Before meeting Kenneth Finkel, Arielle Knapp’s knowledge of Philadelphia art strictly consisted of the Rocky steps.
After three hours a week of discussing Thomas Eakins and George Lippard with Professor Finkel, she gained a small sense of pride in knowing that her derriere rests on not just a chair, but a Windsor chair.
“I was expecting to learn about art in Philly,” senior advertising major Knapp said. “I thought it would be fun. Literally the only thing I remember is the Windsor chairs he wouldn’t shut up about.”
As a general education course fulfilling the American Studies requisite, Philadelphia Arts and Culture features plenty of reading about the history of the city’s architecture and designers.
“One of the things I have to keep in mind is that this is an introduction into the cultural landscape in a very broad and new way,” Finkel said. “I try to use the city and its past to blend the college skills of reading, critical thinking, and experience.”
While displaying an array of photos on his PowerPoint slide shows, Finkel lectures on the modern impact of yesteryear’s artists.
Knapp’s classmate, Seth Resnick, agrees that the class didn’t live up to expectations.
“I was left rather disappointed,” senior civil engineering major Resnick said. “I was really hoping to focus more on the ‘culture’ aspect of the course such as different neighborhoods around Philadelphia and the persona Philly people. There was none of that.”
If you think of Full House and breakfast when you hear Tanner and Bacon, you might want to skip over this class.
Especially because you can’t skip during it. Finkel hands out various sign-in sheets to maintain his mandatory attendance policy.
“The classes were boring,” Knapp said. “The homework was difficult for no reason, and the tests were impossible. He sucked the fun out of Philadelphia history.”
Entering the class with an interest in the city’s past is recommended because Finkel’s vast knowledge and passion will supplement the learning experience.
“I figure that if a student is in the class, he or she is already inclined to be curious about the arts,” Finkel said. “There are a number of students who frankly, don’t put enough work into the class. You can’t just walk in and be entertained; you have to actually come in prepared.”
Temple didn’t bring in some schmuck with a beret, whether all students are fans of his or not. Finkel is a former award-winning executive producer at WHYY-TV.
He curates prints, contributes to Phillyhistory.org, and sits on various councils in the art community.
“I urge students to talk to me during office hours,” Finkel said. “Not many do, but when they do, it always helps. I have no problem giving one student what might seem like an unfair amount of time, because they’re asking for it, so they deserve it.
Resnick believes Finkel is the perfect choice for the daunting task of educating unenthused students on such a diverse subject.
“It cannot be disputed that the professor had a wealth of knowledge about all the topics covered,” Resnick said. “Finkel did a good job presenting them. I just had a misunderstanding of the type of class it was going to be.”
The cultural montage isn’t restricted to the classroom.
As a matter of fact, there are three special occasions designated for good old-fashioned field trips.
These adventures throughout the City of Brotherly Love raise the course to four credits, which you might need to remind yourself about in order to ease the monetary anguish.
“I paid for entrance fees and cab rides,” Knapp said. “But it was all a waste because I could have seen everything we needed online.”
If you take the course during the fall semester, you’ll embrace the Halloween spirit by touring Laurel Hill Cemetery. Aside from trudging along the hills to study the landscape, you have the opportunity to pay homage at the giant sculpted microphone memorial for Harry Kalas.
Conversely, you’ll have to keep a close eye on the tombstones just in case you’re walking past Adrian’s plot from Rocky Balboa.
After ten semesters of teaching the class, Finkel said he is still honing his approach.
“One of the things I’m thinking about doing is having a few original artifacts in my office that students can look at,” Finkel said. “Slides are slides. They’re just digital pixels that can’t compare with the awesome reality of an object.”
Despite the sprinkles of pop culture and Finkel’s determination to continue improvement of his course, Knapp vehemently discourages anyone without a prior understanding of Philly’s art scene from taking the class.
“The point of gen-eds is to strengthen students’ overall abilities,” Knapp said. “Well, the class didn’t make me well rounded. It just brought down my GPA.”
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.