Judith H. Dobrzynski of Real Clear Arts writes about this cool approach for a freshman project:
“I nearly hit myself in the head and asked ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ when I learned what the University of Pennsylvania was requiring of its incoming freshman class this year. Furthermore, why didn’t anyone else who loves the visual arts? Anyone concerned with arts education? With visual literacy?
Instead of reading a common book, to be discussed on campus, freshmen have been asked to study and be ready to discuss a painting, The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins. Here are the details, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“The portrait was chosen because it highlights historical issues, reflects academic medicine, and was done locally. Students also will look at Eakins’ The Agnew Clinic, another surgical scene, painted at Penn.
The painting project has its own Web site, complete with Penn-staff lectures on the works and how to analyze a painting, and a zoom feature that allows students to look at the work in detail.
The 2,500 freshmen are expected to study the site and be prepared to attend a presentation on the paintings on the Sunday before Labor Day, then break into small groups to discuss it with faculty members. The project is mandatory, but not graded.”
How cool is that?
The Inquirer article quoted university officials saying that they believe Penn is the first college in the country to take this approach with a freshman project, and added that “national officials” knew of no other example, either.
I don’t know what inspired Penn to use a painting for orientation this year, perhaps the fact that Philadelphia almost lost this one when Thomas Jefferson University tried to sell it to Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum and the National Gallery of Art. Philadelphians rescued it for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
If that got Penn officials thinking about the arts, terrific. Here’s how the university described the project and here is how the Inquirer described their whole new effort:
“The university is changing its approach as part of a new campaign it will officially launch next month, called “Arts & The City Year.”
In addition to the orientation project, Penn plans “arts crawls” around the city, and an arts “passport” to art and cultural institutions with discounts and prizes for students. An “art in public health” series, arts seminars, and a variety of other programs also are planned to put students more in touch with the art venues on campus and around the region.”
How enlightened. How can we make this approach spread?
I have only one complaint: Why is there only one thing on a summer to-do list for college students? I recall having to read at least a handful, possibly as many as ten, books.
Photos: The Gross Clinic (top); The Agnew Clinic (bottom).