This seminar explores the role of beauty, wonder, and awe in the design and experience of our world. For most of the 20th century, these subjects were either entirely ignored in academia, or worse, cast exclusively as nefarious mechanisms of control used only by those in power. And yet who among us has not been uplifted by a scene in a film, a piece of music, an object, a work of art or architecture—or perhaps even something as unassuming as a beautifully cascading pile of laundry? This course will work under the assumption that such positive human experiences are needed more now than ever in a world increasingly defined by pessimism, criticism, and division. As such we will work under the assumption that beauty, wonder, and awe exist, and that they are worthy of a contemporary re-assessment, especially in the context of creative practices that are interested in producing a more equitable, beautiful, and just human future.
Through both philosophical and popular readings, the study of physical objects, and engaged discussion and lively debate, we will examine beauty, awe, and wonder from all possible angles- what they mean today, their history, why they are desired, how they might be produced, the motivations of those that promote them, and how they are being reconsidered not as the nefarious enemies of function or equality, but rather essential and ethically significant aspects of human experience.
In order to address these subjects beyond an abstract academic setting, we will have visitors from various creative industries come to class to discuss these subjects relative to their own work and disciplines- including Jessica Diehl, the former creative director of Vanity Fair magazine, and Michael Young, a practicing architect engaged with the subjects of aesthetics and representation. Students in the course will also (pending confirmation) visit New York City to explore and discuss these subjects at multiple scales, live and in person with the instructor, by viewing everything from architectural facades and urban monuments to medieval armor and Faberge eggs.
This course will resist the inherited lore of academia that casts beauty, wonder, and awe only elitist or oppressive, in favor of asking how they can be better understood and incorporated into the design of a more humane world. In doing so we will explore the work of contemporary thinkers who offer nourishment to this endeavor including but not limited to Elaine Scarry, Jane Bennett, Timothy Morton, bell hooks, Nick Zangwill, Dacher Keltner, Georgio Agamben, Susan Magsamen, and others, including recent writings on aesthetics by the course instructor. Limited enrollment.
(description and syllabus in progress)