University of Wisconsin’s School of Business is offering an aesthetics and business class this semester, resulting from an overall push to bring a fresh perspective into what some see as a world of number crunching.
The class is part of the Arts Business Initiative, a program the business school started two years ago that has created a set of courses connecting artists and business students together, Sherry Wagner-Henry, director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, said.
Diane Ragsdale, visiting lecturer of the course, is an artist in residence seeking to teach business students to think of the world in new ways.
“The goal of the class is to give business students a different way of sensing the world, asking what it is that art, nature and other aesthetic experiences give us,” Ragsdale said.
Approaching Beauty, as Ragsdale calls the class, has 22 students enrolled, most of whom are senior business majors. Scholars and artists visit the class to explore beauty and aesthetics from a philosophical standpoint, Ragsdale said.
The class also involves practical assignments that usually engage aesthetic experiences, such as visiting an exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art, looking at “selfies vs. self-portraits” or watching a sunset and documenting an artistic response in a portfolio, Ragsdale said.
“An aesthetic way of approaching the world is a different way of perceiving that is increasingly valuable and needed for people in business,” Ragsdale said. “It’s about noticing things in the world, opening your eyes to things you normally wouldn’t pay attention to. It’s about pursuing this other path because it might lead you to new ways of thinking and new ideas.”
The class also focuses on stimulating creativity and instilling a sense of social responsibility by paying attention to the world, Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale’s Aesthetics and Business course will not be offered next year, as she is returning to the Netherlands, but elements of beauty and aesthetics will continue to be incorporated in other business school classes, she said.
“Students learn to open their eyes, look at the world and see not only beauty, but where the opposite exists, where beauty needs to be created,” Ragsdale said.
Through the class, students are encouraged to use their imagination in looking at problems presented to them, she said.
Ragsdale’s class has catalyzed a movement in using art and beauty to inspire students in a new way of thinking about approaches to leadership, communication and decision making, Wagner-Henry said.
“The class is a companion to a lot of other things we’re doing to try and connect artists and business people together,” Wagner-Henry said.
Ragsdale has a Master of Fine Arts in acting and directing and has since worked on various festivals. She ran a Seattle-based contemporary performing arts center and worked at Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York overseeing the theater and dance programs, she said.
She now calls the Netherlands home and is working toward a PhD in cultural economics.