What is the difference between ‘the arts’ and ‘the humanities?’
In your work, how do you see the connection, or overlap, between the arts and the humanities? When or why do you ever find it useful to make distinctions between them?
“Art and the humanities go hand in hand. Art illustrates the humanities, while the humanities translate and interpret the illustration.” -Walter Sava
“In my life, cross-pollination defines the relationship between the arts and humanities. They work in tandem, one feeds the other. The harder question is the chicken and egg dilemma. As we engage in the making or appreciation of art, we employ the reflection, the ideas and understanding we think of as the humanities. Does contemplation of experiential culture(s) lead to the expression of vision in the arts? Or does the intuitive creation of beauty through art lead to thoughtful or “studied” exploration of human experience? In my own practice as artist and humanities scholar, the two are mutually supportive and invariably intersect. I consciously pry them apart sometimes when I ask students to first study and analyze the work of a writer and then try their own hand at the creative act. But even then, they do neither in a void. Maybe the arts and humanities are like Donne’s compass legs, always creating the circle together.” -Kimberly Blaeser
“In making documentary films, my work by practice must overlap with the humanities. My work begins with research of social histories and involves elements of oral history. It is informed by or understood via the lens of the humanities. And like most who work across genres, I am always learning through dialogue with humanists how to show connection, belonging-ness, and credibility so that the subject attracts the support and respect it deserves. I find that if I describe my work as conceptual or experimental, it seems to imply that it is too revisionist to be believed. I see the separation [between the arts and the humanities] only when my work becomes less conventional, more literary. ” -Portia Cobb
“The beautiful wigwassi jiiman (birchbark canoe) that Ojibwe artist Wayne Valliere created with ENVISION students from Lac du Flambeau represents art. The lessons we learn from looking at and talking about the through-line of centuries of Ojibwe culture that the canoe represents and how tradition can carry culture, represents the humanities. ” -Carol Amour
“In my work, the arts and humanities are deeply connected because Wisconsin Life seeks to not only show what our state’s residents create but also to ask why they do it and what it means to them in the stories we tell. It’s that association – between the doing and the talking – where we discover what it means to be human, and particularly for me, a human in Wisconsin.” -Erika Janik
“The arts and humanities are complementary practices that exist in a shared space and that do the work of making sense of human experiences. In my work programming public education in music and dance, I want to offer participants as rich an experience as possible, and I think of arts techniques and humanistic inquiry as two mutually informing tools to do that. For example, one class may teach blues guitar chords while another may teach the history of the genre. Ideally a curious student gets some of both, and each one draws on and feeds into shared culture.” -Jessica Coutier
Jessica Courtier is the Program Director in Music and Performing Arts at UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies. he oversees noncredit programs in music, dance, history, and humanities and teaches courses on music culture and history. Courtier’s research and teaching interests focus on historical popular American culture.
“As an editor, I tend to think of the humanities in literal terms; that is, humanities as the intellectual and physical pursuit of the essential elements that make us human. Visual and performing arts reflect these essential elements, as do literature, history, and the applied and theoretical sciences. Where I work, at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, we explore the intersections between the disciplines, those “hot spots” in between them where friction leads to the conflagration of ideas. But these ideas are only useful if applied to the betterment and understanding of life. It is in this application that the humanities are found.” -Jason Smith
“Years ago, I was reviewing a job application for a position in our English department, and I was struck by how the applicant described why teaching in the humanities was important to him. He wrote that humanities education is important because we must understand how forces in the world seek to dehumanize us. As an English professor, I focus on how language has developed to define and confine our humanity in a fashion that often escapes our awareness. The arts expand the possibilities for our humanity, expand our consciousness in so many directions, but for me their deep value is in how they inspire new ways of perceiving relationships. These are the connections that are unimagined or impossible or undesirable because of how meanings become dominant in society, a kind of mental shorthand for making sense of the world. The arts raise us from the grooves of those facile meanings and believe in our potential as human beings for more and for better.” -David Shih
David Shih is a professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he serves on its Hmong Studies Steering Committee and was appointed Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity Fellow. He blogs on race and racism at his personal website as well as at Stanford University’s digital humanities salon, “Arcade.”
“The arts are part of the humanities. The humanities are part of the arts. They are mixed, mingled, and gloriously interdependent. The historian who creates a turn of phrase that perfectly captures our relationship to our past is an artist. The actor who sits in a bar after a show and dissects the audience’s reaction to the performance is a humanist. I don’t know how useful it is to draw a distinction between the two, but I do know that it is essential to celebrate both.” -Ron Scot Fry