The HUMANities

The School of Athens. 16th Century. Raphael.
The School of Athens. 16th Century. Raphael. To me, the ultimate representation of the humanities.

I was taken by surprise by how much David Bowie’s death affected me. Even days later, listening to certain songs, like my favorites Heroes or Ziggy Stardust, could make me choke up, bring tears to my eyes.

I didn’t know David Bowie other than through his music, movies, and interviews, so why was I so sad? Because that is what art is all about. A great artist can touch people’s lives and get into their souls. Art burrows deep inside of us.

It made me think of a conversation I had with another student when I was in graduate school. I studied Humanities and took classes in literature, art, art history, history, philosophy, music, and film. My teachers, co-students, and I were also writers, poets, artists, musicians, or philosophers. The student who questioned me studied business. He thought my major was silly, old-fashioned…worthless. He told me that no one should study humanities; it was a waste of time.

My answer: society needs the humanities. The humanities, I told him, were what being HUMAN was all about. Stories, music, dance, visual arts, and philosophy all study what it means to be human in all its joys and sorrows, terrors and jubilation. The HUMANities have been with us since the beginning of time when people told each other stories around a fire and carved images into cave walls, millennia before anyone concerned themselves with macro-economics.

When we become engrossed in a book or film or dance, when we become overwhelmed by the emotions in a painting or song, we are taking a piece of that art and holding it in our souls. It enriches us and reminds us, even if for a brief, beautiful moment,  that we are more than our commute to work and our daily errands.

“We can be heroes/Just for one day.” This one line says it all. We are all heroes in our own stories. Great art and artists remind of us this and that is why we need them. This is why we mourn them when they are gone.

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