The Shape of Content


Shahn, Ben. The Shape of Content. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Shahn’s Harvard art lectures

  • Artists in Colleges
  • The Biography of a Painting
  • The Shape of Content
  • On Nonconformity
  • Modern Evaluations
  • The Education of an Artist

It is only within the context of real life that an artist (or anyone) is forced to make such choices [between values and wants]. And it is only against the background of hard reality that choices count, that they affect a life, and carry with them that degree of belief and dedication and, I think I can say, spiritual energy that is a primary force in art. I do not know whether that degree of intensity can exist within the university; it is one of the problems the artist must consider if he is to live there or work there. (10-11)

Shahn lists three major problems with the university’s efforts at arts education. The first is dilettantism. Shahn cites the “Visual Arts Report,” p. 65:

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