Major Areas of Study with Arts and Humanities Courses
Human society is always changing. Ideas from the past fall by the wayside, get expanded upon, or become new again. In our search for what it means to be alive, we explore where we've been, we express ourselves through art, and we imagine and debate new ways of thinking about the world and moving forward. As problems arise, we seek wisdom to help us see below the surface so that we can better understand the causes, intricacies, and depths of our challenges.
That's why the arts and humanities act like roads and bridges for our hearts and minds. They provide vital connections to our heritage and shared humanity. Studying them can be a powerful way to tap into an amazing wellspring of personal, professional, and altruistic possibilities.
For example, getting a humanities or art degree enables people to develop many of the core skills that today's employers often find most important. In fact, 80 percent of American employers agree with the idea that every student should attain wide-ranging knowledge related to the liberal arts and sciences. And more than 90 percent of them agree that the ability of potential hires to solve problems, communicate effectively, and think critically are more essential than their specific college majors.*
Arts and humanities courses and programs can help you generate opportunities you might not expect. As a matter of fact, in 2012, over 56 percent of people with bachelor's degrees in the humanities had professional, managerial, or similar high-end occupations across an extensive variety of sectors.** And, during their peak earning years, people who majored in the humanities or social sciences made higher yearly incomes (by over $2,000), on average, than those who chose professional or pre-professional majors.*
Of course, the areas of study within this educational category are wide-ranging. So it helps to have an idea of what each one is about. As you explore them, keep these few points in mind:
- The term liberal arts is often used interchangeably with arts and humanities. However, at some schools, the liberal arts is used as an "umbrella" category that includes the humanities, traditional arts, and additional programs in the social sciences such as psychology, sociology, political science, and economics.
- Some schools offer the chance to pursue interdisciplinary studies, which basically means that you get to combine two or more main subject areas into one program. So, for example, you might combine visual arts training with history studies or match the study of English literature with theatrical show production. Often, you can even combine an area of the arts or humanities with an area that has a more direct vocational focus such as business or information technology.
- Specific areas of the arts and humanities often share a lot in common with each other. As a result, they sometimes overlap in terms of what you get to study.
Here are nine of the most common areas of study to consider:
1. Visual Arts
Drawing, painting, and sculpture are some of the earliest forms of human expression. They've been used to document our experiences, emotions, aspirations, and big ideas for several centuries. And they've led to our capacity for creating countless other things. Today, those classic forms of expression are still important and powerful, but they are joined by additional options like digital illustration, animation, graphic design, and film. Learning how to work and think like a visual artist can be an effective way to become an innovative contributor in the fine arts as well as many other sectors like marketing and technology.
2. Literary Arts and Communications
Writing and being able to craft compelling stories or communicate important ideas is highly valuable. Because it involves skill and artistry, it demonstrates that you know how to think both analytically and creatively. And that's a truly marketable trait to possess. After all, good writers, storytellers, and editors aren't just needed in entertainment, publishing, and journalism. They're also needed in areas like public relations, law, and conflict resolution because they often know what it takes to craft messages that clearly communicate why certain ideas matter.
3. Music and Performing Arts
Like the other arts, music, dance, and drama all have the power to connect people to a deeper, more universal understanding of what it means to be alive. Whether through recorded songs or live theatrical productions, they help foster new perspectives on the world and increase our capacity for empathy. And that can create positive impacts across every area of your life. Plus, learning how to sing, play an instrument, compose music, rhythmically move your body, or convey emotions through acting can lead to thinking about problems in a more fluid, less linear way, which is a trait that's prized by almost all progressive employers who wish to innovate.
4. English and Literature
The written word is a major driver of nearly everything we value in contemporary society. It helps shape our cultural identities and innovations by giving us a way to express our ideas, challenge old ways of thinking, and interpret the works of artists, thinkers, and visionaries. Plus, storytelling is at the very core of what makes us human. It's what enables us to understand the world and our place within it. So gaining expertise in one of the world's most widely spoken languages and studying the written works of the best storytellers can unlock a lot of extraordinary potential.
5. Languages and Linguistics
One of the best ways to gain a deeper understanding of other cultures is to learn their languages. In fact, knowing another language can significantly heighten your overall sense of connection to the world and other people. And a huge need exists in many public and private organizations for skilled interpreters. After all, thousands of different languages are spoken across the globe—from Spanish to French to Hindi to Mandarin Chinese. In addition, the area of linguistics (i.e., the scientific study of language) is giving us new insights into how languages develop, change, and get used in fascinating ways that impact society.
What happened in the past has a much greater impact on what happens in the present and future than many people realize. In fact, historical events often hold the clues we need for solving today's most pressing challenges. By studying history, you start understanding the bigger picture. You can begin recognizing all of the deep and relevant links between the past and present. And you can help individuals, organizations, or society avoid making costly or tragic mistakes. Plus, this area of study is very diverse. So you might have the opportunity to specialize in a particular niche such as U.S. history, world history, or even art history.
7. Religious Studies
You can't study the world's many different cultures without also studying their religions. In many cultures, a belief in one or more gods—or some kind of higher plane of existence—is a dominant force. It can affect nearly every aspect of a society, leading to radically different ways of perceiving and experiencing the world and other people. That's why theology is such an important field of study. We need people who have a deep understanding of different religious beliefs and can provide useful insights about their cultural impacts. After all, world events consistently demonstrate just how vital it is that people truly understand each other on a spiritual level. Areas like Christian studies and Islamic studies are particularly relevant to our modern times.
This area of the humanities has an enormous influence in all of the arts as well as many other areas. That's because it's all about exploring the ideas of deep thinkers, learning how to compare and analyze their different viewpoints, and challenging your own perspectives about the meaning of life. In short, philosophy offers a fascinating path involving critical thinking and discovering the varied, often beautiful, landscapes of the human mind. And that can be extremely useful in almost any area of human endeavor—from art and economics to politics and religion.
Ancient civilizations have a lot to teach us. In fact, many of our modern stories, ideas, technologies, arts, and institutions have deep roots in places like ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, and the Near East. By studying their cultures, histories, and artistic and philosophical contributions, we attain new insights that enrich our understanding of where we came from and where we might be going.
Take a Powerful Step Toward an Uplifting Future
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* Association of American Colleges and Universities, Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight, website last visited on July 21, 2015.
** Humanities Indicators, website last visited on August 1, 2017.