The Creative and Performing Arts are Central to the Mission of the University
Report of the Allen Committee established by President Shirley M. Tilghman – January 2006
The creative and performing arts are relative latecomers to the curriculum at Princeton. Formal instruction in these areas was not offered until 1939, when a faculty committee proposed a Creative Arts Program “to allow the talented undergraduate to work in the creative arts under professional supervision while pursuing a regular liberal arts course of study, as well as to offer all interested undergraduates an opportunity to develop their creative faculties in connection with the general program of humanistic education.” By the 1970s the original program had evolved into three separate programs—Creative Writing, Theater and Dance, and Visual Arts—which were housed at 185 Nassau Street.
Today the University fully embraces the creative and performing arts as an essential part of its educational mission. Works of art are subjects of scholarship in many of our departments, from English to Art and Archaeology, from Comparative Literature to Music, from Sociology to Religion. To separate the doing of art from the criticism or study of art is increasingly akin to separating experimental and theoretical science. Both activities are enriched by occurring in the presence of the other. The critic gains insight from understanding how works of art come into being, and the artist’s vision is sharpened by criticism. The arts help all of us to comprehend our world better, and the insights of their practitioners stimulate and challenge thought within the scholarly disciplines.
A greater presence of the arts within the University promises to generate a rich array of reciprocal benefits. The creative and performing arts enhance the vitality of our society. As institutions that nurture and value creativity and innovation, universities have increasingly become important patrons of the arts, places where new ideas and forms of expression can flourish. At the same time, by participating in the arts, our students develop cognitive abilities and forms of intelligence that complement training in other disciplines, and in some cases they discover talents and interests that will shape their careers and principal avocations. The habits of mind that one acquires through the arts spill over into every other occupation. Just as our distribution requirements reflect the belief that competence in scientific and mathematical reasoning should be required of a Princeton graduate, so too should our curricular choices affirm that exposure to the creative arts prepares students to become more effective citizens and future patrons of the arts in their communities.
The arts are also critical to the University’s ability to attract outstanding students. With increasing frequency, the most academically gifted prospective students have deeply felt commitments to some aspect of the arts. For the most part these students do not aspire to become professional artists, but they seek a university where they can integrate their academic pursuits with their artistic passions. They become not only music majors and art historians but physicists and philosophers; not only English and comparative literature majors but economists and engineers. Their talent and imagination are visible in every corner of the University, adding a distinctive dimension to intellectual inquiry and enriching campus life with a breath-taking array of exhibits, performances, and creative endeavors. To compete successfully for these students in the future, Princeton needs to create a higher profile for the arts on campus and ensure that we have sufficient curricular offerings and artistic venues to accommodate student interests.