8-3 Project 2: Short Answer Responses About Human Expression Submission


The assignment is from last week (Project 1) I’m going to attach the information with rubics and guideline. I have attached some information on my Professor’s feedback from the project 1 you help with, so you can have information for this project 2 and what the professor is looking for for this coming project.

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Rubric and Guideline:

HUM 100 Project 2 Short Answer Responses Guidelines and Rubric

The enduring relevance of the humanities is that they encourage us to consider a number of “big ideas.” What is culture? How do we go about studying it? What is the relationship between cultural artifacts and the culture in which they are created? Between artists and the creators ofcultural artifacts and the things they create? How is human meaning generated through cultural creations? We humans seem driven to express and create in our search to understand and be understood.

n Project 2, you will use the ideas you have studied throughout the course in addition to the insights you have gained from your deep thinking about your chosen artifact to discuss why humans are driven to express themselves in so many ways. You will draw conclusions about the reciprocal relationship between forms of expression and the context in which they are created and experienced.

The short answer response assignment will assess the following course outcomes, which you focus on throughout Modules Five through Eight:

Investigate major developments in the humanities for informing critical questions related to human culture and endeavors

Articulate the value of the humanities for their impact on contemporary issues focusing on how humans generate unique meanings.


Articulate the value of human creative expression to the advancement of human culture. Be sure to state your opinions clearly and specifically and to provide ample detail from your course materials and the study of your chosen artifact in Project 1. You should address each of these in writing as three separate explanations. This is not meant to be an essay.

Specifically, the following critical elements must be addressed:
I. Explain why you believe humans have a need to express themselves through created artifacts.

a)Explain the larger human need to express using the insights you gained from studying your artifact

b)Detail how a person and/or concept encountered in this course has informed your explanation.

II. Explain how you think the act of human creative expression impacts and is impacted by the culture in which it was created.
a)Explain the larger reciprocal relationship between human creative expression and the culture in which it was created using the insights you gained from studying your artifact.
b)Detail how a person and/or concept encountered in this course has informed your explanation.

III. Explain how you believe human creative expression can impact issues we deal with today. Be sure to be specific about the issues you are addressing
a)Use the insights you gained from studying your artifact to explain how creative expression can impact today’s issues.

b)Detail how a person and/or concept encountered in this course has informed your explanation.

Need to Express: Your Artifact
Need to Express: This Course
Impacts and Is Impacted by Culture: Your Artifact
Impacts and Is Impacted by Culture: This Course
Impact on Today’s Issues: Your Artifact
Impact on Today’s Issues: This Course
Articulation of Response


Part 1: Content

Criterion Feedback

You have provided an example of an artifact that has either helped create change in the way women or LGBT people are perceived, or has been influenced by society’s changing views of women and LGBT members, and explained why you chose this artifact. Great job! As you learned in Module Seven, women and people with different sexual orientations or gender identities historically have turned to the humanities for self-expression, to better understand themselves and others like them, and to create a world that is more inclusive and accepting. In modern life, we see many examples in film, TV, literature, music, and beyond.

Part 2: Content

Criterion Feedback

You have provided support for your response by discussing the impact of artifacts on larger American culture. Nice work! As you learned in the article on Amy Tan’s novel, arranged marriages are an ethnically specific experience, while sexism and differences in how men and women are treated are universal human experiences. Another example of an artifact that has had a similar impact on American culture as Amy Tan’s novel is the book and film Hidden Figures that bring to light prejudice and harmful assumptions against groups in society. Your work here is good practice for Project 2, which asks students to explain how creative expressions can impact issues we deal with today.

Here’s somem information from the last Modules that my professor is looking for.


The ancient world is a broad term that can be applied to any time from the start of recorded human history (before 3000 BCE) to the start of the Middle Ages (476 CE). Cultures traditionally studied for this period in the Western humanities include Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and the most famous artifacts from this period are often monumental in nature, like the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Colosseum in Rome. During the ancient world, many of the disciplines of the humanities—visual and performing art, music, literature, and philosophy—were born. So, in a very real sense, every development was major.

The term Middle Ages in Western culture is often applied to the period of time from the fall of Rome into “barbarian” hands in 476 until the arrival of Europeans in America in 1492 but more generally to the years 500–1400. This period is often (though incorrectly) seen as a bleak era for culture due to factors such as war, disease, and political instability. However, it also saw the rise to power of the Catholic Church, and many humanistic artifacts were produced during the Middle Ages, including art and literature in the service of Christianity, such as the Gothic cathedral, as we will see in this module.

The Renaissance, meaning “rebirth,” was a period of cultural flourishing that first occurred in Italy during the fourteenth century and can be said to have continued to around 1700. While Italy was already promoting the Renaissance ideal of humanity as the measure of all things, parts of Northern and Western Europe, such as England, France, and Germany, were still in the Middle Ages. This shows how applying dates to specific periods in the humanities is not exact but a general guideline—the qualities of a culture do not just begin one year and end on another, just as aspects of the 1980s continued into the 1990s. Many of the most famous artists in the world today lived and worked during the Renaissance. These include Michelangelo and Leonardo, who created iconic works including David and The Last Supper, respectively. During the Renaissance, the formal concept of the humanities as a field of study was created.

Enlightenment and Romanticism are two movements that are often paired because of their opposing ideals. Drawing on the developments in science and philosophy during the Renaissance, creators of humanistic artifacts in the first half of the eighteenth century promoted the principles of reason, order, and progress during what has been called the Age of Enlightenment. In the last half of the century and into the next, Romanticism represented a response to Enlightenment ideas, valuing intuition, emotion, and free expression above the ideals of balance and reason. We will learn about the artifacts of these movements in Module Six.

Realism and impressionism are the periods in which the limits of both Enlightenment and Romanticism have been experienced. The French Revolution, which epitomized the Enlightenment, led into excesses and horrors such as the Reign of Terror. The excitement of Romantic ideals of individual indulgence led to selfishness, vanity, and triviality, such as Lord Byron enlisting in foreign wars for the excitement and bravado rather than to serve justice. As Romanticism began to fall out of favor throughout Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, new approaches to expression that also dealt with issues of social justice and respect for the environment began to emerge. Two of these movements were realism and impressionism.

Realism was a widespread movement in Europe and the United States in which the common things of daily life were considered worthy of consideration on their own terms. For example, a pot of milk and a cow would be considered worthy objects for a painting. In the United States, Winslow Homer painted pictures of fishermen at sea. In Great Britain, Charles Dickens wrote novels, such as Oliver Twist, about the harsh conditions facing poor children.

From realism, it was a small step to impressionism. While realism attempted to portray objects and activities as seen by the human eye in almost a clinical, scientific manner, impressionism attempted to paint a picture of life as it impresses us, with feelings, images, and sensations, rather than the harsh lines of realism. Impressionists sought to capture the effect of light on all we see and, in a sense, applied this as well to music and literature. The impressionist composer Debussy wrote haunting music that seemed to drift around notions of tonality, such as the song “Clair de Lune” (moonlight).

The modern world quickly evolved out of impressionism and led us into the tumultuous society we have today. Once the impressionists, whether in music, art, or words, began breaking down the way we viewed the world around us, there was no turning back. Artists, composers, and writers began to strip away what they saw as layers of pretense and to distort common notions of reality in order to express their own worldview or a political perspective.

Artists like van Gogh applied paint to canvas with unprecedented emotion and intensity, making the stars seem to swirl out of the sky in Starry Night, for example. Global influences changed the face of the arts forever. Jazz merged with Western classical music. Japanese and Chinese art influenced painting and the burgeoning film industry. Creative people from this era were referred to as post-impressionists, and expressionism soon developed, including the shockingly illogical novels of Franz Kafka (such as The Trial, in which a man is sentenced for a crime that is never disclosed). Other movements at the beginning of the twentieth century were cubism, fauvism (art with wild, vivid colors), and abstract expressionism. At the same time, new art forms appeared, such as film, radio, color photography, and later in the century, television, computer, electronic (think “neon”), and internet art forms. Even commercials, designed to sell products and services, have emerged as art forms in their own right.

The modern world, in all its excitement and complexity, can be seen in theaters where actors run through the audience, and in ballets where dancers seem to fly through the air, merging with IMAX imagery. Authors who would have been poets 200 years ago, today chant rhyming rap lyrics to millions of enraptured listeners. The world of art and artifact creation has never been more vibrant and shows no signs of slowing down.

This overview of periodization has provided a basis for studying the major developments in the humanities throughout history. Most of these periods can be divided into smaller and more specific units for more in-depth study (for example, we have the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages), some of which also differ by country or region (for example, England had the Elizabethan Age during the Renaissance, named after Queen Elizabeth I). Different disciplines within the humanities may also use different terminology—for instance, the classical period in music developed around the same time as the neoclassical period in visual art, both of which were part of the larger, more general Enlightenment period. However, the broader structure discussed in this module provides a useful and convenient approach for the exploration of each period throughout Modules Five and Six.

The Ancient World

The earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia (including Sumer, Assyria, and Babylon), Egypt, Greece, and Rome have been studied for quite some time as the foundations for Western culture. The artifacts they produced can be used to reconstruct the major developments that occurred within these civilizations, which continue to influence the humanities to the present day. An exciting thing about the ancient world is that we can witness the birth of many disciplines of the humanities: the earliest literature, architecture, art, and philosophy.

One important development was the mastery of architectural engineering that permitted the creation of monumental structures and sculptures, as can be seen in marvels like the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx of Giza in Egypt (twenty-sixth century BCE). In the case of the pyramids, we are still not sure what techniques were used to construct them on such a massive scale. Another high point of architecture in ancient times occurred in the Greek world where principles of geometry and balance led to the perfection of the column as evident in beautifully ordered buildings like the Parthenon in Athens (fifth century BCE). Later, around the first century CE, the Roman invention of concrete would enable the construction of vast structures that were previously impossible, like the Colosseum amphitheater and the Pantheon, which is topped by a concrete dome nearly 150 feet wide.

In the area of visual arts, the ancient world gave rise to a mastery of the human form in sculpture thanks to the Greeks, whose ideals of proportion, symmetry, and balance extended to the notion of bodily perfection, which they represented in marble and bronze nude sculptures that were later copied by the Romans. These have served as the model for figurative sculpture ever since, while the concept of the perfect body continues to resonate in our culture today.

The consideration of abstract ideals was part of philosophy too, a discipline that was also developed by the ancient Greeks. Athens in the fourth century BCE was the home of thinkers such as Socrates and Plato, whose ideas on topics like the perfect political state (Plato’s Republic), the nature of wisdom, and the limits of knowledge (Socrates in Plato’s Apology) still remain highly relevant. At around the same time, the Greeks invented drama, and tragedies, like Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, staged moral dilemmas. “Big questions” were also explored earlier in literature through epic mythological tales, which tried to make sense of the universe through fantastic stories. The Sumerian poem Epic of Gilgamesh (2000 BCE), for example, uses a superhuman hero to contemplate the mortality of all human beings.

In addition to seeing the embodiment of universal concerns, we can discern the influence of specific cultural forces on the creation of artifacts. From Sumer to Rome, many of the great architectural structures are temples, such as the Parthenon and oracle at Delphi in Greece and the Pantheon in Rome, testifying to the importance of religion in these civilizations. The pyramids and Egyptian tombs filled with treasure, like that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, also speak to religious belief in the afterlife, including the idea that the dead would want to be surrounded by the things they knew and beautiful objects they could use. Most of the stories from ancient Greece that we are familiar with today are myths relating to gods and goddesses like Zeus, Athena, Apollo, and Aphrodite, who were also later part of Roman worship. Even the earliest works of Western drama and theater, the Greek tragedies and comedies, were created in the fifth century BCE as part of a festival dedicated to the god Dionysus.

Besides worship of the gods, another strong impetus for creation in the humanities was status, especially glorification of powerful individuals, which could be a form of propaganda. The magnificent Great Pyramid is a monument to the absolute power of the pharaoh Khufu, constructed using tremendous amounts of stone by thousands of laborers under his command. The Great Sphinx originally was designed to commemorate a god, but its face was re-sculpted to resemble the pharaoh Khafre. These artifacts would promote the greatness of those who commissioned them and preserve their memories after they died. Even the Colosseum at Rome and the events held there, intended to be experienced by the general population, and were ultimately a testimonial to the imperial power that made them possible. Like large-scale monuments, smaller sculptures such as the bust of Nefertiti, the gold mask of Tutankhamun, and the numerous marble statues of wealthy Roman citizens were all made of fine materials with skilled craftsmanship because of the status of the people they depicted. Greek myths of heroes like Hercules and stories about Achilles and Odysseus in Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey also commemorate kings and great warriors made legendary, as well as the historical events they were a part of, which had meaning for later generations.

Although the ancient world may seem remote in time and place, a look at some of its key developments shows just how important it was in the birth of the humanities, as it introduced reasons for creating artifacts that would continue through later periods and raised for the first time ideas that still occupy us today.

Middle Ages

The impact that Christianity had on the humanities as it spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages cannot be overestimated. Monasteries were the preservers of culture in the form of manuscripts from the ancient world that were hand-copied by scribes and circulated; however, scribes, most of whom remain anonymous, also developed the art of illumination, a term used to describe the often elaborate painted decoration or illustration of manuscript pages, often with gold and silver. A fantastic example is the Book of Kells from Ireland around the year 800, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament along with incredibly ornate illumination. Christian texts like the Bible and commentaries on it were the works deemed most worthy of such adornment, and by the end of the Middle Ages, the realistic scenes painted into individual daily prayer books (called “books of hours”) show the heights achieved by the art form.

However, the crowning artistic achievement during the Middle Ages is likely the Gothic cathedral, which involved numerous laborers and took many years to complete. Cathedrals in the Gothic style were first built in twelfth-century France but expanded throughout Europe (and eventually the world). The cathedrals were designed to reach towering heights through the use of lofty spires, pointed arches, and soaring interiors, all of which drew the viewer’s eyes toward heaven and the mind toward God. Thus, church architecture was rich with symbolism meant to express religious ideas. Stained-glass windows were also invented to bring the resemblance of divine light to the interior space while simultaneously depicting saints and stories from the Bible. These images, along with sculptures carved on doorways and on the exterior facade, were designed to make the church “a storybook in stone,” teaching worshippers, who were largely illiterate, about the faith.

Because the Church and religious belief dictated what could or could not be created in the humanities during the Middle Ages, many of the developments of the ancient world were initially rejected because they were pagan and not Christian. However, creators soon developed a way to take the pagan past and convert it for Christian use. Thus, ancient philosophy was used to help understand faith through the use of reason in an approach called scholasticism. A famous example of this is Anselm’s Proslogion (eleventh century), which attempted to prove the existence of God using logic. But the most famous medieval philosopher was Thomas Aquinas, who wrote the Summa Theologica (thirteenth century) containing thousands of pages of rational responses in Latin to questions of Christian belief.

In the performing arts, drama (which, as we have seen, was originally connected to paganism in the ancient world) was also made to serve Christianity in the form of medieval cycle plays (fourteenth- to fifteenth-century England). These enacted the entire Bible in dramatic form, usually once a year on the festival of Corpus Christi from sunrise to sunset, using actors and often elaborate props. These were, like the cathedrals, intended to inspire faith and teach the general population about religion.

Even though the power of the Church and Christianity was immense in shaping the humanities, we should not assume that there were no secular or worldly developments during the Middle Ages. The courts of nobility in Europe commissioned or served as patrons for the creation of many courtly romances, for example. From around the eleventh century on, these introduced the idea of valiant knights on difficult quests and beautiful ladies who inspired great deeds. The most famous creations from these are the tales of King Arthur’s court, which remain highly popular today. And, of course, we cannot forget one of the greatest English poets (second only to Shakespeare), Geoffrey Chaucer (fourteenth century), whose The Canterbury Tales may be the most well-known work of literature from the period. It is recognized for a rich description of characters and for mocking the corrupt practices of the Church. In both these regards, it begins to foreshadow changes that would come with the Renaissance.


When we hear about the European Renaissance, we usually think of Italy, and especially the city of Florence, as the hotbed of achievements at the time, largely due to the power and patronage of the Medici family, especially Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492). As bankers, the Medici dynasty in Florence achieved tremendous wealth and were motivated to spend their money cultivating art and philosophy in their city. They recovered manuscripts from the ancient world, many of which had previously been unknown in the Middle Ages, and had them studied and translated in order to promote the knowledge they contained. This marked the creation of the humanities as a formal field of inquiry. Studying these classic works led to the rediscovery of principles from mathematics and science that would contribute to major developments in the visual arts, such as the creation of realistic lighting and depth perspective in painting and perfected proportion in sculpture.

The Medici hired and nurtured a who’s who of the most recognizable artists in the world today, including da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli, to execute their ideas on art and architecture both for themselves and for public spaces. The result, which can still be seen by visitors to Florence, is masterpieces, such as its Duomo (cathedral) and Michelangelo’s larger-than-life sculpture of David, which rivaled or surpassed the works of the ancient world.

A key difference in the visual arts created during the Renaissance compared to those of the Middle Ages, besides their greater realism, is that their subjects, even when Christian, reflected the primary goal of presenting and celebrating humanity. This idea, called “humanism,” expanded throughout Italy and to the rest of Europe. We can see it in the beauty and perfection of the human form represented in painting and sculpture at the time, particularly in the prevalence of nudes, even on Michelangelo’s painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, which is the seat of the Catholic Church. We can also identify humanism in the renewed interest in emotion in art; the apostles’ shock in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the cryptic smile on the face of his Mona Lisa are examples, as is the vividly human characterization of Shakespeare’s plays further afield in England. Looking at these characters, in art and in literature, we are fascinated precisely because their humanity comes through in their depiction.

Module 6

Introduction to Enlightenment and Romanticism

The Renaissance was followed in the 1600s by the Baroque and Rococo, two eras known for their love of opulence, detail, ornamentation, and idealized beauty. The Baroque was characterized by grandeur, stateliness, and magnificence, frequently dedicated to Biblical or mythological stories on a grand scale. In contrast, the Rococo was light, airy, and intimate, often depicting young ladies and gentlemen flirting or playing on a swing.

But scientific discoveries were changing our understanding of the world. People began to crave verifiable knowledge, not just the stories of mythology or tales of youthful indiscretions. The world was a dangerous place, fraught with war and violence. Science, hand in hand with philosophy and political realism, showed the way to understand and express ourselves in a new, more rational manner. Many leaders began to believe in the absolute power of human reason.

Galileo (astronomy), Newton (math and science), Descartes (philosophy), and other thinkers who followed the path of reason opened doors leading to a new Age of Enlightenment. It was this climate in the 1700s that led to both the American and French revolutions and to the emergence of thinkers such as Rousseau, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin.

While knowledge and reason are preferable to ignorance and superstition, men and women discovered during the final years of the eighteenth century that they were no guarantee of morality, truth, or even simple kindness. During the Reign of Terror at the end of the French Revolution, thousands of people were executed in bizarre, circus-like surroundings. The novelist Charles Dickens depicts this era memorably in his book A Tale of Two Cities. Artists such as David, who at first hailed the Revolution, ended up depicting it in images of bloodshed and despair. Even the great composer Beethoven included a sobbing funeral march in his Heroic Symphony to memorialize a hero who no longer existed.

Some Romantics directed their passionate feelings toward ideals of independence, justice, and the celebration of the natural world. Many Romantics celebrated the idea of universal brotherhood, that all people were like brothers and sisters. Other Romantics, perhaps jaded by the horrors of war and the limits of revolution, took a darker view of life. Gloomy images of tombstones, such as those painted by the German artist Friedrich, captured the European imagination.

At the end of the 1700s and in the early years of the 1800s, people of culture also looked to nature for solace. The poet Wordsworth praised the humble daffodil in his poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” while Delacroix painted exciting scenes of wild animals in exotic locations. The spirit of Romanticism was at the same time languid (such as a ghost sitting on a tombstone in the moonlight) and hysterical (wild nights of drinking and taking drugs while wearing colorful kaftans and turbans from the East). In part inspired by a novel The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, suicide became a fad. The fashionable young were driven to end their lives in sorrow or debauchery, until the world once again came to its senses, in an Age of Transition toward a more holistic view of the universe and the creative role of humans within it.

Realism and Impressionism

Realism, Impressionism, and post-Impressionism are cultural eras that took place largely in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States. In the mid-nineteenth century, social attitudes were changing. Self-indulgence and exoticism were replaced by reverence for everyday life and images such as a seat by the fire with a loving family, including children and pets. This cozy scene was even reflected in the snug apartment of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, the imaginary creation of a British doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle.

During this period of transition, the simple pleasures of life were celebrated. In the United States, the New England author Henry David Thoreau built a cabin with his own hands and lived there for two years, eventually writing the bestseller Walden. As the century drew on, reform was in the air. Thoreau, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and other writers fearlessly opposed slavery in the United States, while in Great Britain, the author Charles Dickens decried child labor and the lot of the poor.

Artists began selecting simple subjects for their art, rather than emotional battle scenes or dreamy landscapes filled with desolation. Realism was a widespread movement in Europe and the United States in which the common things of daily life were considered worthy of consideration on their own terms. For example, a pot of milk and a cow would be considered worthy objects for a painting. In the United States, Winslow Homer painted pictures of fishermen at sea. In France, Gustave Courbet painted poor workers in a stone quarry or on the farm, often using dull earth tones to emphasize the actual appearance of the land.

From Realism, it was a small step to Impressionism. While Realism attempted to portray objects and activities as seen by the human eye in almost a clinical, scientific manner, Impressionism attempted to capture life’s fleeting impressions, with feelings, images, and sensations, rather than the harsh lines of Realism. Impressionism also influenced music and literature. The Impressionist composer Debussy wrote haunting music that seemed to drift around notions of tonality, such as the song “Clair de Lune” (moonlight). The American composer Amy Beach wove late-Romantic and Impressionist tone clusters into her many works, especially notable in songs about birds and flowers.

Authors such as the novelists Émile Zola (French) and Virginia Woolf (British) began to break the rules that had governed fiction writing for centuries, abandoning strict chronology and moving seamlessly in and out of time. Once the great artists, writers, composers, and other thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries began to demolish the old ways of creating, there was no turning back. It was just a matter of time before great originals like Picasso in art, Stravinsky in music, and Joyce in fiction were to build a new modern consciousness out of the ashes of polite Victorian society.

Modern World

We left the great artists, writers, and thinkers of the nineteenth century as they were beginning to challenge the forms and conventions of their art. Instead of producing neatly painted scenes depicting the world in scientific detail, visual artists began to paint with greater energy and abandon, sometimes slapping paint on a canvas to emulate the effects of light, or drawing exaggerated cartoons to create social criticism.

The very forms that great art depended on were being broken down. In the early twentieth century, this approach to art exploded into a revolution in which creators smashed the old forms and embraced everything that was new. The artist Pablo Picasso pushed the limits of visual art as far as he could before developing cubism, a way of breaking down images into visual building blocks. At the same time, the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky set off riots with the performances of his music to The Rite of Spring, a score that incorporated primeval rhythms and dissonant chords, expressed in a suggestive ballet that shocked Edwardian sensibilities. The novels of Joyce, Kafka, and Woolf explored new approaches to painting word pictures, such as setting an entire novel in one day or imagining a world where men turned into insects or were jailed without knowing why. It was no coincidence that these changes occurred around the time that Sigmund Freud published his theories about the conscious and subconscious mind. Just before, during, and after World War I (1916–18), the modern world was born.

Throughout the twentieth century and into our own time, creative thinkers and artists have continued to explore and challenge with ever-changing works that address the major concerns of the human race and individuals. New cultural media have developed, including the motion picture, invented by Thomas Alva Edison and today considered by many to be the signature art form of our time. The Great Depression, Prohibition, women’s right to vote, civil rights in the United States, and World War II all not only paralleled changes in the arts and philosophy, but also in many ways were influenced by them. Picasso’s mural Guernica not only critiqued the whole notion of war but influenced future discussions of conflict by opinion makers and the voting public. The twentieth century was also a time of “isms” in the arts: not only cubism, but also fauvism (the art of wild colors), surrealism (think Dali’s melting timepieces), abstract expressionism, and even graffitism (Basquiat was one of the first graffiti artists to earn serious consideration).

The more extreme factions of the modern world since the birth of The Rite of Spring have been called the avant-garde, a French term meaning “advance guard.” Radicals such as conductor Pierre Boulez proclaimed, “Blow the opera houses up!” (Peyser, 2007, p. 292) and “All the art of the past should be destroyed!” (Peyser, 2007, p. 119) but not all avant-garde creators have been so focused on destruction. Andy Warhol, a visual artist from Pittsburgh, built an expanding art empire on the humble foundations of Campbell Soup cans and photos of celebrities.

The twentieth century also saw the emergence of new voices in Western culture, especially from those who had been marginalized. The ragtime music of Scott Joplin and other composers and the development of spirituals and gospel music paved the way for the Jazz Age, which reached its peak in the so-called Roaring Twenties. The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of African American culture, giving rise to great artists, writers, and other creators whose voices had been repressed for too long. The syncopated beat of jazz led to the Beat Generation, celebrated by Greenwich Village poets such as Allen Ginsberg and writer Jack Kerouac, who also wove Zen Buddhist themes into their work. Women’s voices also were raised in song, art, writing, and philosophy. One of the most influential philosophers in the twentieth century was Susanne Langer, who wrote Philosophy in a New Key, which explored how people need to create symbols and to inject their world with meaning.

As the world entered the computer and digital age in the last third of the twentieth century, electronic technology became both the message and the medium. In fact, a popular thinker of the mid-twentieth century, Marshall McLuhan, coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” As the Beatles took the world by storm in the 1960s, artists created new forms of expression, such as “happenings,” cartoons as serious art (Lichtenstein), and music for prepared piano by John Cage. Advances in film resulted in wide screen and special effects, rejuvenating the science fiction genre in movies such as Star Wars. Black-and-white art-house fare by auteur directors such as Truffaut and Antonioni played down the street from Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies. Later, Spike Lee reinvented the cinema from an African American sensibility.

As the twentieth century entered its final decades, the monumental art of the past, characterized by respectable figures on horseback in stone or bronze, had given way to the colorful plastic art of Claes Oldenburg, known for creating a giant Swiss Army knife sculpture, and Jeffrey Koons’s Balloon Dog, which looks like an oversized pink balloon toy. Music continued to evolve in creative ways. On the popular front, rock and roll, Motown, country, and folk yielded to rap, hip hop, industrial, and alternative sounds. On the classical stage, discord dominated in the works of the Polish composer Penderecki, while Philip Glass pioneered minimalism. Philosophically, Derrida’s deconstructionist ideas helped create a new interest in critical thinking, a tradition that found its roots in the discourses of Socrates more than 2,000 years earlier. Literature continued to enchant and inspire millions as best-sellers such as The Hunger Games and Harry Potter proved that popular fiction could be complex and literary as well as action-packed and exciting.

In the early years of the twenty-first century, these trends continued to give birth to new forms of expression throughout the world. Many digital artists today no longer use pen and paper at all; in fact, cursive writing—the artistic flow of penmanship cherished as a communication tool since the Middle Ages—may not be taught at all in the public schools of the near future. The arts and philosophy may have changed radically over the past 10,000 or more years, but one thing is certain: They are as important and conspicuous as ever and, if anything, have taken on new significance as tools for communication, celebration, and self or societal expression.


Peyser, J. (2007). To Boulez and beyond. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.le 5


The Humanities Today

As we have seen in previous modules, the humanities have been a means of expressing contemporary concerns and exploring timeless human questions since the earliest recorded history. It is therefore particularly disturbing to see the humanities under threat in recent years as governments and educational institutions worldwide have cut funding for the arts and have reduced the study of art, music, and other humanities in schools from the elementary to university levels. Politicians and school administrators who have targeted the humanities emphasize the need for fields of study that directly feed economic growth, such as science, technology, and business.

This, in turn, has led to an outcry defending the value of the humanities for our contemporary world. Proponents point out the importance to democracy of having a population exposed to the great ideas of literature and philosophy along with the resulting ability to think critically and interpret information. They promote the value of humanistic artifacts in opening minds to different cultures and perspectives, which is highly important in our increasingly global age. The work of creators in the humanities has also long been a voice for dissent and critique of the status quo, raising objections and opposing social ills, injustice, and tyranny, as we will see further on in this module. And, of course, the appreciation of beauty and enjoyment of artifacts in the humanities are essential in their own right for the well-being of humanity.

Yet, all is not doom and gloom for the humanities today. New artifacts are always being created, and even if the general public may not be aware of the latest developments in the art world or who won the most recent PEN prizes for literature, there is enough widespread evidence that the humanities are still going strong through popular films, television shows, fiction, and music that are critically acclaimed and award winning.

The humanities have further adapted to the contemporary world in order to survive and thrive, particularly by embracing technology. Traditional artifacts like oil painting and marble sculpture are still being produced in the visual arts, but we are also seeing a variety of new media in use, such as 3D-printed sculpture, and digital art and design using software. Computing has impacted the study of disciplines like art, literature, and philosophy; a multitude of projects in the “digital humanities” include putting the collections of art museums online, digitizing old manuscripts and books, and providing virtual tours of historic buildings, which you experienced in Module Five.

Yet, attendance at physical art museums has grown in recent years, and museums are using more personalized, interactive exhibits to draw in visitors. Thus, although science and the humanities are often considered to be opposites, the humanities have embraced the latest trends in technology in a way that shows how creative expression reflects the developments of the culture in which it is created.

Humanities and Ethics

As humans developed complex systems of speech and writing, among the first documents to emerge were codes of ethics, often associated with religious teachings or legal protocols. Ethical principles arose from the creation of artifacts in earliest times. The cave paintings of Lascaux not only expressed people’s yearning for success in the hunt and tribute to a higher power, but also led to the establishment of ethical precepts, such as the treatment of hunters toward each other, their tribe, and their prey.

In recent times, the news media have reported great ethical lapses in the world of commerce. These have included the Enron business scandal in the United States, a case in China in which bad milk was sold and poisoned infants, and recent shortcuts by the auto industry around the world that resulted in accidents and death (Toyota, General Motors, Takata airbags). Many scholars think that these tragedies could have been avoided if business leaders had studied practical ethics, a foundation discipline within the humanities, as part of their business education.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, new issues have emerged demanding close ethical understanding and review. For example, ethicists are now debating whether or not surrogacy pregnancy, the process whereby a woman will bring a couple’s child to full term for pay or as a volunteer, is an ethical practice. Others discuss whether a whistleblower who leaks government secrets is helping society (ethical) or exposing millions of people to danger (unethical).

The arts continue to play a significant role in underscoring the importance of ethical review and practice. Woody Guthrie helped change working conditions for agricultural workers through his work songs in the 1940s and 1950s. Frederick Douglass advanced the ethics of racial equality in his autobiography published in 1845. The ethical implications of the oppression of women was a theme in works such as The Awakening by the nineteenth-century American writer Kate Chopin. These and other artifacts sought to stimulate debate about ethical issues and led to reform.

The humanities discipline known as ethics gains in power and efficacy when it is embodied in artifacts such as literature, art, and music.

Humanities and Gender

Since the earliest days of recorded history, gender and sexual orientation have determined people’s destiny. Most cultures evolved under the values and leadership of heterosexual males. While many of these societies have thrived, all of them did so at the expense of those who were different from the ruling class.

Women and people with different sexual orientations or gender identities turned to the humanities for self-expression, to better understand themselves and others like them, and to create a world that is more inclusive and accepting.

Women have made their presence known as thinkers, creators, and leaders even in ancient civilizations. While they were treated like property by the governing males of ancient Greece, their strong personalities emerged even in literature written exclusively by men. Some 200 years after the female poet Sappho wrote legendary lyrics from the Isle of Lesbos, the great Greek tragedians were writing and staging works about powerful women, including Antigone, Medea, and the Trojan women. The art of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome is filled with images of women in a variety of roles that they may or may not have actually held in sexist societies. From those days through the present, women continue to use art, literature, philosophy, and music to establish their identity and seek pathways to justice and equality.

LGBT members of society also needed to find alternative means to assert their identity and follow their own truth. LGBT individuals sometimes were (and in some societies still are) subjected to persecution and even death for simply declaring their own self-identity.

Persecution has followed people who are homosexual or bisexual, those who transition from the gender assigned to them at birth, and those of other sex and gender-related experiences (intersex individuals and those who reject conforming to gender binary systems). The humanities have provided tools for these individuals to establish who they are, bond with others, share their stories with the majority culture, and gain positions of strength and influence. The Stonewall riots of 1969 in Greenwich Village in New York City led to more confidence and openness in New York’s gay community, while the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s triggered an explosion of art and drama, such as Angels in America.

Today, news media cover marriage equality and other gender-related issues, and women and LGBT members have excelled in the political arena and even religious leadership. While some think societies worldwide still have far to go with gender issues, most would agree that the humanities have both encouraged progress and given the world more thought-provoking works of art and philosophy to ponder and enjoy.

Humanities and Race

Until the last few decades, the humanities in the West have been biased in favor of studying artifacts made by white males at the expense of considering the contributions of creators from other races or ethnicities. This usually meant excluding from study the creative expression of individuals from ethnic minority groups within Europe and North America, such as those of African, Asian, Latino, or Native American descent. The ultimate result was that works by non-white creators in the humanities remained largely unknown or were considered inferior to those created by whites. This behavior reflected racist attitudes in the cultures of the time.

Today, there is a strong movement to recover the humanistic artifacts of ethnic minorities within Western cultures and give them equal attention. Examples might include Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in high school English curriculums, a television series on the history of the blues, or an exhibition of Renaissance paintings that depicted the African presence in Europe. Part of the power of the humanities is their ability to expose us to a range of other perspectives and cultures. These can include the artifacts of other times or places, like the sculptures of ancient Rome or haiku poetry of Japan, but they should also include the creative expression of the different minority races and ethnicities that make up a given culture. This approach most fully captures the diversity of the human experience in the true spirit of the humanities. Some examples might be the novel The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, which documents the experience of growing up as a Mexican American woman, or Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, which relates the lives of first-generation Chinese American daughters. On one hand, a more inclusive vision of the humanities enables us to learn about the unique concerns of individual ethnic groups. On the other hand, creators in the humanities are never limited to presenting only their ethnic experience; seeing the “big questions” and timeless themes like love, justice, and heroism in artifacts produced by all ethnicities allows us to understand that we have a shared human experience that transcends racial distinction.

From the perspective of those who make artifacts rather than those who experience them, creative expression can be a powerful tool to voice the need for social change, which you saw in Module Three as one of the motives that can inspire creators in the humanities. This includes battling racial stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination through art and literature created not just by members of oppressed minority groups themselves but by advocates of fairness, justice, and equality regardless of race. Thus, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a white Southern novelist, and the works of black poet Langston Hughes both had a powerful impact in promoting the civil rights movement in America. Now, in the twenty-first century, as the United States becomes increasingly multicultural and still wrestles with matters of race, the humanities will certainly continue to play an integral part in the discussion.


Humanities and Religion

The world’s faith traditions (religions) are expressed in works of art and play an important role in other humanities disciplines such as philosophy and history. Many of the masterworks of world art were created to express religious ideas or feelings. Examples are the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo and the Mass in B minor by Bach. Many people of faith also have excelled in the secular disciplines of history and philosophy, such as the Dutch thinker Erasmus (1466 to 1536), who was called Prince of the Humanists while he served as a Catholic priest.

However, just as followers of religions may build temples, sing in choirs, and write sacred texts, people of faith sometimes criticize and even attempt to destroy the works created by people of other religions or no religion. Some proponents of religion think that their faith is the only true way to view history, the only acceptable philosophy. Similarly, those without religion at times may accuse the religious of being narrow-minded and parochial.

In our day, religion still relies on the humanities to express convictions and devotion, to inform the public, and to attract new followers. At the same time, we see followers of one faith destroying the artifacts of another or trying to stop art exhibits and film screenings that depict contrary points of view. The humanities and religion are inextricably linked. Their relationship is less stormy, however, when all sides try to keep an open mind, listen to what others have to say, and respect viewpoints different from their own.

Humanities and Special Needs

Prior to the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, people with special needs were frequently marginalized in U.S. society, their contributions overlooked. However, throughout the history of the world, those with so-called disabilities have been significant contributors to culture. The earliest named poet in the Western world, Homer, the Greek author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, was said to have been blind, as was the British poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, famous for detailing the fall of Lucifer. Lord Byron, who had a physical disability, was one of the most famous Romantic poets (a champion swimmer and prolific lover as well). One of the greatest classical composers in history, Ludwig van Beethoven was hearing impaired. In contemporary music, R&B superstar Stevie Wonder is vision impaired, as is opera singer Andrea Bocelli. In the realm of the visual arts, twentieth-century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo suffered from the effects of polio or spina bifida and was later in a severe accident that disabled her but did not stop her from painting. Vincent van Gogh, whose paintings fetch millions at auction today, experienced depression and mental illness. These are but a few of the disabled creators in the world of the humanities whose work has influenced culture. As noted in an article about van Gogh’s mental illness, in the case of these creators in the humanities, the challenges of disability are not something to deny but part of their personal expression, “a vital part of . . . honest experience, which is the necessary foundation of great art” (Popova, 2015).

In Module Two, you read about artists with special needs in Britain who do not know they are artists. The innate drive to express and create is so strong that those who may not be able to express themselves verbally can do so safely and intuitively through art. A number of programs exist worldwide to enable individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities to express their inner visions by creating visual art. Such programs have also been used as forms of therapy for people with brain injury or veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fulfilling an immediate social need. In some cases, artists with special needs have become famous and have sold their work, but, for others, it is enough that creating artifacts serves as a means to unlock personal expression. These examples illustrate the impact artists have on culture by revealing what creators with special needs can do. The examples also show the effect that culture can have on artistic creation through the establishment of socially significant programs.


Popova, M. (2015). Van Gogh and mental illness. Brain Pickings. Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/05/van-gogh-and-mental-illness/

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