combine every discussion I’ve ever had about the human cultural condition in terms of art, activism, and history, and structured it into a well-organized, thought-provoking, passion-filled Core III. We started the course with a singular, nuclear question: “What is art?” We read articles that discussed art therapy, art as a product of trauma (9/11, the Holocaust), lost art histories of indigenous people, and the appropriation of certain art forms such as mural painting, religious iconography, and graffiti to serve a greater agenda.

Then, Professor Abrams ensured that this Core class would answer some of the questions I’ve had about the Core sequence as a whole. She allowed me to finally see myself reflected in Core, and find that Core was reflected in many of the courses I had taken since that first Core I seminar. She gave us a list of subjects, told us to rank the three most interesting to us, paired us according to our preferences, and we went to work. Some groups presented on dance through the ages, on dance during war, dancing for peace, and dancing for personal healing and meditation. Another did music as activism through an examination of Pete Seeger, folk music, music of the civil rights movement, and jazz. My partner and I discussed religious iconography in the Latina/Chicana culture. We then wrote research papers about artists we hadn’t covered in the class and presented them. Some spoke with their words; others showed their work through sand, sculpture, their bodies, paint — Climbing PoeTree, Llana Yahav, Jean Basquiat. None of the research presentations were completed without someone having learned something new about art, expression, activism, or creativity.

But the real test came at the end. My final Core experience was packaged into two simple words:

“Create something,” Professor Abrams said.

She knew, and we knew, that most of us were not artists. Yet, I learned that, in some way, we are all artists. With our creative projects, we each commented on something personal to our cultures and our histories. Some painted pictures of their mothers. Some did a deep analysis and overhaul of Barbie. Others voiced personal struggles with depression, divorce, and adolescence. Although my roommate, a computer science major, did not own a single paintbrush, sketchpad, or tutu, we created an amazing project using the skills we did have.

We made a video. Many people overlook the utilization of technology as an art medium, but the two overlap more than we may think. While Scripps does not have a computer science major [Scripps students can take computer science classes at other colleges in the consortium], art majors are encouraged to take classes on digital imaging, video production, and graphic arts. This intersectional crossroad is exactly what Core hopes to reveal.

I understand now why Core is so important. Core does not promise you will have learned something at its end, but it is the possibility of growth that makes it all worthwhile.

I’m still not 100% sold on the idea that Core will serve to be the core, if you will, of my academic career, but I believe that, in time, I will come to fully appreciate it. Growth doesn’t end with the completion of Core. It spans further than the duration of a 5C education. The fruits of our labor will hopefully span an entire lifetime, and I have no grievance with that.