Humanities Today - Define humanities and give current examples

Topics: Humanities, Philosophy, 21st century Pages: 5 (1326 words) Published: June 13, 2006
Humanities Today

The Encyclopedia Britannica (2006) defines the humanities as "Branches of knowledge that investigate human beings, their culture, and their self-expression." (Humanities). Those branches of knowledge include philosophy, literature, languages, the arts, religion and history. The humanities examine the human condition by studying the elements of culture that describe what is or was valued and considered important at a particular point in time.

15th century Italian humanists referred to the humanities as studia humanitas which means the studies of humanity, indicating "secular literary and scholarly activities (in grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, moral philosophy, and ancient Greek and Latin studies)" that that they thought to be more humane and classical rather than divine (Humanities, 2006). In contrast, the physical sciences tend to examine the world and its phenomena objectively, without reference to or consideration of human meaning and purpose, a key aspect of the humanities. Scholars further argue that the humanities are distinguished from other modes of study by either their subject mater and by the method of investigation used. One philosopher called the humanities "the spiritual sciences" and "the human sciences" (Humanities, 2006). He described them as "areas of knowledge" outside of the physical sciences.

On the other hand, another turn-of-the-century philosopher instead characterized the humanities according to their method of study. He argued that the humanities do not seek or follow general laws, as the sciences do; and that they focus on values within human and cultural contexts, which is directly contrary to scientific methodologies. As described above, the humanities seek to understand the values of a people and their perceptions based on their direct expression through the arts, their language, and philosophies. Science is motivated by the desire to understand natural phenomena and dependent on empirical observation (Talk: Humanities, 2006).

The 21st century brings a variety of social, economic, and technological changes. Following is a demonstration of the humanities in the 21st century through the examination of its art, music, architecture, philosophy, and literature.


Is modern art in crisis? A new philosophical criticism emerged in the person of American critic Arthur Danto, who came out with the idea that "the objects [of art] approach zero as their theory approaches infinity"--that is, "art really is over, having become transmuted into philosophy" (Art Criticism, 2006). In his book The End of Art, author Donald Kuspit (2005) suggests that, "Art has been replaced by postart, [...] as a new visual category that elevates the banal over the enigmatic, the scatological over the sacred, cleverness over creativity."

Contemporary art, or art that is done now, is largely characterized by its indefinability. It tends to include art made from the late 1960s to the present, or after the supposed or putative end of modern art or the Modernist period (Contemporary Art, 2006). Today's art, like most of the humanities, has been transformed by technological, economical, and sociological advancements. It may or may not use traditional forms such as painting or drawing, and often includes the use of any variety of materials, video, or even performance as a part of it. One trend seems to be a focus on world issues such as cloning, the price of oil, gender and sexuality, human rights, and war.

A representative example is one of the most talked-about sales in the contemporary market. Maurizio Cattelan's The Ballad of Trotsky (1996), a stuffed horse hanging in a leather sling from the ceiling, sold for $2,080,000 in 2005 (Art and Exhibitions, 2006).


Contemporary music has also been greatly influenced by 21st century globalism. It has seen a development and acceptance of world music, or music that features or originates in a different culture. American artists such...

References: Art Criticism. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 4, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:
Art and Art Exhibitions. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 4, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:
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Deconstruction. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 4, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:
Humanities. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 3, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:
Kuspit, D. (2005). The End of Art. Cambridge University Press.
Marcel Duchamp. (2006). Retrived June 3, 2006 from
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