The Arts: A Key to Understanding Humanity

I distinctly remember listening in on a conversation in which one particularly heated man was venting about how useless it would be to obtain a degree in Philosophy or the Liberal Arts in general. He proposed that, in a state of emergency, this degree would be of no use at all.

This proposal raises a question: “Really, what are you going to do with an arts degree?”

Now, anyone in the Arts and Humanities mostly likely read that in sarcastic mockery, as it is a question we are bombarded with daily whenever our future plans come into question. In the new top selling novel The Fuzzy and the Techie, Venture Capitalist Scott Harley explores the hidden values in a Liberal arts degree, and the “vital role of the Liberal Arts in humanizing our Technology.”

In a time where disaster and destruction is increasingly prevalent, it is now more than ever that we crave the innovation and understanding that a degree in the Liberal Arts provides. The Fuzzy and the Techie highlights how an informal division has quietly found its way into a default assumption that has misled the business world for decades; that “it’s the techies who drive innovation”.

“People don’t exist in a vacuum”, states JM Olejarz in his article for the Harvard Business Review, titled “Liberal Arts in the Data Age”, “and treating them as if they do is both reductive and potentially harmful”.

It is through the arts and humanities that we learn about everything human: how humans behave and what they need to thrive, how to treat humans and interact in a way to achieve results, and overall what it essentially means to be human. A business without this human connection and understanding is merely a static mechanical piece of clockwork lacking a heart. In the book Cents and Sensibility, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Shapiro propose that it is though Literature, not human resources training or case studies, that we can better understand each other, and consequently better operate our businesses. Economists could gain a great deal of wisdom from classic novelists, whose works have withstood time primarily because of their ability to understand humanity. To emphasise their argument Morson and Schapiro ask, “When has a scientist’s model or case study drawn a person as vividly as Tolstoy drew Anna Karenina?”

Contrary to popular belief, it is the Liberal Arts that set the foundation for society, and the Liberal Arts that feed our innate desires for innovation, understanding, and connection. So, the next time someone questions the value of the arts, I challenge you to respond: “Where would you be without them?”

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