Humanities Today

For as long as humankind has existed so have art, music, architecture, literature, and philosophy. The University of Phoenix (2009) defines humanities as “an approach to study that emphasizes ideas and values through analysis of modes of cultural expression, philosophical and religious thought, and modes of human communication” (University of Phoenix, Week One Supplement). Gloria K. Fiero (2006) further defines humanities as literature, philosophy, history, architecture, visual arts, music, and dance (p. 4).

Humanities impact daily life without many people being aware of their presence. What distinguishes humanities from other modes of human inquiry and expression is that they focus on ideas and values, not simply the production or result of an action. This paper will provide current examples of visual art, music, architecture, philosophy, and literature and analyze how they reflect current developments in politics, socioeconomics, and technology. Visual art can be, but is not limited to, painting, sculpture, and photography.

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Classic paintings by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso are still considered masterpieces in today’s society but are not enjoyed by the common population the way that graphic and digital art have in the past century. Graphic and digital technology have become the means by which visual art is to be viewed and cherished among the mass population in a way that has never been available in history. Today’s society has become focused on instant gratification.

Changes are expected to be made in politics overnight, struggles in socioeconomics demand rectification within weeks (even though they took years to create), and advancements in technology feeds society’s dependence on better, faster, and stronger tools. Unfortunately, visual art has become victim to this need for instant gratification. No longer are single masterpieces created by the flow of an artist’s hands, shaping and molding art into a creation of his or her soul. Instead, art is generated digitally by the click of a mouse and a selection of color and size from a predefined chart.

The art can then be mass-distributed and mass-produced around the world in the matter of minutes. The creativity is still there, but the love generated through the time and patience required to construct that art by hand is no longer there. With the flood of self-help books saturating the market, literature also reflects society’s need for instant gratification. Self-help books are a reflection of the current socioeconomic state in which everyone is looking for a way to better his or her life instantly.

Politicians have indirectly supported this literary genre by focusing and promoting what is wrong in the country and in each other. For example, if a politician has shortcomings in his or her public speaking abilities, the opposing political party will ridicule that person publicly. Citizens who feel they also do not have strong speaking skills and fear being mocked may then be compelled to purchase a self-help book on public speaking. As technology has advanced, self-help books have become a wonderful tool for individuals struggling to learn how to use the newest electronic devices.

One popular technology self-help series is the For Dummies books. The books began in 1991 with “DOS for Dummies” (Johnson, 2006, para. 3), but they have now sold over 150 million Dummies books in 39 languages. Many people have benefited from the simple, helpful language used in these books, but not all self-help books are created equal. Some self-help books offer a quick solution that often leaves individuals feeling worse than when they began. Striving for self-improvement is excellent; however, self-help books can sometimes do more harm than good.

Music in today’s society can also do more harm than good when presented to an impressionable mind. Music has always been used as a means of creatively reflecting political and socioeconomic issues, but since the inception of the Rap and Heavy Metal music genres, discontent, anger, and frustration have become common and wide-spread in music over the past 50 years. Songs about drug use, suicide, murder, and rape and those that use explicit language are common in these two genres of music and have begun to permeate other forms of music.

This reflects not only society’s discontent with the current political and socioeconomic state, but it also reflects society’s tolerance and acceptance of freedom of speech. The sound of music, the production of music, and the enjoyment of music have evolved as technology evolves. New sounds that have never been possible before are now available through technology. Music is now available anywhere through the use of an MP3 player or cell phone. No longer does a person have to stop and listen to a musician; music can be played at any time. This fills society’s need for instant gratification.

Today’s architecture also caters to the on-the-go lifestyles of society. Bigger, stronger, smarter, and faster are all ideas and values visibly manifested in current architecture. The aesthetic appeal of a building has given way to designs which exploit opportunities to get the most for the money. A recent trend which reflects a change of political and socioeconomic initiatives is building environmentally-friendly structures. That means creating a building that produces little waste, uses alternative power solutions, and emits minimum greenhouse toxins.

Advances in technology have made these structures possible; however, they cost additional money to construct, and businesses and individuals are charged more money to use them than a traditionally built structure. Instant gratification, the struggle for self-improvement, tolerance and acceptance, and the idea of making as much money as possible are all philosophies in today’s society. Each is reflected in art, literature, music, and architecture, but as a whole, they make up the philosophy of society through their ideas and values.

Developments in politics, socioeconomics, and technology have all played a part in creating these philosophies, but they are visibly manifested in the humanities. One can only wonder how the current humanities will be viewed and analyzed 50 or 100 years from now. The examples this paper has provided of visual art, music, architecture, philosophy, and literature demonstrate how current developments in politics, socioeconomics, and technology are reflected. As politics, socioeconomics, and technology change so too will art, music, architecture, philosophy, and literature.