“I love bringing art to people,” says Ariela Lazar, PhD, “It’s a passion of mine. This is why I developed these courses with the goal of giving each person the skill set to view art in an intelligent and informed way.”
With a doctorate in philosophy, Ariela has taught philosophy courses to undergraduates and graduate students at an array of universities over the course of her career, currently doing so at the University of Chicago. She describes How to View Art as the result of many years spent thinking and writing and speaking with others about art. In important ways, she sees the courses as bringing together a host of her life’s central and most longstanding preoccupations.
“My father was an artist,” she says. “I grew up around artists. I looked at art with them and listened to how they spoke about their artistic choices. Later on, I was very fortunate to have fantastic professors who opened my mind to the fundamental questions surrounding the philosophy of art. What is art? What is a good work of art? Must artwork be beautiful? These sorts of discussions built on and expanded my early direct experiences with art.”
Drawing on this deeply informed capacity to view and appreciate artworks, Ariela started buying art for herself and her family about a decade ago. Numerous friends quickly took notice and began seeking her advice when it came to purchases of their own. The experience led Ariela to set up her own art consultancy, Lazar Art Advisory, which afforded her the ability to bring art to people. But soon Ariela was not satisfied with bringing arts to her clients alone. As an academic, she was surrounded by thoroughly educated and very intelligent people who often lacked the basic set of skills required to look at artworks.
“Art wasn’t accessible to them,” Ariela says. “Aesthetically, they were blind. That’s when the idea for the class first started germinating within me. It wasn’t a class on the history of art that I wanted to put together, but rather one in which I would teach a set of skills that could enrich a person’s appreciation of art. Through lessons in color theory, perspective, composition, and technique, I realized I could give students a set of tools with which they could go off and view new pieces of art in a rewarding way on their own.”
Originally imagined as a class for undergrads and grad students at the University of Chicago, Ariela came to see teaching adult professionals through the Graham School as an ideal context in which to share her insights into the process of perceiving and engaging with artworks. The excitement the adult learners bring to class, she notes, along with the breadth of their experience, provide a uniquely rewarding and even surprising experience.
“They come to class for enjoyment,” she says. “It’s a treat they give themselves. And that’s something palpable in the experience of the interactions we have in class. What’s more, all their life experiences go into the discussions. Students who have traveled widely and visited many of the world’s great artistic destinations tell me they now look back on those experiences with fuller appreciation. It is wonderful for me to see their joy in discovering this new domain of life.”