Dean's Letter: Fall 2016


October 4, 2016
Dean Doug Dempster

We are a college of “fine arts.”

What does that include? Music, drama, dance, painting, sculpture. But not all dance, art or music. Western classical or “art music,” but not Indian classical music. Modern “concert” dance, but not tap or hip-hop. Painting and sculpture, but not medical illustration or graphic novels. And not lm, architecture or fashion design.

We’re clearly straining against the boundaries of what was confidently accepted as a “fine art” when the college was founded 80 years ago. Jazz, modern dance and design, though still small programs, now have a well-established place in the college.

We’re also as a college making a place for the commercial arts: gaming, design in all its many industry applications, integrated media and music and sound technologies.

We’ve forgotten that the concept of “fine art”—art as an elevated, aesthetic object—is an invention of 18th- and 19th-century Romantics. The concept forged a distinction between the visionary poet, painter and composer—“artists”—in contrast with orators, furniture makers, instrumentalists—artisans and entertainers.

Who are we today, and what should we be as a college? What art forms and activities should we include? What does it mean to be a “fine art” in the 21st century? Or is that now a distinction without a difference?

More importantly, what do our students need us to be for their benefit? What does our larger society and economy need from us as a public arts college? What can an arts college provide in a large, comprehensive university that other colleges won’t?

The College of Fine Arts has been, and will continue to be, the college of what’s great in the most refined tradition of Eurocentric “fine arts.” We have a vital preservationist role in studying the canonical works and artists of our culture and transmitting them to the next generation. We do this extremely well.

But we also are and must be the college of what’s next in both high and popular culture. What’s next in the high culture firmament often appears first as a fleeting youthful fashion or a calculated commercial venture or an obscure technical innovation. Most of these brief cultural lights flicker out in due course, but some—opera, photography and lm, for example—permanently change our collective cultural identity.

There are no crystal balls to predict our cultural future. But we know for a certainty that our students will live in world in which cultural progress is more globalized, faster paced and decentralized. It’s our role as an arts college to remain engaged and relevant to that new culture and the future of our students, whether “fine” or not. We need to be, for the University of Texas, on the creative cutting edge of cultural invention, the experimental driver of creative making and not just an archive of celebrated accomplishments.

So please, enjoy this extended look into the college and explore some of the many ways we are “Designing the College of What’s Next” and evolving and adapting to prepare and educate fine arts students for a modern world.


Doug Dempster


College of Fine Arts

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