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Humanities and the Arts Are Important — Especially In These Times

We are living in uncertain and ever-changing times. A place where there is a growth in nationalism, a spike in hate crimes, revelations exposing predators and sexual assaults pursued by the powerful. It has almost come to the point where one looks at a headline and is unsurprised if it is displeasing, and scary. There seems to be a tension that is constant. There has been an extreme rise of misunderstanding between people who have certain differences that cannot be rectified for some reason or another that, arguably, could be resolved if a greater focus on humanities and the arts were set in place.

Source: METRO via Police Force Open Data

It can be said that in these times, the thing we all need most is to abolish ignorance and increase empathy and understanding of others- the understanding of different cultures, languages and acknowledgement that other things exist outside of one’s own place of living. The humanities, in brief, is a field of study around human society and culture. The arts, in brief, refers to the expression of creativity found in the societies of humans and culture. Humanities subjects would be, for example: History, Religion, Philosophy and Languages, etc. Whereas the arts would consist of subjects that involve creative expression: Literature, Theatre, Painting and Music, etc. Things that are made to make us feel alive, things that were made to give us an outlet to express our happiness or grievances toward the world we exist in. Moreover, things that make us understand or, for a moment, listen to the problems that we ourselves have.

There is a emphasis put upon STEM subjects, and rightfully so. Though, when the subjects of humanities and the arts are belittled, seldom used and are not funded it is quite unfair. The arts subjects, more than humanities in some cases, are perceived as something that should be more of a ‘hobby’ than a ‘career’. Consequently, for example, according to the BBC,  four of England’s biggest arts venues have been faced with cuts: The National Theatre, South Bank Centre, Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) who will have their grant shrunk by 3%. By cutting the funds for creative outlets, are we not just ignoring the perspectives that will come from pieces produced and presented in these centers to audiences? In turn, will that decrease not only the places we can choose to spend our leisure time (if cuts continue to increase), but also in the long term, lead to a refusal to acknowledge the importance of the arts? After all, this is not only happening in the UK, it is happening in the US. CNN reported that Donald Trump has proposed cuts for ‘The National Endowment For The Humanities’ and ‘The National Endowment For The Arts’.

A photo from the performance of Hamlet by the RSC. Source: Mac Birmingham via RSC Hamlet Live

Alongside cuts of the arts and humanities,  a survey by Arts Professional highlighted that there has been a “five-fold” increase in the decline for taking up arts GCSE subjects. Yet this does not surprise me personally. People I know, including myself, have experienced the stigma around studying the arts and humanities subjects. “You’re going to study History? What for? What can you do with that?” parents question. A maths teacher insisted that I was “very silly” for deciding to pursue an English Literature and Creative Writing degree. There is an abundance of mockery directed at those who study the arts online as well as ‘light-hearted’ rivalries between STEM students and humanities/arts students at universities. “You’re studying [arts subject], so you don’t like to get paid?”  Already, one can understand that there is a growing absence of understanding that the arts and humanities are important.

In a world filled with such hate and ignorance, an acknowledgement that the arts and humanities provide us with perspectives that are not our own would benefit many. They allow us to research the past and find faults that we should not repeat, understanding religion, and why we are here as well as allowing us to find enjoyment in understanding works of art that express the wrongs (and rights) in our society. In essence, the arts and humanities enlighten us.

There are plenty of examples of influential figures that shape minds through their works of art. As well as philosophers, and historians… They make us question the world around us, ourselves and the human condition. In essence, the subjects actively encourage empathy and understanding of humanity. Is that not what we need in this political climate, this ever-changing world? Understanding? Yet here, cuts are being pursued against these very subjects, and students studying the subjects are being mocked because of the lack of pay for the fields that the subjects feed into.

The arts and humanities enlighten us in regard to many moral issues. Be it the matter of gender(s), understanding other cultures, politics, race, and mental health etc. The list goes on. These are moral issues. The examination and analysis of the effect of the past, of the actions of characters in novels that perhaps mirror people existing in the world around us. In poetry, that can teach us of other perspectives, too. Even the works of Shakespeare can make us question upon the subject of race, feminism and mental health be it through Othello and/or Hamlet, for example. Though, then again, many works of literature can make one question upon many subjects, can make us question the world we exist in. While, the humanities can teach us the extent to which figures had to endure hardship and attained a step closer to equality for the future generations.

Through history (and this is just one subject within humanities) we can learn about figures such as Rosa Parks, who was not only a black civil rights icon but also was a sexual assault investigator, according to History Stories. These are merely two examples of just literature and history as subjects from humanities and the arts that teach us to think beyond text and understand the past in such a way that one may be able to understand perspectives that one had never considered before. And the list really does go on endlessly. As, these figures are being bred and made today, at this very moment. There are plenty of important figures that ensured the future would be positive through their actions, as well as important figures that negatively affected the future that we can learn from, too.

Rosa Parks upon arrest. Source: The Telegraph

It is inherently important to just educate oneself on the lives of others in a world so full of hate. Studying the humanities and the arts is key to earning these different perspectives and understandings. Be that during secondary school, primary school or higher education. Or, really, just to understand, even if you are not sitting for an exam on it. As humans, shouldn’t we make it our duty to ensure that we practice empathy, and educate ourselves – to remember that, after all, there is a world out there beyond ours?

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is of course important. However, humanities and the arts offer a different view. A view that is needed. In a world that continually neglects emphasizing the importance of humanities and arts, it is arguably unsurprising that there would be a rise of ignorance and hatred in the world that is gradually starting to turn their back on valuable knowledge that can benefit. By mocking the purpose of the two subjects as a world collectively, we may be unwittingly (and ever so gradually) silencing the past and the warnings that exist in works of art that we need to hear. Or, at least, wouldn’t this happen in the long term?

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