Are the Arts Part of the Humanities?

October 31, 2019 Choosing to Study the Humanities

Among the many, varied, and often confusing terms one finds in the world of academia, the arts and the humanities can be considered some of the more controversial. While many colleges and universities roll everything into one category, others are very clear that, while a study of the humanities may brush up against the arts, the two are separate and distinct.

It would help to begin with a brief definition. The arts typically include literature, visual arts and performing arts – all creative forms of expression. Humanities are defined as the ways in which humans have and continue to process and record their experiences through time. This would include philosophy, religion, history, linguistics, languages and law. As an aside, another broad area of studies is the sciences, which are more empirical studies, explanatory and quantitative. The sciences are typically held apart from the humanities, though of course, it is through the sciences that much of the exploration and discoveries that have impacted humanity have occurred.

Discussion and debate about the interweaving and influences of the humanities and the arts is constant, and is the subject of study in many graduate schools and PhD programs. It can be argued that, while being creative and expressive, the arts are a direct response to humanity’s need to process, explain and explore their experiences. Music, art, dance and stories have all been important parts of the process throughout history, and indeed, often serve as a way of informing others of beliefs and philosophies, and even of influencing others experiences. It is difficult to say, then, that the creative process is not part of the exploratory process that underpins the area of study known as the humanities.

Some schools sidestep the question easily by having a Faculty of Arts and Humanities, while others delineate fine arts, performing arts, history in art, and literature into various categories and sub-categories, separate and distinct from any of the other facilities or programs that might be considered the humanities. Yet others focus more on the liberal arts, which adds some of the sciences into the mix and may remove all of the arts except for literature.

Such a broad and all encompassing area of study really does defy definition, which is why so many definitions abound. Yet, if the humanities is a study of how people have explored, processed, and in this case documented, their experiences though time, then it stands to reason that the creative expression of the arts fits in particularly well, as the arts have long been a way for humanity to document and process their experiences, exactly as the definition states.