Ethics, Art and Academic Freedom

Guest Correspondence

At Ringling College of Art and Design, we believe art and creativity are at the core of the human experience. Creativity takes courage, empathy, honesty, holistic thinking and imagination. It also requires looking at the world from multiple points of view and having many answers to a single question. It’s something I have been saying for many, many years and will continue to stand by: creativity really matters to the world. 

As a leading institution of artists, designers, and creative thinkers and practitioners, we believe in the critical need for diversity, because creativity cannot exist in a one-dimensional universe. And, we believe artists, designers and creatives in general play a significant role in our society. As such, it is part of our institutional mission to provide educational programming and degrees that ultimately prepare students to be, as our mission statement says: “discerning visual thinkers and ethical practitioners.” 

Ethical practitioners — it’s a lofty term — but for a creative professional, this could cover a myriad of topics including, but certainly not limited to, practicing your craft responsibly with a high standard of moral values. Creating original work free from plagiarism; working honestly within budget and time constraints; and being sensitive to and aware of the individuals your work may eventually reach and impact. In order to teach these skills, students must have access to robust, unbiased exposure to different ideas and schools of thought from very diverse individuals. This is what we, in the academic world, call academic freedom. To help strengthen these attributes requires exposure to a diverse range of course listings, exhibitions and experiential opportunities (with friends, colleagues, community members, professionals), and the freedom to explore and enjoy (or not enjoy, your choice!) these important exposures and experiences; to talk about them, try to understand them, and learn from them. 

Also integral to the College’s mission is to help students develop critical, conceptual and creative abilities, by supporting and providing courses that explore historical, multicultural, global and futuristic perspectives. The Liberal Arts, for example, make up a third of Ringling’s degree curricula and offer a vast array of content coverage. Courses explore different cultures, ideas, or concepts that may be considered taboo, as well as psychology, science fiction, classical mythology, environmental issues and so much more. Students enter discussions and are encouraged to question the standing norms on topics ranging from gender and identity studies to visual anthropology to environmental ethics. The best part is that these courses are open to additional students outside of Ringling College, through the Cross College Alliance. Students from colleges and universities in the surrounding area are welcomed and encouraged to add new voices and differing perspectives to the conversation. 

Ringling College is a place for these academic and artistic freedoms. It is a safe space where our campus and local community can explore and dissect, finding engagement with each other through conceptual thinking and creative expression. And, these freedoms extend beyond our main campus classrooms and gallery spaces, to our Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design. Through the Museum’s contemporary exhibitions and educational programs, we hope to open an often historically gatekept space to anyone and everyone; a place where groundbreaking and boundary-pushing art and ideas are accessible to all. 

None of us can predict the future — this much we know. We do know, however, as we have so widely seen of late, that this future will require incredible innovation to help solve the unprecedented problems of the world. Innovative thinking requires creativity. Creativity demands freedom. 

Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art & Design.

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