Art History and Aesthetics: Appreciating Beauty, Embracing Functionality

Over his nearly three decades at Millbrook, Bill Hardy has embraced interdisciplinary education for students and staff.  His comprehensive and inclusive approach to making and teaching art is evident in the wide-ranging topics addressed in class, particularly in his art history course. He has offered art history for the past 11 years, and as he prepares to retire at the end of this school year, this will be his final year teaching this unique advanced course.
Held in the beautiful art library and classroom in the Holbrook Arts Center, which Mr. Hardy helped conceptualize and design, Vth and VIth form Art History and Aesthetics students are undertaking a consideration of the aesthetics of the built and natural world. For their final class project, students will design either a physical or spiritual dwelling place within established parameters. In the physical realm the space can be no larger than 400 square feet, a restriction designed to inspire both minimalist and practical thinking. By embracing this less-can-be-more concept, student designers will be forced to maximize synergy within their own ideas about time, space, and beauty.
Patterns and other visual elements that occur in nature lead to an embrace of the natural world in human design and art. As students’ designs coalesce, Mr. Hardy is encouraging them to use all of their senses and to think deeply about how architecture is employed to inspire and evoke.
To this end, a recent on-campus class trip to the Flagler Memorial Chapel helped students consider what field dynamics and field integration can mean when rendered in concrete and plaster. Students photographed details of the building for later review in class as Mr. Hardy led a discussion of aesthetics of the structure and the emotional, psychological, and intangible effects that a built environment can have. Mr. Hardy’s thorough knowledge of school history also informed the lesson, as Founding Headmaster Edward Pulling’s motivations and intentions were made manifest in the chapel. His ideas about the function and purpose of the chapel were balanced with aesthetic elements that make it a meaningful structure in so many ways.
As students synthesize ideas of their ‘dream dwelling’ into actual designs, they will have to address many of the tangible parts of a dwelling. Materials, location, and space will have to be in harmony with aesthetic considerations in order to design what may be called a successful building. Students will have to account for the choices by revealing their inspirations and thought processes as they design their own spaces. In this discussion, and through the canon of art and architecture, Mr. Hardy will guide students to develop an awareness of their personal aesthetic, contained in and revealed by their designs.
As an artist and educator, Mr. Hardy says, “My greatest hope is that the students make a connection with their other courses.” Though they may think in wood and stone for this design, the real purpose of the project is to learn to embrace functionality while remaining open to the possibility of beauty.
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