Why Humanism Is Important in Life and in Art

Published October 28, 2021

In times of philosophical/cultural/political/racial/ethnic/gender — you name it — discord and division like we experience today, it is more important than ever to remember the tenets of humanism when dealing with others as individuals and resisting powerful forces that would oppress the individual rights of us all. 

”Individual” is the operative word here. There is no room in humanism for group-think or tribal affiliation of any kind whatsoever.

Politically correct language or behavior, critical anything theories, and/or unconstitutional government mandates from high or low are absolutely unacceptable.

Reason, independent thinking, objective judgment based on verifiable facts, and respect for equality under the law — not equity of outcome — are requisites not only for pursuing personal choices but also for thwarting those who would rob us of the freedom to exercise personal choice.

Although many modern humanist organizations like to call 13th-century Petrarch the Father of Humanism because he popularized a return to classical Greek and Roman thought, humanism qua humanism — like so much of our great western heritage legacy — began in ancient Greece largely with Aristotle, the Father of Philosophy.

Aristotle focused his concentration on the secular world of life here-on-this-earth-now regarding human nature with an emphasis on universal attributes common to all human beings in general and development of the individual in particular.

Aristotle’s philosophy rests on the premise that humans (like all living entities) have a fundamental nature that is inborn and does not change, and for humans the primary inborn attribute for survival is the ability to exercise the faculty of reason — non contradictory thinking. [Reason, however, does not function automatically as does instinct in lower animals and simple teleology in plants; reason must be activated by free will, learned, and practiced. 

This same human-nature oriented premise also offers the basis for a rational moral code of self interest — personal survival according to one’s chosen (or accumulated) values — sans harm to others because a moral code of rational self interest also entails respecting every other individual’s right to their own self-interest and value system.

These clarifications are necessary because humanism frequently is viewed as a secular religion of self-worship at the forfeit of others or of the planet on which we live, a view that is entirely false.

Why do we need to focus on all things humanistic — individualistic — during divisive and threatening times? Because each individual needs to stand vocally and physically against all forces that would corral all individuals into groups by tyrannical government, indoctrinating schools, and manipulative crony-capitalist businesses.

Why do these powerful, lustful authoritarian forces want to ”groupify” individuals?

Because it’s much easier (and faster) to control all people by controlling perceived or fabricated groups rather than by the arduous task of trying to achieve that despotic goal one-at-a-time, individual by individual.

Next: Why is humanistic art important during trying times?

Art is an aesthetic physical manifestation of values, so especially during days of duress art can supply us with emotional conviction and courage by showing us the values we seek to protect and preserve against those who would divide and/or enslave us.

Paintings and sculpture can provide beautiful and uplifting images of humans, of human achievements, and human pleasures. When we see a heroic bronze or marble nude figure (as in ancient Greek sculpture), we can motivate the heroic in ourselves to meet challenges, overcome setbacks, and marvel at our own miraculous bodies.

A silently flowing river winding through a sun-drenched landscape can lead us to a place of peaceful beauty where we can rest and renew our souls, and a range of snow-capped mountains can inspire us to climb those mountains metaphorically to achieve our own goals large and small.

Melodic and harmonious music can uplift our spirits to soar high on the wings of a song or float serenely through passages of promise that will end in that blessed tonic chord of successful completion, all to assure our own inner energy sources that harmony and success in life are ours by right and worth struggling to maintain.

A serious romantic novel, play, or film about heroes and heroines of high moral stature and lofty ideals can offer an opportunity to explore and face real-life conflicts that we as resolute individuals may confront and overcome as well. Suspense in this type of fiction comes from the thrill of experiencing a fictional character’s choices.

The adventure of such stories is rooted in the limitless possibilities available to all of us in real life but selectively dramatized in a novel, play, or film and spurs our own minds to venture further in our own aspirations in spite of existential blockades.

In short, the arts — if beautiful in form and enriching in content — can let us see and feel our values emotionally/physiologically, let us experience joy in our own humanity, and give us courage to avow that freedom and happiness are our birthright and worth every ounce of defiance against those who would divide or conquer us … as individuals; thus, we can spiritually nourish ourselves personally with beauty for stimulation and a solid core of inner satisfaction for contentment.  

It is this personal awareness and aliveness in celebrating or defending our own individualism and that of other individuals (as individuals, not as groups) that makes humanism — a focus on human concerns and conditions — important in life and in art.

Whatever our differently chosen philosophy or theology may be, it is life here-on-earth-now that is sacred to us all. And how do we each actually live it? Individually by our own choices and by respecting the choices of other individuals.


PHOTO: Bernini. PHOTO BY: Herman Pijpers, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).