February 25th, 2014
09:18 AM ET

Are the humanities worth studying?

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

What is more important – technical skills or knowledge of art history? Fareed discusses the issue with 'New Yorker' staff writer Adam Gopnik. Watch the video for the full interview.

Apple is primarily an enterprise in the arts and design, perhaps before anything else. But I also think it's true that we don't have to apologize for the humanities and the arts in that way, because the truth is that in every civilization that we know of, that interests us at all, there's an ongoing conversation about books and pictures.

You know, when I went out to the Google campus a few years ago those guys didn't want to talk about Google Translate. They wanted to talk about an Alice Munro story or they wanted to talk about "Breaking Bad," a kind of natural conversation in life. It's conversation about books and pictures. That's an ongoing conversation. It doesn't depend on universities. But what universities do, what humanities programs, art history programs do, I think, is that they do two things: They take the conversation back into history so that we know that that conversation we're having about Homeland is also a conversation we can have about George Elliott or Dickens. And they do something even more important I think – they democratize the conversation.

You know, my father's father, my grandfather, was a little grocer, a butcher, no knowledge of the arts at all. Wonderful man, but a simple immigrant. My father became a professor of 18th Century English literature. Why did he do that? It's because you can go to school and walk into an English department. And so when people say well, the humanities are elitist, it's just the opposite. It's when we don't have humanities departments that that conversation about civilization is elitist. When we have them at universities it means anybody can take part.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. James

    Mispelled Alice Munro. It's Munro not Monroe.

    February 25, 2014 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • Andrea Kaston Tange

      Not to be pedantic, but George Eliot only has one 'l' and one 't' in her last name. Maybe those spellings are important in a transcript about valuing the Humanities.

      February 27, 2014 at 8:26 am | Reply
  2. JAL

    Universities make it easy for a student to explore both, the Arts and Trades (STEM, business, ect). I believe that every person has a talent in the arts, as well as a completely different talent in the trades. This is the central concept of the idea of University.

    February 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • JAL

      Also, I don't think we should confine the idea of humanities. I personally think that grilling and smoking foods should be considered an art. Furthermore, video games and electronic artistry should be included as well. Whatever inspires.

      February 26, 2014 at 9:54 am | Reply
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    Are humanities worth studying? I say yes.

    February 25, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Reply
  4. chrissy

    The odds of gettin a job in arts is almost slim to none. Better off learning a trade unless yourd already wealthy!

    February 26, 2014 at 12:53 am | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Humanities are important for shaping a civil society. It helps strengthen a moral authority and serves as checks and balances on various levels.

    February 26, 2014 at 7:13 am | Reply
  6. chrissy

    Amen @ JAL!

    February 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply

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