A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the course in beauty that I am teaching this term at UW-Madison, under the auspices of the Business School and the Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In that post I promised to provide an essay in which I address the literature that has, thus far, informed my thinking. That essay (published as a separate PDF) is called Why Beauty in a Business School? and it is an attempt to provide some justification for offering a course in beauty at a business school.
It is not lost on me that there is something rather ironic about justifying a course in beauty and aesthetics in a business school in terms other than “for the sake of learning about the thing itself.” When I proposed to teach the class it didn’t occur to me that I would need such justifications. I thought, “Wouldn’t anyone benefit from time spent thinking about beauty?”
I certainly would have when I was at university.
But, of course, such a perspective is naïve. As much as I and other humanities-types may see the intrinsic value of beautiful experiences (in a business school as much as anywhere), a course like this, in this particular setting, is not intuitive. Further justifications are warranted. Thus, this essay is an answer to those (arts types, business types, and arts-and-business types) with furrowed brows who have asked me over the past year, “Why should business schools teach their students about beauty?”
Part of me wants to quip, “Well, they probably shouldn’t if they aren’t convinced that aesthetics, art, nature, and beauty matter.” However, I recognize the question is sincere and so I have endeavored to offer a sincere response. Moreover, the management scientists and other scholars cited in this paper make compelling arguments for beauty in a business school.
The essay attempts to delve into and piece together (though it is far from a synthesis) what I have gleaned over the past year. It is by no means a comprehensive literature review. I have gone straight for the literature that is focused on the value of aesthetics or beauty in higher education and business schools in particular–and have not attempted to back up and address the broader question of aesthetics and beauty and why they matter in art or life, more generally. This is a new area for me. I have an MFA in Acting but spent most of my career in management and philanthropy; my dissertation research is theater history with a neo-institutionalist bent. If anything has prepared me to teach this class (which emphasizes the experience of beauty rather than the philosophy of aesthetics) it is the several years that I lived in NYC and saw 150-200 performances a year (in theater, dance, music, opera, performance art).
So, this is my first plunge into the topic and it is a working document. I hope you will submit suggestions for further reading as well as critiques—particularly if I have misunderstood or mischaracterized anyone’s work.
This essay is more academic in style and tone than my typical Jumper posts–in large part this is because academics were the first audience for this piece. It’s also long (~5,000 words) so grab a large cup of coffee before you dig in.
I hope it’s not tedious.
The class starts today (Tuesday, Feb 10) and I could not be more enthused. I will use Jumper to give a sense of our weekly readings, experiences, assignments, and discussions.
Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.