Why Beauty Matters In Business
Why teach a course on beauty in a business school? Diane Ragsdale, a visiting artist in residence and guest lecturer at the Wisconsin School of Business from Erasmus University in the Netherlands, says it will help business students approach challenges in new, innovative ways.
“Research suggests that cultivating an aesthetic sensibility can help students become wiser, more responsible decision–makers,” Ragsdale says. “It’s about generating beautiful solutions to problems, solutions that have integrity, that bear in mind the longer term and the greater good.”
Ragsdale’s research uncovered multiple perspectives on the benefits of beauty as a basis for decision–making, including one asserting that aesthetic sensibility is critical because it gives business leaders the criterion to distinguish excellence.
“Developing an eye for beauty is about developing a way of seeing and valuing excellence for its own sake, and being a creative leader is about more than figuring out how to make more money,” says Ragsdale. “Seeing beauty helps develop the ability to make decisions using criteria outside institutional norms.”
— Ryan Hummer (BBA ’15)
Ragsdale is teaching Aesthetics in Business, a course offered in the 2015 spring semester through the WSB’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In the innovative new class, students learn to use their senses and intuition to cultivate a different way of seeing the world and, therefore, a different basis for decision-making than a simple bottom-line comparison.
Over the 12-week class, which was open to both BBA and MBA students in the School, Ragsdale encourages students to look at objects, events, and people through an aesthetic lens and document their differing perceptions in a portfolio.
She’s also taking students out of the traditional classroom setting into settings where they can test their new skills in the real world. Bolz Center alumna Sheri Castelnuovo (M.A. ’91), curator of education at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, invited the class to the museum so they could experiment with how they approach and view different works of art.
“This class cannot be accurately portrayed in words, because it isn’t a class so much as an experience,” says Ryan Hummer (BBA ’15), one of the students currently taking Aesthetics in Business. “It provides a perfect contrast to the typical talk of ROI and strategic objectives that we get in our normal curricula. In studying beauty, I find myself asking more questions of ‘why’ instead of ‘what,’ ‘who’ instead of ‘how.’ It is by far the most memorable class I will have taken at the Wisconsin School of Business.”