By Mellany Armstrong
Before Moore’s first-year students unpack and set up their residence hall spaces this fall, they have an unofficial homework assignment. Each member of the class of 2023 has been given the graphic novel Why Art? by Eleanor Davis to read over the summer.
“It brings people together in a common shared experience during orientation,” said Dean of Students Joshua Wilkin. “They’re all coming from different backgrounds, but this is something they will all be doing together.”
According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, asking incoming students to read the same book before arriving–a common read–is becoming more popular as colleges look for ways to improve the first-year experience.
Eleanor Davis (b. 1983) is a cartoonist and illustrator from Athens, Georgia. Her books have won an ALA Geisel Honor Award, Eisner’s Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, and the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology or Collection.
Wilkin said Why Art? was chosen because of its subject matter–how do you define art and what is it for?–and because it’s very accessible as a graphic novel.
“It looks so simple, but you read it and there are many different layers to it,” Wilkin said. “For example, what is art, and how do you view yourself as an artist?”
Why Art? doesn’t answer the question immediately, and instead looks at categories of art, such as color and size, through black and white drawings, and then gets into deeper analysis before characters are introduced to tell the rest of the story.
When Moore’s first-year students arrive in August, they will get to know each other during a community-wide discussion about the book and its themes.
“It’s a chance for them to interact with the faculty in a different capacity,” Wilkin said. Graduate students will also help lead discussions in exploring the diversity of student viewpoints and encouraging critical thinking.
The book will be incorporated into the curriculum through writing and in Moore’s foundational Visual Thinking course, which all first-year students take.
“The book opens up questions about the creative process, power, and why we make what we make,” said Maya Pindyck, PhD, assistant professor and writing program director. “I’m excited to engage it with my students and to learn about how their own experiences and perspectives intersect with the story. Having a common read is a great way to build community, and this particular book can help us get to know each other as artists/designers.”