The art program at Rider has been diminished

By Amethyst Martinez

When I was picking out my classes my freshman year in fall 2020, I realized something bleak. Yes, I’m a journalism major, and my life revolves around that, but there is something that I never even considered not being able to do in college that shaped me into the person I am today.

Creating visual art.

I glanced around the course rosters, scrolling aimlessly, hoping to find just some sort of sentiment of traditional mediums or anything where I could get my hands dirty, and then I realized: Rider had absolutely no art class that checked this box offered in the semester.

‘How could a university just not have that?’ I questioned myself as I continued picking out my courses. That got me to thinking: Why does Rider have such a small amount of traditional medium art classes?

As a university that has majors like game and interactive media design and graphic design, I was confused as to why our fine arts department was so lackluster. Everyone could benefit from these classes who are seeking a liberal arts degree, and even those who aren’t.

Every day, I walk into the Fine Arts building to go to my classes, but how could they even call it that? Once upon a time, Rider used to have a fine arts major, and even a gallery that was popular among the artist community and noticed by major publications like The New York Times.

In a letter to the editor sent to The Rider News in 2021, Deborah Rosenthal, who once taught art classes such as painting, drawing, printmaking and more at Rider, talked about this change that took place. “In 2015-16, ‘academic prioritization’ was set in motion by the university’s administration,” said Rosenthal.

“This bland phrase put a neutral face on the process that in fact trashed essential disciplines — firing tenured faculty, whittling down course offerings, eliminating majors and minors in basic disciplines of the arts and humanities — and is steering the university toward a future as a vocational school.”

It sounded eerily familiar to the recent prioritization that took place this summer with a multitude of majors and minors being snipped away.

I think one thing that all liberal arts students should consider is this: are we receiving a well-balanced arts education with so few traditional medium art classes being offered?

In a recent interview with The Rider News, Rosenthal spoke about the now widely-diminished art program.

“It was a small program, but very intense,” said Rosenthal. “It was just people who wanted to do a lot of work in painting and drawing. … I had, over the years, a bunch of students who went on to graduate school in painting, and I had artists coming out to speak to students, [and] we went to New York regularly.” 

Harry Naar, past professor of these traditional medium art classes at Rider, also mourned the loss of such an intricate program.

“If you’re thinking about a liberal arts school, I think the visual arts should be a very important part of the liberal arts education,” said Naar. “I think of the kind of education that we were given that allowed them to want to pursue the visual arts, and also that showed other people in other administrations and programs the high quality and caliber of the students.”

The course roster for the Spring 2023 semester does offer some hands-on art classes, such as fundamentals of drawing, which makes me wonder what the future could look like for this type of art at Rider and gives me some glimmer of hope. I will also say that Rider does have amazing art programs, such as musical theater, graphic design, game design, film and television and so many more; however, I think this issue speaks to a broader picture of how academic prioritization that involves major and minor cutting can affect our education here at Rider.

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