Beauty and the B-School

An artist in residence is teaching b-school students to appreciate beauty.
An executive in residence can share professional contacts and real-world experiences with students and faculty, but what does an artist in residence bring to a business school? At the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business, artist in residence Diane Ragsdale is teaching students to appreciate beauty. Her course, “Approaching Beauty,” is designed to help students develop an aesthetic sensibility that will inform their decision-making processes, inspire innovation, promote leadership skills, and encourage a sense of corporate responsibility.

To develop the class, Ragsdale reviewed a growing body of research examining the links between aesthetics, leadership, and business management. Ragsdale is particularly interested in the strand of scholarship that suggests a relationship between cultivating an aesthetic sensibility and becoming a more responsible, courageous, and visionary leader.

Says Ragsdale, “The most compelling justification I found for a class in beauty is that it develops leaders with moral imagination—leaders with the vision to imagine beautiful solutions to local and global problems, as well as the courage and moral character to do the right thing for its own sake.”

Ragsdale is the first artist in residence at the business school’s Bolz Center for Arts Administration, a knowledge center that supports the Wisconsin MBA program in arts administration. While open to MBA students, the course was offered to undergraduate business students. It combines discussions on the nature and function of beauty in today’s society; curated and self-directed aesthetic experiences in art, nature, and everyday life; and the documentation of these experiences in a portfolio.