Great Books Chicago Online 2021


A Collaborative Cultural Event!

February 26–28 • Via Zoom

When times are challenging, it becomes more vital to take the time to engage with big ideas as part of a civil community. Great Books Chicago brings together lifelong learners from around the world to talk about meaningful questions, hear insights from experts, and explore literature and art from a range of periods. This year, we’ll be considering the idea of beauty in art and literature: how it is defined, how it can harm, and how it can inspire.

This annual celebration of discussion and fellowship is ideal for any lover of books, culture, and community.

Your $275 Registration Includes:

  • Six hours of thought-provoking discussion led by expert Great Books Shared Inquiry facilitators
  • All readings that will be discussed at the event
  • Three presentations by expert speakers on specific aspects of the theme
  • An opening day pub quiz and opportunities to mingle

Exploring Beauty

The theme for Great Books Chicago Online is Exploring Beauty. Led by expert Great Books discussion leaders, participants will discuss the nature of beauty, the many forms it takes, and how notions of beauty change over time.

All readings and plenary sessions will center on this theme.

The Readings Are:

  • Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • “The Beauties” by Anton Chekhov
  • “An Essay in Aesthetics” by Roger Fry
  • Selected poems, including:
    • “Appalachian Elegy” (sections 1–6) by bell hooks
    • “On Beauty” by Kahlil Gibran
    • “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” by William Shakespeare
    • “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Event Speakers

Three dynamic speakers will lead sessions on different aspects of beauty, inviting participant response and discussion.

Beauty in Photography

Richard Cahan, Cofounder, CityFiles Press

Richard Cahan estimates he has studied millions of photographs during his career as a journalist and photo historian. CityFiles Press, a small publishing company that believes in the power of words and pictures, strives to produce meaningful projects that have emotional and artistic impact. In the past 10 years, Cahan and coauthor Michael Williams have created more than 12 books—each of which has won critical acclaim and attention. Recent titles include Aftershock: The Human Toll of War; River of Blood: American Slavery from the People Who Lived It; Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II; and Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows. Cahan will show a selection of his all-time favorite photographs, then invite participants to comment and expand the discussion.

Richard Cahan was born in Chicago and raised in the city and northern suburbs. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He worked as the picture editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and directed CITY 2000, a project that documented Chicago in the year 2000. In addition to writing books, he helps run CityFiles Press, and he curates exhibits, including one currently at the Chicago History Museum.

The Beauty of Geometry

Dave Shafer, PhD, Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Dave Shafer has long admired the beauty in the physical, human, and intellectual worlds, and in the things that humans create as we move around and between these worlds. Shafer studied Earth’s upper atmosphere during a winter-over in Antarctica and has worked to develop medical cameras, displays, and robotics. He became reacquainted with the intellectual side of life through his son’s enthusiasm for Great Books events.

Beauty in Art

Catherine Craft, Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

For much of 20th-century art, definitions of beauty were continuous points of challenge and redefinition. Among the most experimental artists of the period, the refusal of traditional standards of beauty was understood as a necessary starting point for making a new art suited to a new era. As a result, many faced accusations of making disturbing, even dangerous artworks. What artists and their audiences have found beautiful, and what they have rejected, provide insights not only into the rich variety of ways that concepts of beauty in art have been critiqued and expanded over the past century but also into shifts in the political and social convictions informing them as well.

Catherine Craft is curator at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, and a scholar of Dada, surrealism, abstract expressionism, and Neo-Dada. She is curator of The Nature of Arp, which debuted at the Nasher in 2018 and traveled to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice in 2019. Dr. Craft curated the Nasher’s 2015 touring retrospective Melvin Edwards: Five Decades and the group exhibition Paper into Sculpture, and she has contributed to Nasher publications on the works of Katharina Grosse, Rachel Harrison, Ann Veronica Janssens, and Isamu Noguchi, among others. She holds a PhD in art history from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of An Audience of Artists: Dada, Neo-Dada, and the Emergence of Abstract Expressionism and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as numerous articles and reviews. She joined the Nasher Sculpture Center in 2011.

Questions? Contact event coordinator Dan Lindstrom at 312.646.7116.