The family friend who first introduced me to St. John’s described her degree like this: “If I have to sum it up, I would say I majored in Philosophy and History of Mathematics.” This sounds quite intimidating and not at all artistic. But while the arts are not the most advertised part of the program or extracurriculars, they are a large and important piece of the program.
Everything we study in the undergraduate program falls under the category of the Liberal Arts, which uses the old definition of ‘art’ as a general skill, which includes artistic pursuits, but also many other areas of study. I will first delve into art in the program, then clubs, and the surrounding community of Santa Fe.
The first to appear in the program are theater, literature, and music. The ancient Greeks were great playwrights and their works, such as the Oresteia, Ajax, and Oedipus Rex are studied for both seminar and language. Then of course there are the epics of the Odyssey and the Iliad (which, it could be argued, also fit in theater since they would have originally been performed…but that’s a tangent for another day), full to the brim with poetry and characters powerful enough to last all these millennia. Music is a small requirement is freshman year, with singing being the main focus – especially learning the unofficial school song, Sicut Cervus.
Sophomore year is not as heavy on theater, but music comes into its own. Here, we get to approach music as an academic subject, listening to and dissecting pieces from Orpheo to Tristan and Isolde to Beethoven’s Eroica. We also read some philosophy of music – after all, the first thing you learn as a Johnnie is that all the subjects are connected.
Junior year, despite having to say goodbye to music, is one of the richest years for art, mainly in the form of poetry and the one and only Shakespeare. As well, Junior and Senior year are the only ones to have precepts, which while they do cover philosophy and mathematics, can also dive into film, poetry, music, and more.
So that is the academics, but what of the extracurriculars? There are many groups that cover the arts. Both campuses have theatre groups which put on many of the plays covered in the curriculum. There are groups for pottery and life drawing, and on the Santa Fe campus at least, a little campus art gallery. Outside of student run ventures, there are many experiences that you can access as a student. There is the Dean’s Lectures and Concerts series, which brings in amazing performances as well as excellent explorations of many subjects. Not only that, but Santa Fe is well known as an artistic community, and that means local artists hold events on campus occasionally. The city is home to the magnificent Santa Fe Opera House, and the school sometimes allow you to go for free! That’s to say nothing of the city’s museums and hidden gems.
A Great Books program can seem stuffy and uptight to an outsider, but serious exploration of the past does not conflict with fun, beauty, and creativity new and old. Indeed, if you are an artistic, musical, or literary type, St. John’s is not the worst choice you could make, whatever art you wish to engage in.