Can you teach beauty in art? U of Arts says yes

Deep thoughts on beauty are going down at Philly's University of the Arts. / Wikimedia commons
Deep thoughts on beauty are going down at Philly’s University of the Arts. / Wikimedia commons

Trying to help reshape and broaden an art school freshman’s perception of beauty can be tricky. Many incoming students already have a clearly defined idea of what beauty is, and sometimes it can be narrow. University of the Arts is more than happy to help broaden the beauty spectrum by way of new, team-taught curriculum. Notions of Beauty in Visual and Performing Culture is a one and a half credit course set to start next fall, and its intentions go well below the surface.
“I think about freshmen,” says Michele Kishita, the UArts Adjunct Assistant Professor who proposed the idea for the class. “I think about the perception they have on beauty as young artists. They already have an idea of what beauty is to them. I want to teach them how to have a bigger perspective so that when they go into practice they have ownership over their work.”
Along with the idea of beauty, the course also serves to educate on collaboration and various disciplines. That’s where the team-teaching comes into play. Kishita, a visual artist, will lead the class with performing artist and teacher Krishna Dunston. The goal is to nurture a cross-media point of view.

The class will begin with theory and works its way toward practice. The first six of the fifteen weeks is spent dissecting Crispin Sartwell’s The Six Names of Beauty, a book that explores the word beauty in six different cultures. “It’s based on language and how culture informs language,” explains Kishita. “Looking at beauty in these perspectives puts the students in a different mindset.”

After that comes the practice. In addition to keeping an online portfolio, students must collaborate on a group performance project that reflects their new take on beauty. “They all have different ideas by the middle of the semester, and now they’ll have to work together to create something,” Kishita says. At this point, though, beauty should be a much more dynamic concept.


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