Thu, 12/08/2011

Associate Professor of Journalism Nicholas McBride delivered his lecture “Body and Soul: Art as Intellectualism” on Tuesday, November 29, in the Campus Center Auditorium.


To begin his lecture, McBride asked all of the students in the room to stand up.  As he surveyed the crowd he told them, “You’re going to stand for the entire hour.”  He allowed for some nervous laughter and shifting before admitting, “Okay, that was a joke.”  The prospect of standing for an hour-long lecture seems daunting, he noted, yet many students willingly stand or even jump around for an hour or longer at sporting or music events


Basketball games and rock concerts, McBride explained, are aesthetic experiences in which the whole brain is engaged.  As members of the plugged-in generation, students today have shorter attention spans.  It is for this reason that McBride believes it is important to create aesthetic experiences that are tied to learning in spite of an academic culture that values the cognitive over the effective


The arts, McBride argued, are that bridge between logical reasoning and emotion; art requires intellectualism as much as academia.  McBride went on to list artists who are now respected but who were initially rejected, including blues artist Willie Dixon, basketball players Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins, jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and impressionist painters Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.  McBride explained that there are many intellectuals who do not receive the same respect as academics.  Just as these artists of the past were vilified for defying standards, rap and graffiti artists of today are portrayed as criminals.


McBride admitted that he had to humble himself to realize that rap, graffiti, and break dancing could express the same kind of social message as the jazz and blues movements which disarmed a harsh reality by proclaiming “life is horrible, but still wonderful.”


Using video clips and photos, McBride painted a picture of three individuals who are now revered for their revolutionary approaches but were demonized in their time for pushing the limits: Billie Holiday, jazz singer and song writer who produced “cerebral, complex art,” was cool in the face of violence by resisting with her voice and embodied “feminism before the term was popularized by society”; Muhammad Ali, boxer and thinker who manipulated language in complex ways, was a representation of all potential wasted in the slums, and used his fame to call attention to injustice; and Jean-Michel Basquiat, “the Charlie Parker of painting,” graffiti artist turned painter whose politically provocative works now sell for millions of dollars.  


“Art isn’t just pie,” said McBride; art is not dessert that we can choose to leave behind, but rather it is essential to the human spirit.  Furthermore, “civic engagement is an important part of being an educated person.”  McBride urged the audience to reevaluate and expand the definition of what constitutes intellectualism.  While he acknowledged that it is more than okay to be a high achiever, it is important to consider what to do with our success.  Students should ask themselves, he said, “Have I been hoodwinked into narrowing my own potential?”  


McBride concluded, “It is possible to live a long life and have your song die within you.”  It is important to find ways to express that song.


Nicholas McBride has been teaching journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst since 1990. His courses include newswriting, the philosophy of journalism, community journalism, journalism ethics and covering race.He has been a reporter for the Springfield Daily News, Washington Post, Afro-American, and Christian Science Monitor (Washington Bureau). He has served as a fellow at the Center for Teaching and as a Community Service Fellow. In 2005, McBride was awarded the university's Distinguished Teaching Award in recognition of his outstanding teaching accomplishments.


Commonwealth Honors College introduced its Faculty Lecture Series during the spring 2011 semester in recognition of university faculty who have made significant contributions to research or creative activity. Through lectures that highlight academic excellence and scholarship, these faculty share their ideas and insight with honors students in sessions open to the campus community.


Many of the talks in the faculty lecture series relate to themes in "Ideas that Changed the World," the Honors Seminar in which honors students examine books and other works that have profoundly shaped the world we live in. The texts in this class and the related faculty lectures are meant to be exemplary for students who have the potential themselves to achieve outstanding things.


This lecture concludes the Honors Faculty Lecture Series for the fall 2011 semester. It will resume in 2012.