In my college level aesthetics courses, I require students to choreograph a dance and to perform it, to paint images for the covers of their research papers, to compose a melody and to play it on a musical instrument, to sculpt, to act, and to write poetry. Though 90% of the students have no formal training in the arts, they perform or discuss their creations in front of class, as if they were giving a recital or lecture. This form of applied aesthetics meets two goals. First, aesthetics readings and discussions need examples to come alive. The student art activities illustrate readings in three traditional areas of aesthetics: philosophy of beauty, philosophy of art, and philosophy of criticism. For example, the dance assignment demonstrates Plato’s staircase of beauty in The Symposium. Second, aesthetics courses, in addition to enlightening students, ought to train them to perceive more beauty in the arts and the world around them, to perceive more details in the arts before them, and to perceive more differences among art works to help them assess the relative value of the art pieces. The student art activities often function like mini workshops where students learn the vocabulary of an art form, manipulate the material of the art, and, in the process, enhance their ability to perceive the myriad details of the artifacts in the art form. For example, most students early in the course cannot perceive differences among oil paintings, watercolor paintings, and acrylic paintings, even after explanations of the differences. However, when the same students employ oils, watercolors, and acrylics in their own paintings, they take a quantum leap in recognizing differences among painting vehicles and in perceiving details of color contrast, composition, shading, perspective, and so on. In the paper, I present applied aesthetics in sculpture, poetry, and dance, with arguments for the philosophy of each art and the philosophy of human nature underlying it.
Keywords: Applied Aesthetics, Beauty, Dance, Visual & Applied Arts, Education, Transformative Learning, Performing Arts, Engagement Teaching
Dr. Dan Vaillancourt
Professor, Philosophy Department, Loyola University Chicago