The purpose of this course is to show that aesthetics and culture are essential for true innovation, community-building, and sustainable development. Students discuss the main philosophers and writers that have defined the concept of beauty, from Homer, Plato, Kant, and Hegel, to John Dewey, Martha Nussbaum, Cristin Sartwell, and Elaine Scarry. Students are then invited to reflect upon the connection between beauty and the other two main values in the philosophical tradition, truth and goodness. We address topics such as critical thinking, cultural agency, etymology, storytelling, design, tradition, good manners, material culture, rhetoric, and visual sociology. The readings include Machiavelli’s The Prince, Pico della Mirandola’s On the Dignity of Man, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. One of the leading experts on cultural economics, Professor Pier Luigi Sacco, teaches several classes on smart cities, new modes of cultural production, and creative industries. Outside the classroom, numerous activities and trips constitute an integral part of the course. We visit the Romanesque abbey of Sant’Antimo in Tuscany, Renzo Piano’s eco-friendly district in Trento, the eccentric house-museum of the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, overlooking Lago di Garda, the oldest bank in the world still in operation (Monte dei Paschi), and the garden extravaganza of Isola Bella, on Lake Maggiore. We attend seminars on identity design, on territorial management, and on comics and video games. We watch eight masterpieces of Italian cinema, from La dolce vita to La grande bellezza. We visit fashion showrooms, concept stores, and spaces dedicated to the production, exhibition, and enhancement of contemporary culture like Armani Silos, Benetton’s Fabrica, and the Prada Foundation. We learn the techniques for making espresso and cooking meals as Italians do. We bike the Lucca city walls and are taught the basics of Alpine climbing. In Siena, students will be deeply involved in the local community; each of them will be invited to join one of the city’s contrade (wards) and participate in the preparation for the Palio, the horse race which has been the city’s most important event for centuries. Optional Italian language instruction is offered at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced level. We will not just be tourists; we will view the important cultural touchstones of the places we go in the context of those communities, and of the people whose work perpetuates them.
Students will spend three weeks in Milan, a world capital of fashion and design, two in Trento, a quaint city in the Italian Alps, and three in Siena, a perfectly preserved medieval city that still holds to a stipulation of her 14th-century constitution: that the city’s rulers and citizens work to enhance “the beauty of their city to bring prosperity and growth.” These contrasting Italian cities are the ideal context for experiencing and examining beauty.
For more detailed information, see the syllabus.