In 1928, there were colleges offering students courses in things like painting and sculpture—but certainly not for credit. Dance was something young ladies did on special occasions; classical music and art were to be appreciated, but their contemporary descendants were more or less neglected on American campuses. The arts were generally deemed worthy of study, but creativity itself was consigned to the margins of education.
Sarah Lawrence was different.
“A conspicuous place in the program…will be given to the fine arts,” the first Sarah Lawrence catalogue announced. “If any subjects are to be ‘required’ in this new sort of college, they should be chosen from the field of fine arts.”
Why this insistence on art? Twenty-two years later, President (then Dean) Esther Raushenbush gave this answer: “It is not to create painters or to provide emotional release. It is to help students discover what the world looks like, to help them to see and understand what they see. Its discipline, as rigorous as the discipline of logic or mathematics, is the means by which many students learn new ways of thinking about experience.”
For 75 years, Sarah Lawrence has refused to forfeit the essential meaning of imaginative experience. Many an undergraduate’s schedule has included in-depth study in the creative and performing arts; programs in dance, theatre and writing are major components of Graduate Studies. “No one can deny the enormous power of the arts in our lives,” President Michele Myers has said. “The creation of art, and our response to it, is a discourse on ideas.”