Most college students would jump at the opportunity to travel Italy for five weeks of summer and call it academic credit. That is exactly what a group of seven PUC Honors students did from June 30-July 28, but this dream educational opportunity was a little more complicated than it sounds.
The seminar entitled “Beauty” is a required component of the Honors program that explores the concepts of art and aesthetics in one of the most historically appropriate locations in the world—Florence, Italy. Students examine questions of how beauty shapes people and their views of the world and gain an understanding of the development of what is perceived as beautiful in the Western world.
Every day of the course was a highly purposeful adventure. Students left the campus of Villa Aurora, the Italian Seventh-day Adventist college where they lived, early in the mornings to visit an array of museums and tour famous places such as Rome, Cinque Terre, Assisi, San Gimignano, Pisa, Lago di Garda and Venice. Afternoons were filled with three-hour art history lectures and discussions of art philosophy. Evenings were no less intensive, as students were assigned between 80 and 200 pages of philosophical readings and response writing almost every night.
This year’s reading assignments included Aristotle and Plato, Edmund Burke’s “A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful,” Giorgio Vasari’s “The Lives of the Artists,” Roger Scruton’s “Beauty,” and a variety of other texts exposing students to ancient and modern ideas about art and beauty.
While in Italy, junior English education major Tricia Kurunathan commented, “We definitely are not vacationing here, but are in the middle of a very rigorous summer school class worthy of the five credits we achieve at the end.” Nevertheless, students managed to find the time to explore Florence, eat pizza and gelato, and shop for souvenirs.
Students were thrilled to be immersed in the culture and beauty of Italy. Early childhood education major Amanda Katz says, “It is great to get to see all the original works of art. There is nothing like seeing them in person.” She claims, “I can now identify art by time period and subject matter in 2.5 seconds.”
“Traveling to and studying great works of art in Italy, going to concerts, and generally experiencing life in another country where beauty is valued goes a long way to fulfilling the program’s mission of preparing students for a lifetime of aesthetic appreciation,” says Honors program director John McDowell. He explains, “I’ve seen students who thought they could not appreciate art—and especially modern art—change their minds. Most [students], I believe, come to understand the importance and power of beauty in their lives.”