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A Study on William Morris University

In recent years, the gulf between vocational training in the STEM fields and more a traditional liberal arts education has been at the center of disputes in academia – should universities attempt to educate students with holistic knowledge of the world or simply teach what is professionally useful? William Morris University rejects this division, and in the spirit of Morris’s university lecture, “The Beauty of Life”, dedicates itself to creating an academic environment centered on both “what [we] know to be useful” and “believe to be beautiful.” (Morris 1095) As the curriculum of WMU will be based on the ideal of teaching every individual how to create “art for the people, by the people, as a joy for the maker and the user” (Morris 1092), WMU will offer free tuition to all who meet its entrance requirements, so as to be accessible to all individuals, regardless of social class. Funding for WMU will largely be garnered through donations from alumni, and federal support for higher education. WMU’s curriculum will be centered around “crafts” (majors), one of which every student should decide to specialize in by the end of their second year, and IFP requirements that will require each student to be instructed in the basics of various fields and crafts. The purpose of this curriculum style is to allow the student to gain a broad understanding of art in general, the historical connections between different mediums, and holistic knowledge of the world so as to be able to comprehend and carry out their social responsibilities as artists, and then to be able to produce high quality work in their favored fields.

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Regarding admission requirements, two key elements are looked for in an applicant. The first is a history of academic success to demonstrate general preparation for college and required background knowledge to understand the entry-level courses at WMU. This can be demonstrated with a GPA of at least 3.2 and a varied course-load, with (preferable, but not required) emphasis on the arts and humanities. The second requirement for admission is that the applicant send in an “artifact” for judging. This artifact can be a physical object, film, digital/multimedia installation, or in any other artistic medium; the purpose of the artifact is demonstration of the student’s understanding of art and beauty. Moreover, crafts or pieces that display interest in WMU’s ideal of “art by the people, for the people” are given preference in the admissions process.

The curriculum of WMU, revolving around different “crafts”, will allow students to specialize in one or two specific concentrations after their first year (though students do not have to until after their second year) but will also give students general background knowledge in the liberal arts. The five categories of the IFP requirements are as follows: Foundations of Art Theory, Foundations of Human History, Foundations of Literature, Foundations of Sociology and Human Behaviour, Foundations of Architectural Theory. In essence, two classes from each category must be taken, with some being free selection and others having required classes. What follows is a breakdown of each of the five categories and the requirements of each.

The first of these categories, Art Theory, is perhaps the most central to the goals and aspirations of WMU. In his lecture, “The Beauty of Life”, Morris reminisced on times past, “Art, which Nature meant to solace all, fulfilled its purpose; all men shared in it: that was what made life romantic.” (Morris 1080) In his view, art was and should be the central goal of life and the element that makes existence “romantic”. Above all else, this sentiment, the monumental importance of art in the life of the individual, is what WMU seeks to teach and is why courses such as ARH 1000 are required.

The second category, Human History, is important to understanding how human history and cultures affect and are in turn affected by art. Art does not exist in a vacuum, but rather is shaped by the circumstances of its time and the aspirations of the culture from which it is born. One of William Morris’s primary concerns was that ever since the Renaissance, art “has been delivered to be the exclusive privilege of a few, and has taken from the people their birthright; while both wronged and wrongers have been wholly unconscious of what they were doing.” (Morris 1081) As WMU is dedicated to the propagation of art to all of society, not only an elite few, it is important for students to understand from where this historical trend emerged so that they may help reverse it and bring “the people’s birthright” back to the people.

The third category, Literature, is important in that it is is both an art form in and of itself and also the most potent record of all other art forms and certainly of all the historical, cultural, and political circumstances that led to their creation. Through literature and related art forms, we can come to know the past and the innermost thoughts of those who lived in it. While the importance of the written word is not explicit in Morris’ great lecture, we at WMU nevertheless believe that the artistic tradition of literature is too important to exclude from the IFP requirements.

The fourth category, Sociology and Human Behaviour, is equally important in that it helps students understand the nature of beauty and why human beings find certain themes and elements in art beautiful. Knowledge of the psychological and sociological nature of beauty will help students improve their own art, regardless of what craft or medium they eventually specialize in.

Lastly, WMU feels it necessary to instruct all students in Architecture due to Morris’s emphasis on its importance in “The Beauty of Life”: “That ancient buildings, being both works of art and monuments of history must obviously be treated with great care and delicacy… if we superimpose this [new] work on the old, we destroy it both as art and as a record of history.” (Morris 1089) William Morris regarded architecture as grand, living testament to the artistic passions of generations past. It is equally important in that great works of architecture, great works of art in all other mediums are placed – sculptures, paintings, literature are all be housed within the great temples and libraries of yore. It is partly due this centrality that architecture displays (that all other forms of art can be found inside it) that William Morris also placed emphasis on the concept of the house, which, he argued, should be the centerpiece of art in one’s life; the place where one’s personal collection of beauty should be concentrated:

I have spoken of the popular arts, but they might all be summed up in that one word Architecture; they are all parts of that great whole, and the art of house-building begins it all: if we did not know how to dye or weave; if we had neither gold nor silver, nor silk; and no pigments to paint with… if we had but timber, stone, and life, and few cutting tools to make these common things… express the thoughts and aspirations that stir in us. – Morris 1092

In summary, William Morris University seeks not only to educate, but to “give [its students] a share in art”. Beyond simply teaching technique, WMU seeks to instill a sense of caring and appreciation in its students for both their individual art and for art’s natural role in society at large. WMU and its IFP program are dedicated to the principle that human beings should not only understand the historical and technical aspects of art and architecture, but appreciate the unique and irreplaceable characteristics of each work of art. WMU seeks to move the world from the last two Centuries of Commerce and make the 21st century the Century of Education. The goal of William Morris University, above all else, is to help create a world where every individual, poor or rich, leads a life where there is nothing but what “[one] knows to be useful or believes to be beautiful”.

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