The formal opening of the “African-American Visions” exhibit occurred on Sept. 22 at Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. The exhibit features the collections of esteemed former Scripps professor Dr. Samella Lewis and celebrates the art and history of African- American culture. An accomplished artist, writer, filmmaker, and educator, Dr. Lewis has dedicated herself to the success of young students by featuring the work of lesser known artists in her own galleries and through direct interaction with her own pupils. In honor of her accomplishments and devotion to students, a panel discussing the importance of artistic experience in liberal arts education was also held on the day of the opening. The featured speakers included Claremont Orchestra Director David Cubek, visual artist and educator Claude Fiddler, and jazz musician and professor Bobby Bradford.

Though the discussion centered on the impact of art on students’ lives, there was a surprising lack of students present. Still, the passion and wisdom behind each speaker’s insights and anecdotes came across as valuable advice directed towards those absent college students preparing to define themselves.

Cubek began with a detailed analysis of how specific music classes create the basis for artistic and human development. Through ensemble orchestras students learn to live up to their responsibilities as part of a harmonious community. Repertoire classes serve to share the transformational power of aesthetics, while peer tutoring introduces the idea of open-minded learning without the formal distinction between teacher and student. Cubek remarked on the pride his students have developed as a result of their diligent work and accomplishments in music. “The hardest things,” he concluded, “are often the most rewarding.”

When describing what art is, Fiddler gave a rather broad definition that seemed remarkably close to a definition of life. Art is not something hanging in a gallery, but rather the process of “digesting the world around us,” he said. He continued with the point that art upsets and affects us. It’s looking forward with respect to the past. It’s the power for social and political change. Art is the development of our own minds and is therefore relevant to everyone’s lives.

Instead of giving a theoretical explanation of art’s significance, Bradford told the audience a story. Jazz, although not the only form of art that does so, requires improvisational skills. In his scenario, a man preparing to play with Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall turns to Davis moments before going on and asks, “What are you going to play when you get out there on stage?”, a question that frighteningly sounds like “What are you going to do when you get out there in the real world?” Davis answers, “I don’t know yet.” Still, he goes out and begins the rehearsed part of the performance. Seconds before the improv section he asks again, “What are you going to play?” “I don’t know.” When faced with the prospect of finally having to take a chance, Davis shows no fear, only trust in his ability to pull through. Suddenly inspired by the rhythm of the drums, Davis begins to play.

The “African-American Vision” exhibit stays at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery until Oct. 14, 2012, open 1-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.