Class art tag prescribes beauty online

Part of Gannon University’s liberal arts requirements is a fine arts credit.  Such a class might make one think of paints and paper, but professor Michael DeSanctis’ Introduction to Visual Arts course is taking that a step further.

Students in DeSanctis’ class are working on an assignment called “Public Acts of Beholding: Beauty as an Antidote to the Ugliness of the World,” where they are asked to reproduce or find some form of artwork or architecture, as well as analyze it using skills gained in the class.

DeSanctis related the assignment to the propaganda the Islamic State group is using to fill social media with fear.

“They use packaging with a kind of visual sophistication that makes them resemble episodes of reality TV or public service announcements,” he said.

“The murders, crucifixions, rapes and acts of child abuse perpetrated by the group are designed to antagonize the U.S. and its allies and recruit to its cause militant Islamists from outside the Middle East.”

The Islamic State group has posted torture as gruesome as beheading, and it’s not hard to find the images.

“There is nothing sanitary or emotionally distant about the imagery ISIS has selected to frighten peace-loving people throughout the world,” DeSanctis said.

“There’s something dark, ugly and misshaped about one human person violating the dignity of another, precisely because it so violates our collective humanity.

This partly explains why people of good will everywhere have reacted with such repulsion to the images being transmitted by ISIS across the world’s vast communication network.”

The project aims to take the opposite approach and build a collection of positive images identified online with the hashtag, #GUbeholds.

With the help of Kristen McAuley, the enrollment communications coordinator, and Catherine Datte, the director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, DeSanctis was able to arrange a server for the hashtag.  This will link the assignment posts together whenever someone searches the tag.

DeSanctis said the idea for the project came from a rhetorical question he had while teaching.

“Could a dose of beauty, which, according to the Judeo-Christian foundations of the university’s mission, can act as the every embodiment of truth, transform the hearts of those throughout the world disposed to the ugly violence that dominates our headlines?” he asked.

“The project represents an opportunity for students to make a formal response to the darkness being disseminated by ISIS and other terrorist organizations world-wide and a public affirmation of the humanizing effect of art on people of good will everywhere.”

Students are asked to post a reproduction or original work that points to the truth in beauty for them, and then to tag it with #GUbeholds on Instagram, Twitter or their preferred social media site.

The class’ work will be public on the due date, Dec. 4. All of the posts will be available on, but the assignment does not end in the classroom.  DeSanctis will have an article in the Erie Times-News about the assignment and pose an invitation to the rest of the Erie community.

“I hope it goes viral,” he said.  “My secret wish is that NPR will eventually adopt the story.”

He has informed other schools in the area and encouraged them to post their favorite pieces or original pieces with the #GUbeholds tag.

DeSanctis said he hopes this makes beauty seem less idealistic to his students.

“I want them to take the issues in class beyond the walls of the classroom, even when they seem lacking in substance,” he said.

“Public media makes these ideas more accessible.”


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