Mission Matters #59 – Intellectual Traditions of Teaching in the Arts & Sciences

This year we are exploring intellectual traditions associated with schools and colleges of the university. This essay by Dr. Kathleen Hacker, professor of music, is the first of two pieces written by faculty from the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences. The next issue of Mission Matters will feature a piece by Dr. Steve Spicklemire, director of engineering instruction and associate professor of physics and earth space science.

Introduction by Michael G. Cartwright, Vice President for University Mission and Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religion

One of the things I admire most about the founders of Indiana Central University was that despite severely limited means, they made sure they provided opportunities for students to exercise creativity in the arts. The first person to teach vocal music was Virginia Dearborn, Ph. B.[bachelor’s degree] from DePauw University. The 1905-06 Academic Catalogue indicates that the course of study in music was rather minimal: in addition to scales, measures, keys, and their formation, “early training, sight singing work begun.” In keeping with the fact that many of the students were hoping to each in public school music programs, the second semester of work was pragmatic – “sight singing work, part songs. Chorus training . . .” 

We don’t know much about Virginia Dearborn. Hers was a hybrid position. She taught English literature too. (Her husband Rufus taught History and Economics at ICU.)  Virginia Dearborn probably was not a performer – certainly not a professional singer – and at that point in her life, she didn’t have a lot of teaching experience at the college level. With the exception of a semester or two at DePauw, most of Virginia Dearborn’s experience was teaching high school students, and most of the people she taught at ICU were enrolled in the academy and the normal school curricula, not in the college of arts. That said, along with her younger colleague Nina Blakely, who taught piano while taking courses, Virginia also oversaw the largest single component of the college. More people participated in vocal music than any other co-curricular activity that first year. Like her students, she had high hopes for the declared intention of building a Conservatory of Music alongside a College of Arts & Sciences ICU. That was not to be.

JoAnn Domb with Kathleen Hacker

What we see when we look back at those early years is not so much the weave of already discernible threads of pedagogical tradition as a set of earnest interests – and, at first, unrealistic aspirations — that given enough time would develop pedagogical disciplines and the kind of rigorous practice ethic that any serious vocal music studies program must have. On the other hand, when Dr. Hacker describes her conversation with Dr. Jo Ann Domb, who served on the faculty from 1983 to 2005, we are glimpsing a moment of transition in which pedagogical expectations are communicated between colleagues and intellectual traditions are reaffirmed. We don’t have to know all of the details of how mentoring occurs between older and young faculty in a particular program to understand that musical creativity is fostered via wise pedagogy.

Part of what it means to participate in an intellectual tradition is to be able to identify exemplars who stand in the procession across generations. That is certainly true of Kathleen Hacker. Perhaps even more so than some of her predecessors, Dr. Hacker is able to articulate the connections between teaching creativity and vocal music performance alongside other faculty in the Shaheen College of Arts and Sciences. -MGC

“Learning as a Creative Enterprise”

by Dr. Kathleen Hacker, Professor of Music

When I was hired as a full-time music faculty member at the University of Indianapolis in 1998, I knew how to sing, how to make music with my peers, and how to teach the mechanics of singing to young singers. I had earned two performance degrees from the Eastman School of Music and was working on a doctoral degree in performance at the Indiana University School of Music. I had a very active and eclectic career that took me all over the nation, one that spanned a variety of musical genres. The reality was I knew singing and music-making intensely; I was not a trained pedagogue, and I had very little experience beyond my field.

When I asked my new chair why I was hired into this academic position, her response was, “Well, it certainly wasn’t a unanimous decision.” (Thank you for keeping me humble, JoAnn.) “We wanted more than an established voice teacher. The ability to perform is vital for the musical life and it was our priority to place a performer/model in this position. You were that person.” Now in my 22nd year at UIndy, I have had many opportunities to share my voice in the manner for which I was hired. But more importantly, the liberal arts environment has enriched my artistic process and has generously informed my teaching, and for that I am grateful.  

The University has mapped out four university-wide learning goals for our campus that define who we are as educators: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Performance, and Social Responsibility. Based on my personal preparation and the priorities outlined in the hiring for my position, one would think that performance, or sharing what I know is where I truly resonate. Yet, I have found that being a “creative,” more than a “performer,” is where my satisfaction lies. It is finding the new that has informed and made magical the performance opportunities I have been given. It is the creative process, couched in hours of personal preparation and collegial collaboration, that I cherish most. This is the love for my art that I wish to unleash in my students and to share with my campus colleagues and contacts in the professional world. Creativity is a part of us all.

Consider the goals of a College of Arts and Sciences: to enable students to translate what they know into a richer, fuller life, into marketable skills for an ever-changing job market, and an ability to share and make positive change to the environment in which they live. To do this, graduates must possess an ability to reason and think critically through life with a modicum of subject matter expertise coupled with great respect for what isn’t known. Most importantly, they must aspire to keep learning and to innovate with what they do know. 

I teach a freshman seminar entitled The Creative Habit. In this class, students identify various aspects of the creative process. Students learn that the more expansive and inclusive their perspective becomes, the greater potential they have to make an impact in the world, and that simply paying attention to what is around them can have an astonishing effect on their contributions. They are asked to open themselves to the creative process as they encounter all subjects in the curriculum, as the creative’s way of digesting and connecting knowledge fortifies intellectual command.

Last week various faculty members were invited to my FYS classroom to share their perspectives on creativity. To my delight, an engineer spoke of research he pursued on skin sensitivity and its sensory transmitters in order to inform his efforts on bridge safety. A physical therapist talked about a colleague who provided a belly dancing belt, one that she used in her weekly belly dancing class, to successfully support a client in his physical therapy, while a mathematician talked about a single regard for a sailor’s knot that turned into a full mathematical theory. A chemist spoke of the unintentional discoveries in a lab that fed new directions, and a sculptor reiterated the need for community in process and relatability in art. Interdisciplinary discovery and broad intersections were front and center. Our guests illustrated how knowledge, when joined with imagination and harnessed to curiosity, courage, and creative capacity, can be configured. Information, gathered from all points, can be reframed to solve problems and questions of the day.  

Studies in building creative capacity through curriculum have begun to surface in the last few decades. These academic discussions have been prompted by the search for the next great economic breakthrough, one propelled by innovation and creativity. Employers have asked academia to place more emphasis on creativity and innovation as essential learning outcomes and creativity as an economic driver has since taken a more prominent place in professional preparation. 

Yet, the ultimate value of ‘Learning as a Creative Enterprise’ is its ability to bring relevance and ownership to knowledge, and to support a deeper engagement in unique problem-solving capability. The five-stage creative process outlined below acutely defines effective knowledge assimilation and delivery system, i.e., the creative capacity that can give knowledge life.

Stage #1: PREPARATION

Creation does not come from a giant black void. It does not come from an absence of ideas. New creative thoughts and ideas evolve through the remixing of that which already exists. “Creatives” innovate with a base of known material, combining thoughts and ideas together in a way no one ever thought to combine them before.

The very core of a College of Arts and Sciences degree program is the delivery of these preparatory materials, first within a specific area, then supported by a wide engagement in a general core of knowledge. As student hunter-gatherers gain this arsenal of knowledge on which the creative capacity is built, broader pathways develop that provide opportunity for a multitude of ideas to intersect.

In the performance of written music, music students take music that someone else has put on a page and they bring to it their own combination of knowledge and perspective. Then they translate or re-create the music they see into something new. The art of making music is the discovery of something new within established parameters or within oneself, not merely learning the notes and rhythms that are written on the page. Our unique creative truth comes from the co-mingling of this core of information with our personal regard for it. Musicians, along with writers, artists, and other creatives, regard formulae that have withstood the test of time, and use it as a foundation on which to build or from which to depart. In this way, knowledge gained as an artist becomes a foundational nutrient to the creative capacity for re-imagining information. C.S. Lewis put it best:

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, IV, 11)

The essence of the liberal arts education is to gather information, ideas, and perspectives from a broad range and to own them as core knowledge. Once students understand that all knowledge and the act of learning is nutrition to their own creative capacity, learning begins to take on relevance for the future, and a private, creative courage emerges. 

Stage #2: INCUBATION/IDEATION

John Keats, in a letter to his brothers while contemplating his own craft and the art of others, describes an uncertain genius he calls Negative Capability: 

“At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” (Poetry Foundation, Keats, 22 December 1818)

This is the point at which creatives allow themselves to live in uncertainty. It is an important step where ideas are given time to marinate. A strong liberal arts community engages and encourages ideation and incubation during the delivery of new information. Students are given the opportunity to wander around in what they have learned and to allow their curiosity to lead.

This permission to wander is what gives music students the ability to become more because of their pursuit. They wander through and connect what they have learned in the practice room, in their lessons, and in performance ensembles in the pursuit of their art, with no absolute sense of where growth will lead. Students are expected to live in this incubation phase, in this negative capability, as part of their evolution as an artist. Jean Langlais, a 20th-century French composer/organist states:

“To play what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art.” -Jean Langlais (Labounsky, 45)

Art and science MUST remain paired to build something new.

Stage #3: ILLUMINATION/INSIGHT

The creative impulse is merely a part of the creative process. The “aha” moments emerge after the initial learning is complete, and they emerge unformed after meandering time. At this moment, when all subconscious wanderings collide, students realize the value of what has been learned, and the ingredients of an idea begin to emerge. 

In this stage of the curriculum, it is vital for students to begin to see connections, to experiment with set parameters, and to encourage new intersections. The teacher engages students in “directed wanderings,” beyond the mechanics of the process and without a focus on the endgame. Students share in the exercise of discovery and learn to live comfortably in the uncertainty that allows space for new ideas to be formed.

The strength of a College of Arts and Sciences lies in its ability to create an environment in which students can live in and appreciate this intersection of perspectives. This can be accomplished through alignment and sharing of curriculum, or through broader campus activities and learning opportunities. The music department provides labs along the way that allow these “aha” moments to emerge. We give the students opportunities to try new repertoire in masterclass, to compose, to improvise, to create sound designs, and to interact in ensembles with their new information. 

STAGE #4: APPLICATION/WORK

This is the artist’s practice, the daily effort to build one’s craft, that has intrigued collaborators for generations. It is a discipline that Angela Duckworth refers to as “grit.” It is the daily attention, a creative nurturing of one’s work that allows time to regroup and refresh, time to fail and rework, and time to review and reorganize.

The discipline of the artist is that which moves something from an inspired idea to a work of art. This practice eludes many students and is, therefore, a practice we must commit to teaching in all programs. Eventually, students must understand how to give an idea form, to bring a creative project to the point at which it can be shared with other people. Failure during this process is inevitable. Students who develop a capacity to overcome failure also build confidence and courage and are able to see value rather than defeat in the failed effort.

It is also here where students begin to define the domain in which it is most comfortable for them to create, develop, and deliver solutions. A strong liberal arts program is imaginative and alluring in its invitation to cross disciplines and create new pathways in connected ventures, to help students find or create their home base.

Stage #5: EVALUATION/VERIFICATION/DELIVERY

Once an idea is formed and the work has begun, one must use creative skills to think about the audience. Creative maturity understands that ideas are to be shared and critically analyzed as part of packaging a product. It takes maturity and creative confidence to know oneself, to trust one’s instincts, yet to be open to change and to the opinion of others. Some of the best ideas come from a combination of very different perspectives. Good, healthy collaboration will create a single “meta-artist” whose ideas are the sum of all their skills.

Many great ideas never make it out of the studio because the creative is unable to craft a message that can be received by people. This is the public part of courage and where the performance capacity must emerge. (UIndy Learning Goal #3)

Music students learn to deliver a finished product regularly through the curriculum. Coaching, private lessons, rehearsals, and dress rehearsals are standard to the process. Afterward, we engage in reflection and post-mortem, and often the music lives again in another iteration. In other disciplines, laboratories and collaborative projects invite such learning as “group work.”

Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered,” calls this an “ecology of talent.” 

“Being a valuable part …is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start. If we forget about [being a lone] genius and think more about how we can nurture and contribute to a [group,] we can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.” (Kleon, 12 May 2017)

Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Application, and Evaluation are the 5 primary steps in the process of Learning as a Creative Enterprise. If students are invited to share their core selves in this process, their work becomes distinctive, a unique reflection of their own perceptions, ideas and knowledge. Students can own their degree and they can adapt themselves to any work environment that will provide them with the additional base knowledge they require. As practitioners in a liberal arts environment, we as faculty must go beyond imparting “specialty” information. We must build in our students the desire to keep learning and the capacity to give life to what they know.

Works Cited

Additional Bibliography

  • Booth, Eric. The Everyday Work of Art: Awakening the Extraordinary in your daily life. Sourcebooks, 2001.
  • Burstein, Julie. Spark: How Creativity Works. Public Radio International, 2011.
  • Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code. Bantam Books, 2009.
  • Currey, Mason. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Knopf, 2014.
  • Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Simon and Schuster, 2016.
  • Fassler, Joe, ed. Light in the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration and the Artistic Process. Penguin Books, 2017
  • Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class. Perseus Books Group, 2002
  • Kleon, Austin. Show Your Work! Workman Publishing, 2014.
  • Tharp, Twyla, and Mark Reiter. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: a Practical Guide. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  • Puccio, Gerard. The Creative Thinker‘s Toolkit. The Great Courses, 2014.
  • www.pbs.org/video/the-neuroscience-of-creativity-7lnbfm/